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Figure Work After Months of Landscapes

Painting of blue-gowned woman sitting against pillows

Fellow plein air painter Judy Dewar initiated her new studio by inviting a few artists over to work from a live model.  It was a pleasure working beside Judy, Beckie Perrott, and Marian Pacsuto.  I initially intended to paint for the whole session, but a repair contractor was supposed to come to my house, so I needed to be ready to leave on short notice.  I took drawing supplies, thinking I would draw until the contractor called, meet him and let him in and come back to Judy’s studio to paint for the rest of the session.  The contractor had not called by lunchtime, so I never got out my paints.  I enjoyed the 2- and 5-minute warm-ups, using charcoal on good manilla newsprint and on gray student-quality paper before moving on to a 20-minute session using my favorite drawing media – graphite and white nupastel.  I drew on tan-tinted Mi-Tientes paper, which has a nice squared texture.  For my last piece, over the course of two 30-minute sessions, I used some oil pastels which I had never used before.  I had a student-quality set of oil pastel crayons that I’d had for years and years, and a dime-store set of oil pencils for the finer work, both of which I brushed with turpentine after laying in the colors.  I gave that final drawing to the model.  Below are my warm-ups and my two final pieces.  By clicking on them you will get a larger view.

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

Gesture drawing, 2 gowned females, standing Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, knee up, with attitude Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, holding knee up Gesture drawing, female seated in gown, twisting
Drawing of woman in blue gown, dozing against pillows Painting of blue-gowned woman sitting against pillows
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Painting Plein Air at Nick’s

Oil Painting of Boats at Nicks Restaurant
My view of the boats at Nicks

Today the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters painted at Nick’s Restaurant on the north side of the Choctawhatchee Bay.  When I first arrived, one other painter was already setting up.  I walked around the derelict boats and dinghies decorating the grounds, following the Bay beach to the inlet and then up around the aged structure of the restaurant itself, shooting photos with my iPhone as I went.  A painting could be made from everywhere I looked.  I settled on the old boats lined up in the front yard. By the time I had gotten my easel set-up and made a preliminary pencil-on-paper sketch to try to lay-out my composition, about 10 to 12 more artists had arrived.

Most boats around here are white, but the boat in the foreground was red, and that color was the element that interested me.  I painted nearly every other part of the picture first, saving the red boat for last.  But as I worked, I cursed my choice of subject matter, having once again chosen to paint boats, which I know almost nothing about.  My biggest struggle was with the shape of the boat in the background.  The cabin morphed into an odd shaped roof over what I presume might have been sleeping quarters, but which now sported a gaping hole, a mate to the hole in the deck at the back of the boat.  Its one redeeming feature, besides its mass, was the turquoise color of the bottom.

Boats at Nick's

A tiny sliver of the Bay on the far left, and a nondescript structure in the background were the only hints at the location, but anyone who has eaten at Nick’s will recognize the boats.  The sandy beach was dotted with little grasses and vines, and I took liberty with that part of the painting, bringing in a few taller grasses, to break up the large area of plain beach, and to repeat a few reds.

When we lined up our paintings for the critique before lunch, I again was amazed and overwhelmed by the talent in the group.  One of the artists made a comment that caught my curiosity.  He was expressing frustration about a car pulling up and blocking his view, after he had already mixed all his colors and was ready to paint.  I have never approached my painting that way, instead mixing my colors as I go.  I may have to watch him paint sometime, to see how that works.

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

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An Ideal Day

Oil Painting of Pelican on Providenciales

I have set a goal this year, to make a transition in my life, to live at least two days a week as an artist by the end of this year.  It may happen lot sooner than that.  It all started when I decided to hold myself accountable for not yet having made the leap.  Frankly, I’ve been fearful that I would not be able to support myself with my art, a legitimate concern up until this point, since I have been sporadic in my production of art.  To support my fear, I have used every excuse not to be more prolific, or in many cases, to go days without sketching or painting.  My most frequent excuse is that I do not have time.  Guess what — I do have time — I’ve been less than truthful with myself.  I simply have chosen to use my time for other purposes, instead of for producing art.

I hired a coach, to give me suggestions and feedback for making progress towards my goal.  One of the things she asked me, was what an ideal day would be like for me. I described waking up rested, taking some time for meditation and then working out or paddling or doing some other fitness-oriented activity, followed by a visit to a gallery or some other “artist-date”, and then painting all afternoon, probably plein air painting, followed by a cultural event in the evening, perhaps a play or dance theater or a musical performance.  But then I thought to myself, about a week later, that if I had described that as my ideal day, then why had I not ever had an ideal day, and I realized then and there that I was lying to myself, because I have had unscheduled days before, but have not ever done all the things that would make up an ideal day.

