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Amorsolo’s Sketches
By Edwin A. Martinez

In the angst-ridden world of today’s art scene, the emphasis on spontaneity and introspection demands that the artist expresses his or her ideas by putting brush to canvas as visions cross the artist’s mind.  The first brush strokes define the foundation of the finished masterpiece---a window into the artist’s self.

Fernando C. Amorsolo, the first Filipino National Artist, actually held the opposite view.  As with the traditional classicists, he believed that the foundation of the finished painting was built not upon the first brush strokes but the initial drawings that should precede them. He painstakingly drew multiple studies, repeatedly revising and correcting the previous output until he arrived at a satisfactory result.  Amorsolo’s drawings remind us that painting is not just a reverberation of one’s soul but must involve the analytical structuring of one’s eye.

Amorsolo was so dedicated to detail and structure that despite his mastery of the human form he continued to incessantly sketch everything he saw producing about three sets of sketches within hours.  He reasoned that every person was different.  The movements and the way the light bounces off were unique and he wanted to capture these nuances to truly make his work an accurate reflection of the subject.  He was never content with what he has already seen believing that nature always had something new to offer.  The detail and sophistication with which Amorsolo executed his drawings make his studies finished products unto themselves. 

Spanish Woman with Mantilla
, 1919
Conte crayon -- 14.75” x 10.38”
Christina Amorsolo Collection
Signed and inscribed “F. Amorsolo Madrid ‘19”

The artist was known to be a very prolific painter having produced thousands of oil paintings.  For every painting he finished, there were countless drawings and bosetos (oil studies) that served as precursors.  If these studies were included, rough estimates place Amorsolo’s total artistic output in the tens of thousands.  Early in the 1970’s, a group of American tourists visited his studio.  Not feeling very well at the time, he prodded his daughter Sylvia to entertain the guests.  At a loss as to how to entertain them, she took out albums containing the artist’s sketches.  One of the visitors exclaimed, “First time I’ve seen so many beautiful art studies made by one artist!”

More important than the volume is the quality of his output.  Amorsolo would start off with a rough rendering, often drawn from life, followed by other sketches offering more detail.  He constantly sought to improve upon his initial work resulting in studies that approached the same level of excellence as the finished oil painting.  His attention to detail was such that you can almost mistake his late-stage sketches for black and white photo reproductions of his oil paintings.

In order to appreciate Amorsolo’s artistry, one cannot concentrate just on his paintings.  One has to take a step back and look at the foundation of that which the artist seeks to communicate.  The essence of drawing is the use of lines in order to define a shape.  What distinguishes Amorsolo from the other great artists is that not only did he use lines to define shape but oftentimes he utilized the absence of them to suggest form.  Therein lies the artist’s genius.  If one were to look closely, one cannot find in the depiction the detail that is suggested and yet the composition was fully realized.

Amorsolo Directory ~~ Most of the current literature that pays tribute to Amorsolo highlights his works in oil.  What many art patrons fail to realize is that what came before the final product gives you the opportunity to get a better peek at the artist’s thought process.  Known as a very meticulous artist, Fernando Amorsolo made numerous sketches before he actually put the first brush stroke onto his canvas.  Oftentimes, the initial sketches give you a better idea of his original intent.  The delicate lines tell the story of the raw artistry that evolved and manifested itself in the finished oil painting.  The Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation put together a personal directory that is accompanied by 20 images of sketches that the artist drew in preparation for some of his more famous oil paintings.  This small sampling of sketches in different stages of the drawing process gives one an appreciation of the painstaking detail that Amorsolo undertook in creating his art pieces.  If you are interested in purchasing this book, click on the picture at left for further details.
Last Update:  03 April, 2009

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