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.
In the fall of 2008, I took my second solo “artist” vacation. Once you get past the aloneness of it, there is something almost sacred about solitude. I had packed up two boxes of art supplies and shipped them to myself General Delivery at Stonington, Maine, on Deer Isle. Due south of Stonington is Isle au Haut, most of which is a part of Acadia National Park.
On this particular trek I rode out to the island on the mail-boat, intending to hike the cliffs trail. It was an easy hike to the other side of the island. I rounded the first curve and the view of the cliffs opened up in front of me. I saw no need to hike further! I ate my cheese and crackers and fruit lunch, and then set about sketching the cliffs.
I was completely absorbed for a long time. I had even lost awareness of how hard the rocky ledge was that I was sitting on. All of a sudden I was attacked, literally, by a very territorial American Kestrel, who dove at my head repeatedly, screaming threats of massacre. At first I was amused and awed by the small falcon, but after one fairly close call, it dawned on me that I might want to keep my scalp, so I raised my arms, and stood up, and he flew up to the top of a nearby tree.
Shortly after that, he flew away the length of the cliffs and disappeared. I guess he just wanted to make sure I understood that this was his territory. Several hikers walked past me over the next hour or so, and I asked them if they had seen him, but none had. I was left a little unsettled by the experience, to have incurred such wrath while I was innocently sitting and painting. Usually when painting plein air I feel like I blend in and become an invisible part of nature. This time I wonder if I had shape-shifted into another kestrel — clearly I posed some kind of threat to this little guy.
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.