Tlingit Formline and Style
I’m going to use the ovoid shape to talk a little bit about formline styles. One of the characteristics of formline, which Bill Holm explains very well in Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form, is the swelling and tapering effect of the formlines.
The lines gracefully expand and shrink similar to that of calligraphy. This swelling and tapering of the formlines is what causes the graceful flowing effect of one shape transitioning or connecting to the next. It is what ties the design as a whole together.
Formline shapes have thicker heavier areas that taper; in the instances of the ‘u’ shapes, the tapering ends in pointed tips. In the instances of ovoids, the bottom line is thinner and the top is thicker, but they will taper into each other.
The amount of thickness of the heavier part of the formlines depends on a number of things: a regional style and the artist’s own style. The visual effect of heavy formline is much different from that of thinner formline. The video below demonstrates this very well.
Very simple ovoid shapes and a basic ‘u’ shape make good practice. You can experiment with the amount of thickness to give the thicker parts of the formline. But remember this important rule of thumb: MAKE THE THICK PARTS CONSISTENT THROUGHOUT. In other words, make the heaviest part of the ovoid approximately the same thickness in the heaviest part of the ‘u’ shapes. Then your style will be consistent in the overall design. Practice, practice, practice.
My morning practice included drawing ovoids using varying thicknesses, as you can see below:
You can practice this with both ovoids and circles. Personally, I think of circles as “squashed” ovoids, or ovoids as “stretched” circles.
Pay attention also to how the placement of the “floating” ovoid in the center of each ovoid affects the resulting “tertiary” area around it. Placement of the inner ovoid more toward the top changes the amount of tertiary area above and below it. This is another stylistic difference. You get the gist.