Way before I ever imagined it happening, some of my figure drawings are hanging in a gallery. Colleen Duffley has covered one of the walls in Studio b with drawings by the participants in the weekly figure drawing sessions. The fact that our drawings are being shown at all is pretty exciting, not to mention the good fortune to be shown at Studio b, the premier fine art gallery and venue for creativity. Italian artist Sergio Poddighe will be showing his work in the main gallery starting with his opening reception on Saturday, 3/27/2010, from 6 to 8 PM. Our figure work will be in the back gallery. Our prices will be nominal, because our drawings are not matted or framed.
This week instructor Heather Clements had us draw the folds and gathers of fabric partially covering the model. A plain light-colored sheet gave us plenty to work with. The drawing sessions have been well-attended the last few weeks, with 10 or 12 artists there. As always, the energy was very high this week.
Each session becomes an experience: the scratching sound of chalk and charcoal on paper, the instructor’s soft encouragement and tutoring of the individual artists; one of the artists singing a parody of a mournful selection in the background music, with everyone laughing afterwards. And spoken aloud, the questions all artists struggle with (but usually don’t verbalize)… “How do you make a foot look like a foot? Why does mine look like a flipper?” And the groans of protest when the timer goes off, ending a particularly good pose. And then the hurried removal of drawings from drawing boards and the setting up for a new drawing, quick, hurry, we’re starting another 8-minute pose…
None of my drawings were “keepers”, but I’m posting a few anyway. I experimented, even using some color. I rarely use color for color’s sake, preferring instead to draw monotone value studies using only one color or a neutral. I may not turn out any masterpieces when I experiment, but I learn a lot, so I never count the effort a waste.
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.