Negative space is the space surrounding the “subject”. Negative spaces which are bounded by the subject are called negative shapes. The boundaries of negative shapes also can be the edge of the art piece, or the edge of another shape. Heather showed examples of negative space, and we spent the entire 2½ hours finding and filling in negative space, from warm-ups through extended poses. Well, there was one pose where I just couldn’t stand any more ignoring of the form, and I quickly drew a rough approximation of the light on the form, below right. Otherwise, in each drawing, the positive shape was drawn, or rather, not drawn, as a silhouette. Our model was very cooperative, positioning to create empty spaces in his pose. When negative shapes are interesting, they can be very helpful in defining the form. We recognize many things by the silhouette of the shape. So even though the interior of the form was not developed, anyone looking at these drawings can tell that they are depictions of a male figure.
Sometimes our studio workspace is overflowing with people, but on this night I was the only student. I am so grateful that Colleen Duffley, owner of Studio b., continues to provide this creative opportunity through thick and thin. And Heather Clements, the instructor, talked to me as if I were a whole classroom of students. She is such a professional. She drew along with me, practicing the same exercises. Later she showed me examples of Egon Schiele’s work, pointing out how he used negative space to make his figurative work even more interesting. Such intense focus on negative space is sure to make me more aware of it in my compositions, even as I have been “seeing” more negative shapes in my ordinary daily activities today.
There is something about the figure as an art subject that fascinates me. Most North-Americans are raised with the view that nudes are naked and nasty, instead of beautiful and natural. Like everyone in our mass-marketed-to-death culture, I have been indoctrinated with the mindset that thin, idealized proportions are beautiful, and fat and wrinkles less beautiful. Since I have achieved middle-age, and I have acquired a few wrinkles myself, and an extra pound here or there, I am looking at people differently. Certain wrinkles show a time of loss and grief, others show laughter, some show a lot of hours working in the sun. Wrinkles lend visual character, a sag shows maturity, a little fat here or a paunch there has probably been earned. But the beauty I am most interested in, is the play of light across the subject, any subject. It’s just that the figure happens to be a difficult subject, one which challenges me every single time I attempt to draw it, so it becomes a game to me, to achieve a reasonable resemblance as well as to find the light. The folds and shadows of fabric, while challenging, are very forgiving, in that the untrained eye might never notice if you’ve drawn a clothed figure “wrong”. The nude figure on the other hand, is unforgiving — if I draw something in the wrong place, it looks wrong, and anyone looking at it can tell it is wrong. That is the construct of realism that I like to work within, and that is one of my joys in nude figure drawing. Another is the sheer immediacy, in that a model can only hold a pose for just so long. And finally, I love the camaraderie and the energy of the other artists, and I am always inspired by seeing the way they tackled the problems they found in the same pose I was drawing, but from another point of view. I guess I can even be a little philosophical about it, in that multiple points of view are all true, and there can be no arguing. Maybe political leaders should take figure drawing classes!
Below are drawings done at Studio b. at the weekly figure drawing session.
At our weekly figure drawing session at Studio b. last night, we were privileged to have one of the regular participants as our guest artist, Susan Alfieri, a retired teacher living in Inlet Beach, FL. Susan enjoys working with Vis-a-Vis water soluble markers to sketch the form and then she uses a clear water wash to allow the marker lines to bleed and blend to create tonal relationships. The impermanent black marker wash separates into blues, violets, and shades of bronze. I used a blue pen similarly, to produce one of my favorite drawings last winter, on February 12, 2010. You never know what’s going to happen when you wash over the drawing. Because the marker is impermanent, it needs to be protected from sunlight, by UV-protectant spray or UV-resistant glass.
I enjoy media exploration. After working with the markers on smooth (hot press) watercolor paper, I tried out a tinted charcoal pencil from a set that I had just bought, which also is water soluble, but the colors don’t separate. It leaves the grainy marks of the pencil showing through the wash on the textured cold press watercolor paper. I used Derwent “Bilberry”.
There was some discussion and experimentation with the model’s pose. It is not very important to me how the model is posed except that I am not fond of contortions that look like they would hurt an ordinary person. I do like asymmetrical poses, and I like poses where air spaces create negative shapes in the composition, but usually, if the model takes a position they can hold for the duration of the pose, then I can move around the room to find a vantage which gives me some lighting I like.
On Saturday I attended an all day workshop on Portrait drawing, taught by Heather Clements at Studio b. I’ve taken this class from Heather before, but it was spread out over several weeks, so this time it was intense, being all in one day. First we studied a skull to learn the underlying structure of the face.
Next we drew Heather, and then we drew her skull underneath her features that we had just drawn. Our final drawing was also of Heather. When she was teaching the location of features in relation and proportion to each other, she explained that proper position of the features was perhaps more important than whether the drawing was a good likeness, accuracy being less important than not turning the person into something grotesque or sinister.
I don’t expect I will ever be much of a portrait artist because I don’t have that much interest in it, but I would like to put more accurate faces on my figurative work, so I will take the next Portrait class too.
Postscript: Lest anyone think otherwise, let me say my drawing does not compliment Heather — it has a lot of distortions. She forgave us all before we even started.
Live figure drawing is often very hurried, and the whole time is spent drawing only the model. It is tempting to omit essential elements in the surroundings, because the artist always thinks he or she can draw them later. As a result many figure drawings end up with a figure just floating in space, without context or compositional “anchoring”. Heather asked the Studio b. figure drawing group for a second week to continue to include backgrounds in our drawings. She showed examples from several books, discussing different artists’ inclusion of background, or in many cases, invention of background. One of the examples was a figurative piece, tied down similar to Gulliver by the Lilliputians, and it reminded me of a playground sculpture of Gulliver that I had seen in Valencia, Spain, where the ties holding him down actually were hanging knotted ropes that children could climb on, and parts of his clothing formed slides and crawl spaces for them. The children interacting with the sculpture then became the Lilliputians. With those images in my head, I drew my own version of the figure in Lilliput.
I first drew the figure in white conte on a dusty blue charcoal paper, and then using graphite I drew the Lilliputians tying her down, with a little cityscape in the distance. (Click on drawing for detailed image.)
I drew the next pose as it was and incorporated some of the studio behind the model, including a silhouette of one of the artists.
All of the artists worked hard on the assignment, each making a drawing that was remarkably different from the others, and each with success.