It’s a long haul to downtown Panama City from my home in Santa Rosa Beach, and it’s even longer during spring break, with all the vacationers on the road. But I was determined to make it to the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida. Heather Clements teaches a figure drawing session there on the third Thursday of every month, from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. I got there about 20 minutes late because I forgot to plan for the heavier traffic.
So I missed the usual series of 30-second and 1-minute and 2-minute warm-up drawings. The other artists were already well into the 4-minute poses by the time I got set up. I was a little tense from all the traffic. I’m sure that contributed to some struggles I had with proportions. On one pose, I tried for a long time to draw hands that were way too small for the size of the face, and somehow missed seeing what was wrong with my picture the whole way through. Heather pointed it out to me, and then it was a Duh-moment, of course, then I could easily see it.
The model worked hard for us. She wasn’t feeling 100%, but she held her poses for as long as she could. It means a lot to the artists when the model is so professional. Our poses increased to 15, 30, and 45 minutes.
The trip home went much more quickly, but I was tired. I work during the day — I own and manage a swimming pool service business, which gets busier whenever tourism increases, so it was a pretty long day. My bonus on the drive home was that I saw the Air Force’s flares for about 15 minutes over the Choctawhatchee Bay, the ones that look like a UFO. (Maybe it was!)
David Orme-Johnson has been regularly attending the weekly figure drawing sessions at Studio b. Colleen invited him to be our guest artist this week. David showed us a number of drawings in which he had done most of the drawing using both hands simultaneously. In the later stages of each drawing, he executes the details just using one hand. His website contains other examples along with galleries of his other work. He talked about the process and the fun he has had since discovering that although he is right-handed, he can draw ambidextrously, and can even write script backwards.
Our model was unable to make it, so the artists took turns sitting as model for 5 or 10 minute poses (clothed). I think all artists who work from models should be made to model now and then, to maintain their appreciation. Modeling can be excruciating if you are not balanced well or if you are holding a slightly unusual position. For my first seated pose, I looked up towards the ceiling. My neck was starting to spasm after only 2½ minutes. (I see why our experienced models never look at the ceiling.)
I tried drawing with both hands like David, but I confused myself before I even started. I wanted to draw the model and draw the mirror image at the same time, which would have created a symmetrical drawing of two women seated, facing away from each other. The model was facing left. If I had been watching my left hand, and making my right hand just do the same thing but backwards, I think I might have had some success. Instead, I was trying to translate the model’s pose into its reverse in my mind, and draw that reverse pose with my right hand, while my left hand tried to copy my right hand. Pretty soon I didn’t know which direction either hand should go. I wasn’t very happy with my drawing, but I think I could practice and become better at it. (Click on picture at right for larger view.)
For the remainder of the class I enjoyed quickly sketching each artist as they took their turn posing. Weekly figure drawing has helped me to be able to get the basic body position drawn in a hurry. The problem is that some artists don’t just wear T-shirts and shorts like normal people. Instead they wear funky clothes and accessories that are a visual feast, so each pose ended way too soon, before I could start playing with the fabrics and textures. Following are a couple of my sketches from that session. I worked with either graphite or tinted graphite on 18″ x 24″ manilla. I sketched the gesture with white conte first.
This week at the Wednesday night figure drawing session at Studio b, instructor Heather Clements gave a demonstration. I love watching the magic of an artist working. The transformation of the blank surface is mesmerizing.
Tonight Heather was continuing with last week’s focus on light and shadow, to define shape. She showed examples of high-contrast lighting (Andy Warhol’s self-portrait), where only two or three values with very distinct edges are mapped out, as opposed to tonal development with a full range of values (self-portraits by Edward Hopper and Chuck Close). She talked about local values, such as dark hair vs. light face, and then she reminded us about various effects to look for: the lit side of the subject, the unlit side, the midtones, the highlight, reflected light, and the cast shadow, including how a cast shadow is sharply focused close to the object, but less focused further away.
