Or gridding as it’s otherwise known. This is the process of enabling mapping across two visual areas – one a photograph, the other a sheet of support – whereby the first is divided into equal squares (or rectangles) which is replicated on the second. For example, a 12 x 12 grid of 5 cm squares on the photo might become a 12 x 12 grid of 10 cm squares on the support. Then, taking one square at a time, the information is copied across so that all the elements retain their alignments and relationships with other elements as they’re transferred onto the support.
Clearly, anyone whose preference is for very detailed photo-realism will be drawn to this as a way of ensuring every detail in every location is precisely located and replicated, while those of a more gestural style might feel constrained by this and limit their use to locating the broad sweeps of lines and shapes.
I’m familiar with this technique; I’ve tried it several times as people who seemed to know what they were talking about advocated it, but it has never sat well. Focusing on detail distracts me from the whole and I very quickly lose my place, which seems counter-intuitive given this is all about place. I’ll talk about why this might be a little later; it has to do with the way people experience construction of shapes and has, in the past, been shown to differ between men and women.
I was determined to give this another go but not in a way that would be self-defeating and so I chose and extremely uncomplicated photo, gridded this with a small number of rectangles, and up-scaled by a factor or one onto the support which would be the painting. This then, is a very simple 4 x 4 grid in which each rectangle contains a very small amount of information to be transferred, and I found it relatively easy to replicate the essential lines in the right places on the support while also, critically in my case, not losing my ‘big picture’ overview. This possibly would be my way in for a more complex image and as photorealism is not really my preference, may just be good enough. But first I need to make a painting.
The support is A3 hot pressed water colour cartridge which I chose because I wanted to just give this a light touch as it’s primarily an exercise in technique. I may re-imagine the colours though; muddy brown/green doesn’t appeal and this place, down the road from my house, can look much better.
This is an exercise in placement and most things seem to be where they should be. I don’t know whether to persist with this painting qua painting or to leave it as is. Watercolour paper, substantial as this stuff it, doesn’t bear much revisiting. There’s quite a bit that I like – the transparency of the hills and fields in the distance for instance – and other parts I would like to adjust – the swans seems a bit bulky and unfinished.
On the other hand, I am learning how to leave things alone and to develop some discernment about that so do I discern that this is fine as it is, rather naive and primitive, or am I just copping out of a painting I probably wouldn’t have begun had it not been for this requirement? I’ll maybe wander off, bother the cats, give it an hour or so.
After a short break, I’ve adjusted a couple of swans.
Details. I’m quite fond of these two now.
And I like the translucency here along with the somewhat impressionistic tree.
Question – how do you get rid of the grid?
I realise I posted before coming back to the male-female gridding issue. For many years, psychology has demonstrated through experimentation that men are much more able to mentally rotate 3D objects in space than women, while women are better at verbal material. This was thought to be down to differences in brain structure although more recent ideas suggest it has more to do with a tendency for male children to be exposed to constructional toys while girls are given nurturing ones. If that’s true, then the trend towards a less gendered approach to play materials should be evening this out, while more positive attitudes to women in science has made it less challenging for girls to get into STEM subjects.
Whatever the primary cause though, it’s a very well established phenomenon such that, coming across this technique the first time I immediately judged it to be a male invention. This is not entirely unjustified. Simon Baron-Cohen, a clinical psychologist and professor of autism at Cambridge, has been researching what he refers to as systemisation which he finds to be more common in men than women. People who systemise tend to order things and attend to detail while those who don’t are more likely to overlook detail in favour of the bigger picture. At the extreme is the person with autism who requires absolute adherence to routine and for everything to be the same. [For an absolutely delightful, funny, sympathetic, and accurate perspective on autism, you can’t do better than watch BBC’s The A Word]. In my time as a clinical psychologist, I have watched clients on the autistic spectrum draw very detailed copies of images which were upside down, sometimes never taking their pencil off the paper. They rarely had any notion of what the picture was though, and no interest in finding out.
Pulling back from that extreme, and reflecting on my own experience with mental rotation (rubbish!) plus my experience with maths (also rubbish), I am conflicted about the origins of these difficulties. In common with so very many girls of my age, I had no constructional toys and the message about girls and maths was that it was too hard for us. So is this nature or nurture, or a combination? The jury is out at the moment although the lean is towards the latter. Either way, gridding does my head in because it interferes with my big picture thinking and however I came by that, I’m probably stuck with it now.
Here’s a mental rotation test to play with via the SharpBrains site.