David Hockney Secret knowledge book

edited December 2020 in Off-Topic Discussion
@MichaelD .  Michael.  Thanks for recommending that book.  It’s a real eye opener.  Here for all but one painting (apple with knife) I’ve been working strictly direct from life.  What Hockney shows is very clear to me and makes me wonder if I am overlooking possible subjects because of their complexity.  For example the patterns on fabrics.  
I’m about a third into the book and am thoroughly enjoying it.


  • edited December 2020
    Hi @GTO, I just stumbled on your post, for some reason I didn’t get the usual notification.

    Thats great I am glad you like the book, I found it fascinating. I watched a an oldish Vermeer documentary the other night (in fact I posted it in the Which Do You Prefer Rembrandt or Vermeer post). And in it there was mention that Vermeer was a close friend of a lens developer.

    I recall one of your earlier pieces with a kind of dotted pattern on fabric table cloth, it was very impressive. I am absolutely lousy at fabric, and I so want to apply myself at getting good with it. Particularly the subtleties of say white sheets, or a shirt.

    Are you saying that the book may help you tackle complex patterns in fabric ?
  • @MichaelD The book shows that using any tool, be it a camera, a piece of tracing paper, a projector, lens, whatever... doesn’t make the art.  It’s what you do with it.  Over the centuries artists have been using tools to achieve their end and technology just reduces the time it takes to get there.  
    I struggle with that simple pattern and a projector would have saved hours o work.  The music sheets in  The guitar with Glass Slide were done directly from the setup, ‘eyeballing’ the notes on the music sheets.  That took loads of time.   When I look at those old master patterns on fabric I thought (before reading that book) that I just don’t have the skill they had. But now, I’m like, yeah, no problem if I used a camera. 
    Right now I’m working on a piece with ellipses and I’m drawing out perspective lines so that the ellipses are drawn IN PERSPECTIVE (the major axis skews in perspective). If I projected the image I’d be fine in ten minutes, instead of an hour.  And they would be spot on.
    I sold a painting recently and the buyer asked if I used a photograph.  (I didn’t) but I thought ...why would that matter?  I guess they want to measure my drawing skills.  
    So, yeah, I could do an elaborate pattern on a manifold surface but I’ve avoided it because without some kind of device it would take months to do it well.  
    The book is just making me think a lot about art making.  
    One of my favorite artists, Jacob Collins draws his portraits and figures on paper first and then transfers that onto the canvas.  Much like what I did back in the billboard painting days.  I’m sure Jacob is an accomplished draughtsman but like Ingres, why fool around when you need to be exact?
    This book is a must read for any painter.
  • edited December 2020
    @GTO I totally agree with that, why fool around when you need to be exact. Early on I used to be quite surprised if I had found that someone had traced/transferred something. Then I discovered that an artist who mentors me a little, if they are doing complex lettering will transfer it.
    Thats what I did with my Coca Cola carton recently, it still requires skill to get the painting part right.
    And yes, like you, I know I am capable enough to actually draw that lettering but its going to add a few months on to doing the work.

    It is quite surprising when you discover how many of the greats didn’t do it all free hand, that does not mean that could not have. I recently bought a second hand Norman Rockwell book, it has some lovely pieces of his work.
    I was pleasantly surprised to find that he would use a projector to copy and draw the image.

    On the subject of drawing, because of the recent daily paintings that I have been doing, for the first time I have not done any predrawing, And yes some of the vessels/ bottle/ellipse may be a little out.
    Thats only because I’m doing quick-ish paintings. Going back and correcting them is something I would do in future. Bit this new process, for me, has removed that time consuming agonising to get it right predrawing.
    I find, more often than not that the predrawing soon gets lost when your are getting on with painting. Or that its a bit like painting by numbers. I’m not criticising it, but if I can become skilled enough to skip the drawing thats another direct route to getting on with painting.

    But I never even thought I was capable of doing a painting with out a drawing first until I embarked on this. Its given me trust in my capabilities.  So I kind of do the drawing with the brush now, much like an artist we both like Jos Van Riswick.

  • @MichaelD you should look at the Boston school of painters.  Their method is what you are trying to do.  
    They look at the first object, light or dark that gets their attention and make a mark.  Then they look for the next and place that in relation to the first.  Then the third.  They could be light or dark points.  They call this the visual order.
    they refine their shapes from large to small and continue the refinement until they have it refined to their liking.  No predrawing.

  • @MichaelD and @GTO, I'd like to read that book but I'm having trouble finding where you guys referred to it. Can you tell me the name of it? Once I have that I'll be able to find it. 
    Thanks  :)
  • Ah, I see the title is in the heading of this thread. I'll search on line for it ands see if I can buy it.  :)
  • Thanks @GTO, I remember you mentioning them before, I will check out the Boston school.
  • edited December 2020
    @tassieguy, I got mine secondhand, I am not sure if the book is currently in print. But I think you will be able to get hold of a copy.


    Correction, it is still in print I just had a look and its still widely available.
  • Thanks, @MichaelD. I checked and I can get it here in Oz from Booktopia. I'm looking forward to reading it. If the gist of Hockney's book is that artists have always made use of technology and that there's no problem with that then I wholeheartedly agree. I use photography in my landscapes and I make use of grids to help with placement of brushstrokes (I don't do under-drawings) but I sometimes get the feeling that some people still frown on the use of such aids. I think that's just silly and I look forward to reading what Hockney has to say on the matter.
  • @tassieguy, thats great you got a copy, I think you will find it very interesting. This discussion with you and @GTO has inspired me to look at it again.

    Those those frown on the use of tools used to get you to the art you want to make are forgetting that there are no rules.

  • Tim's Vermeer is a great movie that solves the problem for at least the Vermeers.  I had a chance to correspond with Tim, who  is very open about his methods and very helpful.  I found the method very interesting, and there are some good videos about it. So that you can go directly to a trial of your own.  It is slow and ponderous though, and I am not sure of the utility of the method in a modern art context, It is interesting that Hockney dove so deeply into this when one considers the draftsmanship in his work.  Tim and Hockney got together for the movie, and Hockney was able to get Tim in to see the Vermeer in the British Royal Family collection.

    I am horrendous at drawing.  And I also have hardly ever practiced it at all.  I got this new nib pen, and I was practicing with it and did a drawing of my dad from a photo.  I was well pleased that it come out looking human, but it did not look much like my dad.  Next I tried to just get a few points on the face in proper proportion, and bingo, it looked unmistakable like my dad.  From that point I lost interest in the mirrors, they don't really speed things up.  But it was an interesting passage where I not only saw the movie, tried the mirrors, read the book, and developed a dozen other methods, and finally just came back to the drawing by hand. 

    There was a time after optics were available and before photography, when painting went through a period of experimentation.  I found most interesting that these optical tricks may have been responsible for radical reshaping of sensitivity to perspective.
  • but like Ingres, why fool around when you need to be exact?
    This book is a must read for any painter.

    Interestingly, they cracked the code on Vermeer because they were able to find mathematical evidence of distortion in his paintings that is consistent with the optical distortion that mirrors or lenses of the day would create.  So exactly wrong, though also imperceptible. 

    There are times in painting where the drawing is everything, and others where it is so deeply lost in the layers that it is not the point of the exercise.  But just as one wants to start with a flat canvas, one wants to start with an accurate drawing, so whatever it takes.
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