Figure Work After Months of Landscapes

August 9, 2013 in Figurative

Fellow plein air painter Judy Dewar initiated her new studio by inviting a few artists over to work from a live model.  It was a pleasure working beside Judy, Beckie Perrott, and Marian Pacsuto.  I initially intended to paint for the whole session, but a repair contractor was supposed to come to my house, so I needed to be ready to leave on short notice.  I took drawing supplies, thinking I would draw until the contractor called, meet him and let him in and come back to Judy’s studio to paint for the rest of the session.  The contractor had not called by lunchtime, so I never got out my paints.  I enjoyed the 2- and 5-minute warm-ups, using charcoal on good manilla newsprint and on gray student-quality paper before moving on to a 20-minute session using my favorite drawing media – graphite and white nupastel.  I drew on tan-tinted Mi-Tientes paper, which has a nice squared texture.  For my last piece, over the course of two 30-minute sessions, I used some oil pastels which I had never used before.  I had a student-quality set of oil pastel crayons that I’d had for years and years, and a dime-store set of oil pencils for the finer work, both of which I brushed with turpentine after laying in the colors.  I gave that final drawing to the model.  Below are my warm-ups and my two final pieces.  By clicking on them you will get a larger view.

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

Gesture drawing, 2 gowned females, standing Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, knee up, with attitude Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, holding knee up Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, twisting
Drawing of woman in blue gown, dozing against pillows Painting of blue-gowned woman sitting against pillows

The Importance of Warming Up in Figure Drawing

April 23, 2012 in Figurative

I need to warm-up for a little while before my efforts at figure drawing start to flow naturally.  During the initial warm-up period, I try to capture the general directional line of the model, and a few of the light and dark patterns, or perhaps some of the essential contours or textures.  Often it feels like I am drawing a stick figure, just trying to get the general angles and proportions correct.  I draw fast, because our warm-up drawings start with 30-second or 1-minute or two-minute poses.  The model often takes slightly off-balance or less comfortable poses during the warm-up period, knowing that he or she doesn’t have to hold them for long.  I find that effort on the part of the model inspiring, and it motivates me to try harder.  I usually use the broad side of a chalky medium for the warm-up drawings, sometimes even drawing with white nupastel, which helps me to see where the light is striking the model, though white alone usually doesn’t photograph well enough to post here in my blog.  I draw with minimal concern for accuracy, sometimes merely trying to switch gears, from the left-brained thinking about my day-job as I drove to the session, to the right-brain activity of figure drawing.  Drawing is first of all a physical activity, so like an athlete, an artist needs to work at it a little in order to coordinate the hand with the eye, and a period of warm-up drawings helps with that.

As you can see by the examples below, warm-up gestures have strange lines, curves going the wrong direction, places that get overdeveloped, and other places not drawn at all, wrong proportions, and yet an undeniable essence of the figure.  These are warm-up gestures of the same pose from this past week’s figure drawing session at Studio b:  one by me, one by Nancy Nichols Williams, and one by Steve Wagner.

Joan Vienot

Nancy Williams

Steve Wagner

I enjoy the time spent warming-up, but 2-minutes is always too short.  But then too, 5 minutes is too short, and so is 20 minutes, and come to think of it, rarely is a pose long enough for me to feel like I actually finished!  The next drawings include another of my warm-up gestures, and then two longer drawings, perhaps 20-minutes or 30 minutes.  I left early from this session, exhausted from teaching all day, the 2nd of a 2½ day crash-course that I teach at a nearby college, certifying swimming pool operators to meet health department requirements.

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

Overlap Between Media – Drawing and Painting

January 5, 2012 in Figurative

This week I started setting up my studio for painting.   It’s been a long time since I did any significant painting, especially in oils, which is what I intend to use, for the most part.  I have some ancient paints, which I think will be adequate while I re-acquaint myself with color mixing.

I well-remember the elements and principles of composition.  After all, I taught art in a high school for 3 years.  The introductory course focussed on the elements and principles of design:  line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, and harmony, balance, and rhythm.  But color can be immensely complex.  Within that single element are hues, values, intensities, shades, tints, compliments, keys, analagous, primary, secondary, warm, cool, transparent, opaque, permanent, tertiary, and my goodness, stop, I’m already intimidated!

I had done most of the corrections of my drawings in the main part of my house, and my studio was just recently renovated, so it was not set up at all.  I carried the studio furniture into the new space — easels, taborets, drafting tables, and desks.  It feels very strange in there with nothing on the walls yet, and the tables and easels are empty.

My only injury was a bad whack on the top of my head when the post of my big easel smacked into a dropped ceiling and stopped me in my tracks.  (Note to self.)

I still attended the weekly figure drawing session at Studio b.   Our model this week had been in Europe this past fall.  She told me she had shown my website posts all over Europe, which pleased me hugely.  I have no idea how many people actually read my posts, or how long they spend looking at my drawings.  My webmaster is counting it all, but I haven’t asked him what the numbers are.  At this point, I am just happy to share the process.  Below are two warm-up drawings with multiple poses, 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

Don’t Worry, Just Draw!

