Figure Drawing the Night Before Thanksgiving

November 24, 2011 in Figure Drawing by joanvienot

The model couldn’t make it to Studio b. for our figure drawing session this week, so the owner of the Studio, Colleen Duffley, graciously offered us her time, posing clothed for us.  When the artist knows the model, it seems important to try to be accurate in the drawing, for the sake of not offending the model by one’s poor craftsmanship.  I tried to put that additional pressure out of my head as I drew.

Clothed models are much easier to draw than nudes.  Clothing is very forgiving — I can fudge one way or another with a line or a shadow on clothing without it feeling awkward.  Nevertheless, I still wanted more time, even on the 20 and 30-minute poses.  Between the wire-mesh of the model’s chair, and the leather and denim of her clothing, and her extraordinarily beautiful, curly hair, it was frustrating to be faced with such rich textures that I could only hint at because of the duration of the poses.

Below are two warm-up drawings, and two longer poses.  Click on any image for a larger view.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

Figure Drawing Media – Small Changes

November 17, 2011 in Figure Drawing by joanvienot

I have been working on fairly smooth paper, primarily using graphite and nupastel, for the past few weeks.  This week I opted to use graphite on a textured paper for one drawing, and charcoal with nupastel for the second one.  I confess, I prefer nupastel and graphite, but it’s nice to try different media or different surfaces.  Not having as much control over the media because of less practice, shakes things up a little, requiring me to draw more slowly or else to be more forgiving of my efforts if I am a little clumsy.  The textured paper was Canson Mi-Teintes, which I have used before, but not strictly with graphite.  At 19 x 25, the paper is a little larger than I have been working on, but though I intended to, I could not manage to fit the entire figure onto the page, even though she was sitting hugging her knees.   The pose was our usual 30 minutes long, so I had to use some rough cross-hatching to block in the darker values.

My second drawing was on Stonehenge, one of the the smooth papers I’ve been drawing on recently, but charcoal is not as easily handled as graphite.  Combining charcoal with nupastel certainly made  it easier to graduate the toning, than using charcoal alone.

These drawings were made during the regular weekly figure drawing session at Studio b. in Alys Beach, in Northwest Florida.

I am adding in a minimalist sketch of the sweetest cat I have ever known, my cat Sumi, an adoptee from the Humane Society, a big Maine Coon cat.  She didn’t live long, only 6 years, having compensated renal failure, and she didn’t gain the weight many Maine Coons have.  This drawing shows her thinner summer coat, with wisps coming out of her ears and elbows.  I made a sketch of her many years ago, and recently I transferred that sketch to good paper.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

Artist’s Statement

November 14, 2011 in General by joanvienot

I have added an Artist’s Statement to my Bio page.  I will be exhibiting a few pieces of my work in the  A+Art Committee member exhibit at Okaloosa Walton State College next spring.  The committee functions under the umbrella of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (Florida), selecting artists and organizing shows in the lobby area of the South Walton OWSC business office about 4 or 5 times a year.  This year was our first year, and we decided to avoid any appearance of self-promotion this first year.  But several members of the committee are accomplished artists, so we decided to have a show of committee members’ works for a couple of months next year.

Following is my Artist’s Statement, at least for today, 11/14/11.  No doubt it will evolve.

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Joan Vienot – Artist’s Statement

The greatest pleasure for me as an artist is the capture of the present moment, a little piece of Now.  The challenge is greatest when the subject is the human figure, where the length of a pose is limited by the live model’s ability to remain motionless for any duration. Very little time is available for retractions or corrections, so my marks on the paper have to be certain and authoritative.  Every pose is a challenge of my mastery.  Similarly, plein air painting requires intense focus and present moment awareness in order to execute a scene before the light changes radically.  In both cases, the subject must be portrayed in fairly general terms, with only enough detail to lend unique identity and a bit of atmosphere.  I rarely do anything more than minimal correcting, or perhaps heightening of contrast, when I get back to my studio, preferring to let my interpretation of the moment stand on its own.  My approach might result in what some may call mistakes in proportion or perspective, but I think accuracy should be subordinate to my effort to convey the essence of the subject in a short amount of time.

When time is so fleeting that I could never capture something in either dry or wet media, then I resort to my camera to produce a photograph, which of course records the quintessential moment in time.

My favorite subject for drawing is the human figure.  People’s lives and experiences create lines on their faces and sags on their bodies, and their posture bears witness to their youth or to their years.  The nude figure in particular, with the façade of clothing removed, reveals the essence of a person’s physical existence and might even hint at her spirit.  Most of my figure drawings are of females simply because most of the models I’ve had opportunity to draw are female.  My figure drawings are very simply my personal expression of the beauty and complexity of the human form and my efforts toward mastery of that expression.

Showing Some of My Work

November 10, 2011 in Figure Drawing, General, Photography by joanvienot

I have participated in two recent showings of my work – one local at the Bayou Arts Center, the new home of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, and one with international exposure, at Studio b.  At Studio b., probably 75 of my drawings were displayed, informally.  At Bayou Arts, CAA Board members art will be exhibited until sometime in December.  These are the pieces I am exhibiting there, including drawings, photography, and encaustic:

And this past weekend I entered 3 drawings in an international juried competition, Au Natural: The Nude in the 21st Century.  On November 30, 2011, they’ll let me know whether any of my pieces were accepted.  Below are the pieces I submitted.  They are drawn in the style I am having fun with right now, using graphite on toned paper, with white nupastel for the highlights.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

Figure Drawing Starts With One Mark

November 10, 2011 in Figure Drawing by joanvienot

I don’t have time for stage fright in figure drawing.  No performance anxiety allowed.  No worries about perfection.  No time to test the water, I have to just jump right in.  I start with warm-up sketches, timed one-minute gesture drawings.  I am drawing so fast and furiously that there is no time to be afraid.  I go through a lot of paper at the start of every session, knowing that every warm-up drawing will probably be thrown in the wastebasket when I get home.

