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Forensic-like methods used to analyze Masters’ works

Dr. Ed Ford is a commercial graphic designer, and an art investigator.

He is able to look at Italian Renaissance drawings that were done by the masters Leonardo, Antonio de Sangallo, Palladio and Uccello and deduce the method they used to create their art.

Ford does this by examining the markings of the artists’ drafting tools that have been left on the works.

He will demonstrate his method during the free September Art Talk at the Kimball Art Center on Thursday, Sept. 20.

"It’s kind of like forensics," Ford said during an interview. "You have to approach it in a scientific and manner and interpret the evidence you find in a series of steps that will allow you to shed light on the artists’ methods and decisions."

Ford learned this method while he was at Oxford studying for his Ph.D. with the world-renowned art historian Martin Kemp.

"He studies art from a scientific angle by looking for clues to see how these artists created their works," Ford explained. "Because he was a scientist, he wasn’t going to let me go off on weird speculation when I analyzed these drawings. I had to work with evidence the drafting-tool marks the artists left behind."

If those marks were made by a compass and straight edge, Ford could literally find a logical creative trail that would take him into the mind of the artist.

"The masters built their works through a series of logical steps, and each mark is dependent on the ones that were made before," Ford said. "So if I see a mark at a certain spot, I know it was the result of another one located in a different place. When I find the pattern, I can backtrack all the way to the first step, and when I figure out step-wise what the artist did, then I can speculate the reasons why they did what they did.

"It’s a lot like the footprints Sherlock Holmes would study to determine who came into a room first," Ford said with a laugh.

Although Ford has been interested in art since he was in first grade, his fascination with the investigative aspect of art history sparked back in the 1980s.

"There were many articles and books published that showed paintings superimposed with grids," Ford said. "It’s called Surface Geometry and sometimes the grids would be horizontal and vertical lines and sometimes the grids would be diagonal or made up of different geometrical shapes."

The idea, Ford said, was to show how the artist designed or composed a painting.

"However, there was an article that I read at the beginning of my graduate studies that debunked those grids and theories, because it said you could use any grid and they would also correspond to the painting, so the question would be which grid was the correct one?

"The only way to find out how the masters created their works would be to have them write or tell you how they did it," Ford said. "That set me on the course."

Throughout his studies, Ford visited an array of museums that had drawings and sketches from the masters in their possession.

"Working with Martin Kemp, I was able to obtain access to those drawings at the Royal Institute of British Architects and the National Gallery," Ford said. "I also visited museums in Venice and Florence. And I found that once I figured out the meanings of these markings, it felt as if I was looking over their shoulders during the creative process. I began to see how the art came out of many rational decisions."

Ford poured over the drawings, examined the marks and collected the information for a dissertation.

"The Art Talk is essentially the meat of that dissertation," Ford said. "I will show how looking at these marks is useful to figuring out how a master did things.

"It’s been satisfying for me to get these answers, but it also gives me the itch to continue, but I haven’t had the opportunity to investigate more," he said. "As a draftsman and designer myself, I have a special appreciation for drawings, compositions and the process of making them and it is my hope that others who share this appreciation and desire to investigate further, can benefit from the methodology and results of this presentation."

Dr. Ed Ford will present "Interpretations of Marks from Draughting Tools: A Method of Analysis" as this months Art Talk at the Kimball Art Center, 633 Park Ave., on Thursday, Sept. 20, at 6 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.kimballartcenter.org.


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