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Simplifying in Figure Drawing

Soft pastel on manilla

We drew a female model at Studio b. this week at the regular weekly figure drawing session.  She’s been there before.  She is challenging to draw well because she is so fit and toned.

Depending on the pose, sometimes it seems like the model has 6 or 7 legs and arms and at least 40 fingers.  Drawn wrong, they become grotesque victims of some horrible farming accident.  But drawn correctly, they of course help to convey the totality of the expression of the pose.

Some artists never draw the hands or feet, thereby avoiding the issue altogether.

I know how to draw fingers and toes, but I don’t know how to draw them quickly.  So I couldn’t believe my good fortune when the model presented me with a pose that from my vantage point, barely showed just two fingers underneath her hair, and no toes, or even feet, for that matter.  What luxury, to spend the entire half hour on the stretch of the figure!  I have posted it below at right.  Click here for very large view.

Graphite and nupastel on Stonehenge

Our warm-up drawings were 1-minute and 5-minute poses.  For all the craftsmanship in a finished drawing, the hurried execution of a warm-up gesture can have more appeal because it captures the artist’s immediate impression without a lot of correction.  Simplification is  requisite — there is no time for details.  Above left is one of my warm-up gestures from this session.

The problem with warm-up gestures is that they are usually drawn on inexpensive paper that will fade or yellow or even fall apart over time, so they are not collectible unless you spend a little money on archival framing, with ultraviolet resistant glass.  I have redrawn gesture drawings on better quality paper, but it is difficult to duplicate because the rushed immediacy is impossible to recreate.  Since we often draw 15 or 20 warm-up drawings before settling into longer poses, the use of cheap paper is a matter of economics.  The manilla paper and the gray bogus paper I use for gesture drawings are less than 15¢ a sheet, while  Canson Edition paper is $2.19 a sheet, and Canson Rives is closer to $4.07 a sheet.  Even Stonehenge is $1.65 a sheet, so you can see that it could quickly take the artist to the poorhouse to use quality paper for warm-up drawings.

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

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Figure Drawing with Graphite-Wash

This past Wednesday during the figure drawing session at Studio b.,  I used conte and nupastel for my warm-up gestures, and graphite, CarbOthello pastels, watercolor pencils, and a graphite wash for my drawings.  I suppose if I stuck to one medium, I would develop more expertise in handling it, but I love making different kinds of marks using different media.

If I am purposefully drawing, then I will slow down and try to be a better craftsman, being more meticulous with whatever medium I have chosen, perhaps even making a few practice drawings of the subject or pose.  But figure drawing almost always demands a hurried pace.

June is the busiest month of the year for my pool service business, so this week I was just using the figure drawing session as a meditative exercise resulting in wonderful stress release.  For 2½ hours, I had no emergencies to respond to, no anxious customers, no mechanical failures to deal with.  Even as difficult as figure drawing is, the process brings on an exhilaration, a euphoria, a feeling of power and connectedness.  I am sure the challenge of the difficulty helps make it  so satisfying, the requirement of absolute concentration and focus.  But mostly it is the sheer joy of expression that I love, the creation of form and feeling through marks on a paper.

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

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Figure Drawing: Pregnant Again

Studio b. presented us with the challenge of a pregnant model again this week.  She is due to deliver in 6½ weeks.

I usually bring a drawing board full of 18 x 24 papers and my big artbox with all my media, but this week all I had was a small sketchbook plus a few scraps of good drawing paper to draw on, and a small box of water-soluble pens and pencils.   I have included a few of my drawings here.

The first sketches are 1-minute warm-ups, followed by a few 5- and 10-minute drawings, and then some that were 25-minutes.  Out of all of them, I think the first one is my favorite, just a gesture of a few lines to show the essence of the pose and her composure.

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

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A Photo-Shoot in Chattanooga

Hollyhocks, Reliance, TN

Since my favorite subjects for photography are outdoor nature scenes and landscapes, I was thrilled to be asked to shoot photos and video of stand-up paddlers in Chattanooga, TN, where every shot is scenic.  I was shooting for Leslie Kolovich, host of the Stand Up Paddle Radio Show, for advance publicity for  Stand-Up Paddling events newly added to the  Chattanooga River Rocks Festival schedule this year in October.

My approach to nature photography is to watch where the light is doing something extraordinary and then to capture that.  Rarely do I do much with post processing, other than perhaps crop a little here or there to help the composition.

The photo at left was taken at the Webb Brothers country store at Reliance, Tennessee, on the bank of the Hiwassee River where the stand-up paddlers were navigating some whitewater.  The sun was shining from above and behind the hollyhocks, rendering the petals semi-transparent, and offering rim lighting on the fuzz on the stem and buds.  I didn’t enhance anything digitally, but I did trim the right side just a little, to make the composition more interesting.  Otherwise, no need to improve on Mother Nature!

Leslie interviewed me after the show.  The following link opens the podcast, and my segment is well into the second half of the podcast:

The story and some of the other photos are posted in The Stand Up Paddle Radio Show website, at

The “On the Road With Leslie” is published with my photos in the print magazine, The Standup Journal.  Here’s a sample (link).

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

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