Heather also gave a demonstration on the reverse process, toning the paper overall and then erasing the lighted areas, and perhaps adding some darks at the end. I was happy with the results of my effort towards this reverse process (at right).
Before last November, it had been a long time since I had a cold. I know the last time I had the flu was New Years Day of the year 2000. I’m pretty sure I had gone at least 7 years without a cold. I have an immune system made of steel. And then came this winter. This week in March of 2010 was Round 4 of allergies or colds dragging on and on. I went to the doctor yesterday and got some antibiotics and other medications to kill the germ and relieve the symptoms. The most noticeable side effect was a distinct lack of patience and the karma of drawing to myself a number of taxing situations testing what little patience I had. Tonight’s figure drawing session extended my torture. I kept losing track of time, getting very little done with each pose before it was over. It was taking me nearly the whole allotted time for the pose, just to lay it out on the paper, which left no time for development of tonal values. On the last pose I moved around the room to see if there were any other more interesting viewpoints, and discovered that just about anywhere else in the room was a better place to be than where I had been. Instructor Heather Clements’ suggestion at the beginning of the session was to focus on light and shadow, with development of a full range of values, from the darkest dark to the lightest light. I had been drawing in the one location in the room that had very diffuse light, so that the form was almost all one value except for some very dark cast shadows underneath — no wonder I had been having such a time! I moved to another part of the room, and found a lot more variation of values for the last pose. Even so, it was a struggle — I think my cold meds made me stupid. But the other artists there at Studio b were encouraging. It’s nice to be in the company of other supportive artists.
Last week I flew to Denver to celebrate my Dad’s 90th Birthday. People in airports are captive, so I sketched a few. I quit if they noticed — I didn’t want to make them feel creepy. It’s pretty amazing how you can be sketching the back of someone’s head and they will turn around and look right at you. I’ve been attending the figure drawing sessions at Studio b since last August, and I can sketch more quickly now, a handy skill for this exercise, because people move so much even when they are sitting still. It really makes me appreciate models who can hold a pose. The following sketches are just moments in time, bored and waiting to board.
Wm. Coleman Mills was our guest artist at the Wednesday night figure drawing session at Studio b this week. He showed us how to use a vignette to more accurately set up the subject on our paper. The exercise began by looking at the model through an 8½”x11″ piece of plexiglas, tracing the outline of the model onto the plexiglas, and finally, drawing lines from various “landmarks” across to the edge of the plexiglas, to begin to chart the landmarks. Drawing lines on the paper that corresponded with the lines on the plexiglas, and then transfering our drawing, enabled us to proportion the figure and account for foreshortening.
Coleman talked about his approach to art, which is to express his memory of an event or a scene, a sort of vignette of a moment in time and space. He brought some examples of his work and talked about the encaustic process that he uses to create his works which might be considered abstract expressionism. He showed us a couple of paintings from his Estuary Series. He painted them in oils, which he coated with bees wax, and then scratched into the wax and rubbed acrylic paint into the scratches to create a highly tactile presentation. He also showed us a couple of paintings from his Summer Storm series, which have very strong texture. His paintings on his website are impressive, but seeing them in person is so much more of an experience.
As always, the energy in the room was very high, and I think Coleman’s energy doubled it. I liked him and I liked his style. But I found vignetting to be difficult. When I draw the figure, I almost always start with some sort of gesture drawing, to lay down an initial “feel” for the movement and weight of the model. The use of the sheet of plexiglas, and the process of transferring, made me tense. It didn’t feel “artistic” to me – it felt more like drafting instead of expression. And yet I know that I am constantly comparing landmarks in relation to each other when I draw…. where the eye is in relation to the nose, in relation to the ear, and how far down the elbow is from the line of the shoulder, the angle of the upper leg to the lower leg, etc. With a live model, you can’t be too much of a stickler for exact position or proportion, because there will be some movement during the pose — just because the shoulder was lined up over the right toe when you started the drawing doesn’t mean it will be there when you finish.
