Archive for category Author: Susie Hodge

How to Draw People in simple steps || Susie Hodge

I always said I wasn’t going to review this series because it has no words, so you’re really left with not a lot to talk about. However, I caved in when it got to Insects because, if a series gets that esoteric, it pretty much has to be popular. I mean, not only was it the only book on that subject (exclusively) I’ve seen, but it’s not exactly first-choice, is it?

So here we have people. They must have done that one before, surely? Or was is a morning-after editorial meeting? “ No, we’ve got to do the insects first.” “Have you been watching Dr Who again?” “Yes, MALCOLM TUCKER!!!”* (Sorry, but I really am excited about this).

For those of you who don’t know, the stock-in-trade of this series is a single page which starts off with the simplest outlines, then builds up a basic shape and works it, in six steps, into a finished drawing. For a subject as complex as the human figure, that does mean there’s an awful lot left out and some pretty giant leaps of the imagination, but it does work surprisingly well. If your main problem is getting started, then this is definitely the book for you and Susie does a fantastic job of choosing exactly which stages to illustrate so that you do get a genuine feeling of progression rather than giant steps.

The only fly in the ointment is that I wish each demonstration had stopped at the fifth stage, the finished drawing, because these are in every case beautiful and sensitive works in pencil that need no further embellishment. The series, however, demands a colour finale and this is done by adding (what I think is) a completely unnecessary wash that covers the pencil lines and makes the whole thing, in almost all cases, look heavy and clumsy. I don’t think it’s a problem with Susie’s work with a wash, I just think it doesn’t work with what’s gone before.

A couple of examples. There’s a woman sitting knitting. Perfectly fine in the drawing, but the colour wash leaves a chair she’ll fall off if she moves and which doesn’t look strong enough to support its own weight, let alone hers. And the man with the stick. I’m sorry, but that thing is two inches in diameter, it’s nearly as thick as his arm!

This is a quibble, but I do think it’s best to ignore stage six and just stop at five. Treat this as what it claims to be, a book about drawing and put your paint box away. You get a fantastic variety of figures and poses, both static and in motion and a stripped-down approach that simply dissolves so much of the mystique that always surrounds figure drawing.

* Peter Capaldi, Malcolm Tucker in The Thick Of It, was announced as the new Dr Who yesterday.

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Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That || Susie Hodge

I was given this for Christmas and my initial impression was that it felt similar to the Isms volume on Understanding Modern Art that I reviewed a while back. To be fair, it’s not really possible to get into a book against a background of Prosecco, rustling paper, squeals and general chat. You might think that saying, “Shush, I’m reading” is high praise for a gift but, trust me, it gets you dirty looks.

Back home, it immediately became apparent that the similarity is purely superficial. Similar titles, formats and layouts (most things dealt with in a single spread), but that’s as far as it goes.

This is a bold book. It starts with the cover, which intrigues only if you’re intrigued by that kind of thing. The piece by Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’ is a slashed cloth and, while it embodies the contents of the book, it doesn’t scream “look inside me”. Given the nature of the book, it’s hard to see what would, to be honest. The next piece of boldness is to attempt, even to think of, explaining the perhaps unexplainable in a couple of pages. Whole books get written on this kind of thing, usually by people who wear large red glasses and use the word “juxtaposition” a lot.

So, what about Fontana the slasher? This is what he had to say for himself, “Matter, colour and sound in motion are the phenomena whose simultaneous development makes up the new art”. (I bet it sounds better in Italian – most things do, but try closing your eyes to slits: it makes perfect sense.). In short, graphically-delineated paragraphs (now I’m doing it, think panels and coloured headings!) Susie explains how Fontana developed his technique, how the cuts are both planned and decisive (think brushstrokes) and how he used materials that would be more than two-dimensional, a black backing often emphasising depth. I’m not saying I’m a convert, just that I understand that Fontana was not a charlatan and that these are not the emperor’s new clothes.

Let’s look, too, at something more familiar, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (the urinal). “No novice could have judged the right moment to intervene or chosen the best means to scandalise the public”, says Susie, placing the context perfectly. Duchamp was, of course, making a point in this and other pieces both about aesthetics and about the commoditisation of art; the piece is meant to be taken both seriously and not seriously at the same time, surely the best joke anyone ever played on the critics.

If you want to understand modern art but have trouble not giggling, then this is the book for you. Susie is serious without being precious and the format she has chosen takes full account of the attention span the general reader has for this kind of thing.

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