So when one of my best friends called last week and asked another friend and me over for breakfast on Sunday, and I declined because I had other tentative plans, I instead invited her over to my art studio on Saturday because I intended to paint.  She is a writer, so I asked her to bring her paper so she could write while I painted.  She offered to bring breakfast.  Meanwhile, Saturday brought incredibly bad weather with it, and another friend decided to cancel a trip to see a client, and instead came over to my house to wait out the rain and to work on a drawing she was making.  So the morning found the three of us in my studio, painting and talking and solving the world’s problems.  I made a small painting of some young bananas growing on a tree that I had photographed on North Caicos a few weeks ago.  At left is the sequence of development.

I cannot describe the creative spirit that filled the studio while we talked and worked.  I was in awe of the circumstances that brought us all together, and the energy of the dynamics.  Both friends left around midday, and I took another half-hour or so to finish my painting, before going upstairs to get my house ready for the evening activity.  I had invited 6 friends to participate in “The Art of Seeing” class which Ponce de Leon, FL, artist Mary Moses teaches through her gallery, HRMagoo.  I still needed to trim the legs on 3 of my stools so everyone would be comfortable at my art table, and I needed to go to the deli to pick up the supper wraps I would be serving.

Mary brought a friend with her, guitarist/artist/singer/songwriter Sharon Johnson, who played her guitar and sang while the rest of us learned the Art of Seeing.  Mary demonstrated, toning a plywood board with charcoal and then showing us how she picked out shapes and faces from the patterns in the wood grain, and then developed them.  We all dove in, everyone in the group helping each other “find” shapes in their panels, with a good amount of laughter, all inspired, often awed, always positive, and occasionally raunchy, and all in all, a lot of fun.  The time flew, and we all had a great time.

I think I probably could continue to work on my panel, but I am surprised and happy with what I did so I may just call it finished as is.  It is not at all like any art I have ever made before, and it is uniquely my own, in that I drew the shapes and faces that for the most part I alone saw, and in my own way, without pre-planning the composition.  I found a number of faces on my panel, including a few aliens and a horse and two elephants and a covey of birds.  I assign significance and meaning to it which no doubt would alarm my some of my friends and family and perhaps cause them to look askance at me, so I’ll leave that unexplained for now, and settle for letting you do the interpreting and drawing your own meaning from it.  It is below left.

I would say that this day qualified as an ideal day.

I painted the pelican, below right, a couple of days later, using a reference photo from my vacation on Providenciales in January.

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

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Figure Drawing Media – Small Changes

I have been working on fairly smooth paper, primarily using graphite and nupastel, for the past few weeks.  This week I opted to use graphite on a textured paper for one drawing, and charcoal with nupastel for the second one.  I confess, I prefer nupastel and graphite, but it’s nice to try different media or different surfaces.  Not having as much control over the media because of less practice, shakes things up a little, requiring me to draw more slowly or else to be more forgiving of my efforts if I am a little clumsy.  The textured paper was Canson Mi-Teintes, which I have used before, but not strictly with graphite.  At 19 x 25, the paper is a little larger than I have been working on, but though I intended to, I could not manage to fit the entire figure onto the page, even though she was sitting hugging her knees.   The pose was our usual 30 minutes long, so I had to use some rough cross-hatching to block in the darker values.

My second drawing was on Stonehenge, one of the the smooth papers I’ve been drawing on recently, but charcoal is not as easily handled as graphite.  Combining charcoal with nupastel certainly made  it easier to graduate the toning, than using charcoal alone.

These drawings were made during the regular weekly figure drawing session at Studio b. in Alys Beach, in Northwest Florida.

I am adding in a minimalist sketch of the sweetest cat I have ever known, my cat Sumi, an adoptee from the Humane Society, a big Maine Coon cat.  She didn’t live long, only 6 years, having compensated renal failure, and she didn’t gain the weight many Maine Coons have.  This drawing shows her thinner summer coat, with wisps coming out of her ears and elbows.  I made a sketch of her many years ago, and recently I transferred that sketch to good paper.

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

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Figure Drawing Starts With One Mark

I don’t have time for stage fright in figure drawing.  No performance anxiety allowed.  No worries about perfection.  No time to test the water, I have to just jump right in.  I start with warm-up sketches, timed one-minute gesture drawings.  I am drawing so fast and furiously that there is no time to be afraid.  I go through a lot of paper at the start of every session, knowing that every warm-up drawing will probably be thrown in the wastebasket when I get home.

It all starts with making the first mark on the paper, usually a broad gestural sweep showing the general directional line of the posed model’s position.  I like to use something soft, and light in value, a color which can be incorporated into my final drawing.  Soft chalk-like pastels are a little messy because they are so soft, so I use nupastel, which is a little harder, but not as hard as conte which is made of graphite mixed with clay.  I use conte sometimes, for my warm-ups, but with conte I am always risking permanent damage to my paper or my drawing by the unfortunate specks of hard material that are often in conte.  My favorite medium is very soft graphite, in a pencil.  But in my warm-up drawings, I sometimes never graduate from nupastel to graphite.  Instead the whole time is spent building shapes onto that first gestural directional line, correcting and re-correcting to get proportions and shapes more or less “right”.  The 5-minute warm-up drawing at right shows multiple corrections of the position of the left leg.