I don’t normally drink and draw, but on this night, I was glad when the owner of Studio b, Colleen Duffley, came around offering the artists wine or beer, or water. I chose beer.
This week, Studio b‘s figure drawing instructor Heather Clements gave a demonstration, drawing the model by using one continuous line. Never lifting the pencil from the paper proved challenging, especially the process of drawing without laying in a gesture first. Proportions and shapes had to be corrected by successive efforts. Tonal values and textures were the result of an accumulation of lines, or by varying the pressure, to give lines more weight.
I warmed up using nupastel, and switched to a water-based non-permanent marker, and finally to watercolor pencils. I washed over the non-permanent marker drawing and the watercolor pencil drawings when I got back to my home/studio afterwards.
The energy at these sessions is very high. One of the participants said he had never been so productive! It’s such a pleasure working beside talented, enthused artists. And working with a larger model is freeing. When the subject is less “perfect”, I don’t focus so much on getting things exactly right, which allows more play just for the fun of it.
Eileen West was the guest artist at Studio b this week, the first in a series. She gave a presentation about her approach to the figure, and she referenced Henri Matisse, in particular his Nude at the Mirror (shown at right). She pointed out how Matisse did not strive for accuracy or for tonal expression of the form in this drawing and yet it conveyed such emotion. She quoted Picasso as saying that he spent 4 years learning to paint like Rafael, and the rest of his life learning to paint like a child.
She asked us to try to express emotion in our drawings and she asked us to look at the entire setting, not just figure and ground, and not to get stuck on absolute accuracy. I thought it was easier to express emotion when we were warming up with 1-minute gestures, but more difficult when the model held sustained poses. Eileen said to consider everything she said to be lies, but I knew she spoke her truth and I felt privileged that she shared it with us.
My first drawing here adds in some of the elements of the studio and makes almost no attempt at modeling, sort of Matisse-y, although any inaccuracy in the contours was unintentional. In the second drawing, I just emptied my mind and went with the moment.
Eileen West, of Seagrove Beach, FL, was our guest artist at studio b this week. She talked about being aware of the entire setting, and encouraged us to incorporate the setting into our drawings, as opposed to ordinary figure/ground drawings. She showed us some slides of art by Henri Matisse, including this one pictured, Nude at the Mirror, to exemplify how he incorporated the surroundings and was not very worried about exact accuracy, and not at all worried about modeling of form. She quoted Picasso as saying he spent 4 years learning to draw like Rafael, and the rest of his life learning to draw like a child.
A few weeks ago at our weekly figure drawing session at Studio b, our exercise was to draw with our non-dominant hand. I stayed with the exercise for the entire 2½-hour session.
Although I had attended many figure drawing classes for my undergraduate area of emphasis, I had never before drawn with my left hand. It was grueling. I had no hand-eye coordination. My right hand will usually draw the approximate angle for the intended distance while I am just looking at the model, but when I was drawing with my left hand, I had to watch my hand to see what on earth it was doing.
Having no fine-motor control, I found myself gripping the daylights out of the crayon. In fact I broke every implement I used, by holding it so tightly. But interestingly, even though my line-quality on each finished drawing was jerky, the proportions and masses were basically correct, perhaps even better than when drawing with my dominant hand. No doubt I was forced to a greater degree of observation.
And I found myself reaching for crayons and colors that I rarely use, free to experiment, since I had low expectations.
I was surprised to find a different appeal to the pieces I produced.
This week at the figure drawing session at Studio b, instructor Heather Clements suggested that we draw the mirror image of the subject. This required us to transpose the figure in our minds, because we didn’t actually use mirrors. As usual, we drew a number of warm-up gesture drawings, and then some longer poses.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped drawing the mirror image — I’m sure it was a valuable exercise, but the process was boggling my mind. So to continue along the vein of thinking in reverse, I decided to reverse my procedure. I usually draw the shadows to define the form. Instead on this final pose, I drew only the lighted areas, using nearly-white Nupastel on gray paper. At the end, I used a little black Conte to define the form, leaving the gray paper to show through for the midtones.