It all starts with making the first mark on the paper, usually a broad gestural sweep showing the general directional line of the posed model’s position.  I like to use something soft, and light in value, a color which can be incorporated into my final drawing.  Soft chalk-like pastels are a little messy because they are so soft, so I use nupastel, which is a little harder, but not as hard as conte which is made of graphite mixed with clay.  I use conte sometimes, for my warm-ups, but with conte I am always risking permanent damage to my paper or my drawing by the unfortunate specks of hard material that are often in conte.  My favorite medium is very soft graphite, in a pencil.  But in my warm-up drawings, I sometimes never graduate from nupastel to graphite.  Instead the whole time is spent building shapes onto that first gestural directional line, correcting and re-correcting to get proportions and shapes more or less “right”.  The 5-minute warm-up drawing at right shows multiple corrections of the position of the left leg.

Below are my final 30-minute drawings for the evening.  I’m having fun drawing on paper that is lightly toned tan or gray, using white nupastel to make the highlighted areas stand out, and using graphite for the darks.  For the midtones I just let the paper show through.  I’ve been using my fingers to mush the media together in places, creating a softer texture.

We draw every Wednesday evening at Studio b. in Alys Beach.  Last night I had the pleasure of drawing beside accomplished artists Nancy Nichols Williams, David Orme-Johnson, Susan Alfieri, and Denielle Harmon.  I was exhausted, having taught all day at one of my other jobs, and then attending the opening of Donnelle Clark’s mixed media show in Rosemary Beach before coming to draw at Studio b.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

The Figure Artist’s Shell

November 3, 2011 in Figure Drawing by joanvienot

First, some blatant self-promotion — if you will “Like” my facebook page and share one of my posts, it will greatly improve my fan base.  Right now my exposure is a little puny.  It may be because I am practicing figure drawing, which is the subject of this blog post.

Some people are not comfortable with the nude figure.  It is more accepted in some cultures, certainly more so in Europe than in the United States.  In many areas of the world, it is not at all unusual to see bare-breasted or nude people at public locations like the beach.  But in the United States, many people are taught that the body is to be hidden, some even associating it with shame, others merely with privacy.  Many years ago, I remember when one of my drawings was accepted for a juried show when I attended the University of Northern Colorado.  My drawing instructor told me that my wildly expressionistic and colorful drawing was not selected for technical merit, but rather for the sheer expressive quality.  The subject was a dancer, drawn in bold strokes of bright reds and greens, with charcoal contours defining the figure.  I had actually attended some modern dance classes where I was allowed to sketch the dancers, and that drawing was from one of those sessions.  The figure was neither clothed nor unclothed in the drawing — it was simply gestural, to reflect the dynamic movement of the fast-moving dancer.  But I remember when I brought it home, and proudly showed it to my family, one family member told me that I should be ashamed, that it was nasty.  It was not the first time that my art had not been received exactly how I expected, but I had already by that time grown a shell, so while the comment is one I will forever remember, it did not stop me from pursuing my favorite subject, the human figure.

Other areas of the world readily display nude sculpture and paintings.  But here in the U.S., we are a little more prudish, distinguishing “non-offensive” art as “family-friendly”.  Public institutions displaying art might refuse to display nude pieces because they want to be family-friendly, because children seeing nude artwork most certainly will be corrupted.  More likely, they need to keep their more conservative benefactors happy, so they are reluctant to take risks.

In our weekly figure drawing session a couple of months ago, a woman from England brought her talented 13-year-old son to participate.  Clearly he was practiced — this was not his first time drawing a nude model.  Shock of shocks, instead of having some puerile, voyeuristic interest, he behaved just like all the other artists, immediately and matter-of-factly diving into his drawing.

The stigma is so pervasive where I live, in rural Northwest Florida, that it was a long time before there was any nude figure drawing available on a consistent basis.  In the not-so-distant past in fact, the sheriff was called to shut down previous efforts at one gallery.  Even now in my area, even with the sophistication of the people now living in the beach area which has been developed over the past 30 years, out of the 40-some good-sized galleries between Destin and Panama City Beach, Studio b. in Alys Beach stands alone in offering regularly weekly figure drawing sessions with a live nude model.

Working from a human figure is unlike any other subject.  A tree for example, will be very forgiving if you draw a branch coming out of the trunk at a different angle.  The figure on the other hand will look grotesque if you draw an arm coming out of the trunk at the wrong angle.  There are certain articulations that joints can do, and the viewer’s eye will notice if it is incorrect even if they can’t consciously put their finger on it.  If an artist wants to put people in his art, it is essential that he practice figure drawing, if he wants them to be convincing.  There are a number of artists in the area who use figures in their work, who might benefit from more practice.  Just saying…

Not everyone is comfortable with nude figures — I recognize that.  At least now, if someone is uncomfortable with my work, at least to my face they just give a tepid response if any, and not outright condemnation.  To a great extent, I think that people who have been exposed to the nude as an art form, view it as a thing of beauty, and the more they are exposed to it, the sooner they can let go of the nasty or shameful interpretations they may have been taught to associate with nudity.  When we see all things as having beauty or at least a correctness in all stages of their existence, then perhaps we will care for our planet and its life forms with more reverence.  My figure drawings are very simply my personal expression of the beauty and complexity of the human form and my efforts toward mastery of that expression.

Most of my images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot