Dec 6, 2009

The Magic Of...

Most of my Cartooning and Drawing students are not familiar with M.C. Escher, and that's a shame, as he was one of the most inventive and original artists of the 20th century. His work is widely recognized, his techniques emulated and studied, his legacy enduring. Let's find out a bit more about this remarkable artist, shall we?

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a dutch graphic artist famous for his illustrations of impossible worlds, and bending of perspective in his illustrations. If you want to read the full biography, click on the picture on the left.

During a visit to Alhambra, palace in southern Spain, Escher noticed the pattern of tiles, common in Islamic architecture. The perfectly interlocking tiles of various patterns caught his attention, and he began creating images that interlocked perfectly (click on the picture of the Alhambra tiled wall on the right to see a larger view). Escher called these drawings plane tessellations. A tessellation is a collection of figures that fills the plane (a plane is a flat two-dimensional surface) with no overlaps or gaps. The tiled patten in the picture on the right is the same wall that inspired Escher.

Escher made sketches of the tiles and began to figure out how to create regular division of the plane in his drawings. He did a lot of sketching before the final pieces for which he is most famous. Pay attention students: use your sketchbook to work out your ideas and perfect your drawings. This is what your sketch book is for. Don't always go for the first idea that comes into your head.

First, Escher made sketches of the tiles while he was at the Alhambra (left). When traveling, keep a sketchbook (even a small one) with may never know when inspiration may strike! Then he did some practice sketches, trying to find a shape that would interlock perfectly (right). Not very good perhaps, but it was an exercise, to see if he could do it.

Here Escher is getting better at creating a regular division of the plane. This smirking little guy interlocks perfectly. You can see the grid lines he used to plan the interlocking points. This was a study for part of a print he did called Cycle. Below is the finished print; click for a larger view.

There's something a little creepy, yet mesmerizing, about this image.

Escher became extremely good at creating images that interlocked perfectly. I've tried copying his techniques; it's not easy at all. Check out the print below: the same print can be viewed upside down!

Right: Angels and Demons, another interlocking picture. Note the grid used to determine the rotation points.

Escher was also known for his works involving impossible worlds; worlds that look real but could not possible exist in real life.


This is probably one of Escher's most famous works, a mind-bending collision of vanishing points and alternate realities, all existing in one world. Look at the two figures on the stairs; one is going up while the other is descending, both occupying different planes of existence. The walls are floors, the floors are walls. Very trippy!

Just for fun, someone created the image in Legos:

And below is an insane interactive panorama created by Nico Roig of Escher's Relativity. By holding the mouse button down you can scroll around the entire scene. Very very cool!!

Tribute to Escher in Barcelona

Ascending and Descending

Escher used a clever visual trick to create a staircase that goes nowhere. The figures climbing and descending this staircase could keeping going forever without getting anywhere.

Below: a sketch Escher made in planning this piece. Once again, do several sketches of your ideas to perfect them before you do the final piece.

Look at Ascending and Descending again. It has three vanishing points. Not one, not two, but three. You can see them in the illustration below:

Which leads me to Escher's work in which he played with perspective like Silly Putty. Some of his works in this area of very clever and very trippy. Here is an example:

High and Low

This is a fun piece that shows the same scene from two vantage the same picture! There are two vanishing points in this picture.

The image on the right is Escher's explanation for how this image works, and how he created it.

There are so many of Escher's works worth looking at that there is not enough room to examine them all here. But now you can say you are familiar with the works of M.C. Escher.

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