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Uploaded:2014-04-24
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In which Los Angeles-based artist Robyn O'Neil challenges you to draw a psychological landscape.

EPISODE 06 INSTRUCTIONS

1. Get a piece of paper and something to draw with

2. Create a ground on your picture plane

3. Populate the ground with figures and give them human-like characteristics.

4. Upload it using #theartassignment

5. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Learn more about Robyn's work here: http://www.robynoneil.com/
And follow her on twitter! @Robyn_ONeil

To learn more about The Art Assignment: http://theartassignment.com

Mentions include:
Bob Ross: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLO7tCdBVrA
Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, 1863, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/10154
Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams: http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/cave-of-forgotten-dreams
Chauvet Cave paintings: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/chauvet/
Sarah: Today's art assignment is all about landscape.   John: Yeah, so we've brought you up here so that you can see a landscape, the beautiful city of Los Angeles. Of course we are also in LA because we are visiting with an artist, Robyn O'Neil.   Sarah: Robyn makes monumentally scaled graphite drawings and she considers herself a landscape artist.    John: Yeah, and today she's going to talk to us about how to think about landscape, both the ones that we can see and the ones we have to imagine.   Sarah: So let's go talk to her.   Hi, I'm Robyn O'Neil and this is your art assignment.   I started basically what most people know of as landscape, or what do they call it, Sunday painting, is what I...that's how I was really trained.   So my grandmother got all of her grandkids together when we would see her on the weekends, spread out newspapers on the dining room or kitchen table.    And she would not...you would think that that would be "Oh, and then we finger painted," or something, cause this was when I was five years old, or maybe four, we started this.   But we did oil painting, so very Bob Ross like, you know. Not paint by numbers, you actually have the little canvas and copy what the magazine says.    So I started to draw a lot, and then I was just always, always in art classes. And I call myself a landscape artist all the time; I wish I'd painted so I could just say landscape painter, that makes more sense.   But, um, you know, it's just just about reflecting what's around you.   You're setting a stage to tell a story. And that's been very important with my work. I had a narrative that lasted ten years so I remember when I finally came up with figure and ground as my way of expressing myself. I thought, Oh, my God, once I came up with these characters that I drew--which were little men in sweatsuits-- I thought, Jesus, I could use these guys to tell any story I ever want to.   Picture plane is actually really simple. It's a fancy word for a two dimensional image, so it's a square or a rectangle, it could be a circle. But it's the flat space you use to create a world or to create an image.    Within the picture plane we're going to use a ground and a figure.The ground within the picture plane is actually where we're setting the stage. So it can be the surface of the picture plane or it can be an actual, literal ground mark where you can see grass and sky.    So, but basically, you're trying to set the stage and create the atmosphere with the ground.    Figure is the easiest one. Figure is either a human figure or anything that populates the ground and the picture plane. Animals, a desk, a bookshelf. The figure is whatever sits within the ground that you've already created.    And these are just kind of art terms that sound more narrow than they are, but I would love to see people do interiors, exteriors, as I've talked about, inside of you're brain can be a landscape. So, and I love those kind of abstracted ideas of figure-ground relationships.   Your assignment is to draw a psychological landscape. All I need you to do is to go get a piece of paper--any paper, any size. Then you need to draw on it, so whatever you're comfortable with. Do you like pencils? I do. Do you like pencils and paint brush? Use that. Any combination is fine.    Then, I need you to set the stage, which is when you create your ground on your picture plane.    Next is the fun part: populate that ground with any sort of figure. It can be a human figure, it can be an animal, it can be anything under the sun. But I want you to try to infuse that figure with something human-like. Give it some life, some sort of human characteristics.   John: So Sarah, I have to confess that I didn't actually know what the figure-ground relationship was until Robyn told us about it, but I gather that it's, like, a very big deal.   Sarah: Yeah, I was surprised by that. It's pretty fundamental if you take art classes or go to art school, that figure-ground relationship.   John: But I didn't. I didn't take art classes. But it-it's like, uh, landscape paintings like these early American pastoral scenes.   Sarah: Well sure, it's definitely traditional landscape painting, scenes that kind of thing, but it goes much farther back then that, to like the very first art.   John: What, like cave paintings?   Sarah: Yeah, you remember Werner Herzog's documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams that you really liked?   John: Yeah, but, I mean, those don't seem like landscapes to me.   Sarah: Yeah, they definitely are!   Sarah: Some of the oldest known paintings, datable to around 30,000 BCE, can be found in the Chauvet Cave in southeastern France. Early Homo sapiens etched and painted onto the walls of the cave using clay and charcoal, creating complex and beautiful depictions of animals like mammoths, bison, horses, and rhinos.    In this particular area, the animals are the figures and the ground is the surface of the cave wall. The artists used shading to give the figures dimension. When the Chauvet paintings were rediscovered in 1994 and dated to such an early era, experts were shocked by their sophisticated use of perspective, or how three-dimensional things are depicted on a roughly two-dimensional surface.    After Picasso visited the cave paintings in not terribly far-away Lascaux, he reportedly said, "They've invented everything." But what they really did is demonstrate that the evolution of art has not had a consistent trajectory, but instead is a process unfolding in leaps and spurts, progressing and regressing.    We see in these magnificent cave paintings images that are clearly landscapes and clearly psychological, but the secrets of that psychology we can never really know.   You know, as odd as it can be to be an artist, sometimes you start thinking, Why am I doing this? There's so many other things that seem more directly, to be more--you know for, instance, a doctor or something--to help people or to be involved with humanity. But the fact that the cave men needed to make art somehow gives me proof that it's in our blood as humans to make art, and that it is necessary, and it always has been.   Hi, guys! Now we're in my studio, and I have plenty of examples of my own version of starting a ground. So, I've set the stage on about four different drawings here.  I'm going to start by showing you one to talk about horizon line. In this drawing, I haven't quite done anything to the sky yet, but this is my version of ground for this one. You see the horizon line's in the center.    What does that do? Very simply, it gives an equal space to whatever's going to be activated up here and whatever's down here. That's a calming landscape, in a way. Although, I've messed with the calming, and I've made it a very jagged, crazy line, rather than soft and straight.    That was basically a bunch of smudged pencil and then with one eraser mark, you have a landscape. I mean, that, to me, is exciting.    So then, now all of a sudden, we have what could be a hill, could be the surface of the moon. It could be Iowa. It could be kind of any place right now, so depending on that, now you get to decide what you want to put on it. So, I've just got this old, weird figure. We put him here; that means he's going this way possibly. If he's down here, he's exiting another way. You also think about light sources. Is he walking up towards the light? Um, but there's any, you can collage, you can do--look I've got all these things that I don't even know what they are. Uh, this is a good example of populating your landscape with absolutely anything goes and then maneuvering them around.   This a very obvious version of figure/ground. Although, I've taken the ground and made it a cliff coming off the side. So here's my ground, coming off of the edge of the landscape. The little people, the figures, would normally be here, but I've thrown them off the ledge and they're falling off like little lemmings. [Chuckles]   I love basics. Just, period. In every single way. Just like I like a turkey sandwich, I like a salad, I like very, I like water! I want to drink water and coffee, eat turkey sandwiches, and I want to look at landscapes.