December 23, 2011 in Figurative

Sometimes the artists will talk during the breaks between the longer poses at the figure drawing sessions at Studio b.  This week we touched on the purpose of our lives, parallel universes, and the annihilation of the solar system that is going to happen in a zillion years.  I have to confess, I have never lain awake at night over any those issues.  It’s challenge enough just being myself in my small world!

My life is pretty basic.  My “day-job” can be all-consuming.  Many of my activities are trade-offs, where I have to give up one thing so I can do another.  But having made those trade-offs, I am so much healthier than I was 3 years ago when I first started working out, and I draw better than 2 years ago when I started coming to the figure drawing sessions at the b., and I have more friends since spending more time paddling the local waters over the last 2 years, and somehow I have managed to find a little time to practice meditation and yoga.  All told, that probably consumes 20 hours a week.  If the economy changes, and my work gets busy again, I’m going to have to make some choices, because that 20 hours is time I used to spend working.  But for now, things are good, and the solar system is not worrying me.  Global warming, yes, acidification of the oceans, yes, but the solar system , no.

I don’t worry about anything very much.  Once in a while, not having a lot of money will make me itch, but not too often, because the experiences I have make me wealthy beyond any amount of money.  The trick is merely to be present, to be looking at what is, and allowing myself to be amazed.  And that brings me back to figure drawing, to my state of mind when I am most successful at capturing the essence of a particular pose.

Both of the poses I show above, were about 30-minutes long.  I roughly and lightly sketched the gesture with white Nupastel, and then refined the shapes and the lighting with both nupastel and graphite.

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

Surrounded by Painters at Figure Drawing

December 1, 2011 in Figurative

On this night at Studio b. at the regular weekly figure drawing session, I was the only artist who exclusively draws the figure.  David Orme-Johnson brought his watercolor paints, and Nancy Nichols Williams brought her acrylics.  Steve Wagner also is an accomplished figure painter, although on this night he worked with charcoal and white on brown paper.  As expected of all students majoring in art in any university, I took my share of figure painting classes, but when it comes to the figure, I like making dry marks on paper.

I warmed up with some small sketches using water soluble graphite pencil on watercolor paper, which I added a wash to later when I got home.

I enjoyed the longer poses.  I feel that I am coming closer to my intended effect as I continue to use graphite and white nupastel.  It is always a challenge to draw the female model we had tonight, who is in constant training for triathlons and is now training for an Ironman next year.  Her musculature is supremely developed, but I find myself minimizing her definition, probably because it becomes very detailed and I always feel like I am rushed and must simplify.

The first pose I have posted above was supposed to be for 10 minutes, but we asked the model to hold it a little longer, so it grew to 15.  The pose below was for 45 minutes, with a break after the first half hour.  That longer pose allowed me to spend a little more time on the face.

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

Figure Drawing the Night Before Thanksgiving

November 24, 2011 in Figurative

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 Figurative

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

Showing Some of My Work

November 10, 2011 in Figurative, General, Photography

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 Figurative

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

Changing Perspective in Figure Drawing

September 15, 2011 in Figurative

Our model this week at Studio b.‘s regular weekly figure drawing session stood on a ladder during the warm-up drawings and the shorter warm-up poses, and she also posed up on a table.  Usually our model is on a short platform or even on the floor, so this change in perspective was a rare treat.  I enjoyed the challenge of drawing from a lower vantage point.  Every shape was different from how we normally see our model.  To add to the challenge, we positioned a floodlight to light her from below.

The model brought a hat, a mask, and a necklace to give us some accents.

I used some different media to loosen up from the intense figure drawing workshop Heather Clements taught last Saturday at Studio b.  I had not sketched since Saturday, and I felt like I had really tightened up, hence my decision to use less familiar media, to force myself to “let go”.  Interesztingly, I think my most successful piece of the evening was one of these looser pieces, using water-soluble Aquarelle pencil on hot press watercolor paper, the study of the model wearing the mask, above left.  It is small, only 4½” x 6″.

I throw away almost all of my warm-up drawings.  Colleen Duffley, owner of Studio b., suggested saving more gestures, explaining to me that some people have more appreciation for anonymous gestures than for finished drawings of a model they don’t know.  This poses a dilemma.  I do so many warm-up drawings, or gestures, that I always use an inferior grade of paper, for the sake of economy.  Newsprint and manilla paper costs just pennies, as opposed to good paper which can run from $1.65 to $3.50 per sheet, and upwards.  So the few times that a warm-up drawing turns out to be a keeper, its value is compromised because of the poor quality of paper.  It can be redrawn on archival paper, but that is a challenging task because the immediacy of expression, the passion, will be difficult to recreate.  So I decided to bring a tablet of 18 x 24 Canson Cream that I had bought a good 6 months ago, and I did all of my warm-up drawings on good paper.  I missed the rough texture, or “tooth” of the manilla and gray bogus papers I usually warm up on — the tablet of good paper is very smooth.

Below left is one of my warm-up drawings, a 5 minute pose, and the other two are longer poses on Stonehenge and Rives.

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