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.