Below are my final 30-minute drawings for the evening.  I’m having fun drawing on paper that is lightly toned tan or gray, using white nupastel to make the highlighted areas stand out, and using graphite for the darks.  For the midtones I just let the paper show through.  I’ve been using my fingers to mush the media together in places, creating a softer texture.

We draw every Wednesday evening at Studio b. in Alys Beach.  Last night I had the pleasure of drawing beside accomplished artists Nancy Nichols Williams, David Orme-Johnson, Susan Alfieri, and Denielle Harmon.  I was exhausted, having taught all day at one of my other jobs, and then attending the opening of Donnelle Clark’s mixed media show in Rosemary Beach before coming to draw at Studio b.

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

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Drawing a Clothed Model

Figure drawing artists usually work exclusively from nude models.  But this week at Studio b., I had the good fortune of being the only artist.  So I had my choice.  Interestingly, the model had brought tennis gear, and was planning to use it in during the warm-up drawings — he thought we might like the added purposeful action.  So I asked him to wear the tennis clothes and keep the racket nearby for the entire session.

It’s so much easier drawing a clothed model.  I can draw the clothing with an extra wrinkle here or there and no one is the wiser.  You can’t do that with a nude figure without it becoming grotesque.

The model sat for me for 30 minutes for the drawing at left, and we took a short break, and then he sat for me for another 15 minutes.  I like this drawing.  I drew the white with Nupastel and the dark values with graphite, on gray Stonehenge.

The drawings below are two of the warm-up gestures, the second one obviously a longer pose than the first, and the third is the top part of the last drawing of the evening.

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

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The Joy of Drawing

When I am figure drawing, I am an artist without a message.  I’m not trying to tell you anything.  I just draw because I enjoy drawing.  Well, maybe it’s a compulsion, because sometimes I have to admit, it’s a little uncomfortable, frustrating, and at times perhaps even painful.  But for the most part, the challenge of figure drawing is in the mastery, being able to portray what I see, or what I think I see.  By practicing every week, I am becoming more confident.

The drawing I am posting here was difficult because the facial features look very different when a figure is reclining than they do when the figure is upright.  I think that the portrait class I finished taking last week helped me a lot.  I will need to continue to practice heads and faces in different positions and attitudes.  I still feel hesitant with faces, and I still spend a lot of time guessing, but my guesses seem more accurate now.

This drawing was made with a graphite pencil on Stonehenge paper.  I drew it at the regular Wednesday night session of Figure Drawing at Studio b., in Alys Beach, FLHeather Clements is the instructor.

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Returning to Drawing After Time Away

Last week the model at Studio b. was lit with a close floodlight, heightening the light-dark contrast.  I warmed up with red crayon and then changed to charcoal pencil.

I had been on vacation and away from figure drawing for several weeks.  It seems like I am always tighter and more controlled, when I haven’t drawn for a while, trying to be more exact, trying to get it “right”.  Warming up with crayon and charcoal pencil kept me from being too careful.  But I became more controlled in my final drawing, and consequently I didn’t get very much of it finished during the drawing session.  I had focused on the near hand while the model was there, and to retain that focus, I silhouetted much of the remainder of the figure when I finished it later.

I have so much appreciation for the models, who often find that after 5 minutes into what they thought was a comfortable pose, the pose becomes distinctly uncomfortable, and then there they are, stuck for another 25 minutes or however long the pose is.  When the model was given a break midway through this final pose, his right leg had gone to sleep, and it was a few minutes before he could walk.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to sit for a painting, posing for days!

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Negative Space, continued

Warm-up Drawing

Warm-up Drawing

This week at Studio b., Heather Clements led us in continuing to explore negative space and negative shapes, which involves drawing the area around the figure, instead of drawing the figure.  We started this exercise last week.  I found it easier to focus on negative shapes this week, and began to play with the negative space a little in my later drawings, adding some color and other shapes.  I used charcoal pencil and then nupastel on the 1- and 2-minute warm-up drawings, and I used water-soluble ink pen and watercolor pencils on the longer poses.  I left the positive shapes stark white, waiting until I washed over the drawings at the end to perhaps add a little tone to the figure.

Even after practicing this exercise for only two weeks, I can see shapes better as abstractions.  An arm is not just an arm, for example, it is also the shape around it that defines it as an arm.

The drawings at lower right are the same pose.  I had time left over after I finished one, so I started the second one.

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Guest Artist at Studio b: Susan Alfieri

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.