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Changing Perspective in Figure Drawing

Our model this week at Studio b.‘s regular weekly figure drawing session stood on a ladder during the warm-up drawings and the shorter warm-up poses, and she also posed up on a table.  Usually our model is on a short platform or even on the floor, so this change in perspective was a rare treat.  I enjoyed the challenge of drawing from a lower vantage point.  Every shape was different from how we normally see our model.  To add to the challenge, we positioned a floodlight to light her from below.

The model brought a hat, a mask, and a necklace to give us some accents.

I used some different media to loosen up from the intense figure drawing workshop Heather Clements taught last Saturday at Studio b.  I had not sketched since Saturday, and I felt like I had really tightened up, hence my decision to use less familiar media, to force myself to “let go”.  Interesztingly, I think my most successful piece of the evening was one of these looser pieces, using water-soluble Aquarelle pencil on hot press watercolor paper, the study of the model wearing the mask, above left.  It is small, only 4½” x 6″.

I throw away almost all of my warm-up drawings.  Colleen Duffley, owner of Studio b., suggested saving more gestures, explaining to me that some people have more appreciation for anonymous gestures than for finished drawings of a model they don’t know.  This poses a dilemma.  I do so many warm-up drawings, or gestures, that I always use an inferior grade of paper, for the sake of economy.  Newsprint and manilla paper costs just pennies, as opposed to good paper which can run from $1.65 to $3.50 per sheet, and upwards.  So the few times that a warm-up drawing turns out to be a keeper, its value is compromised because of the poor quality of paper.  It can be redrawn on archival paper, but that is a challenging task because the immediacy of expression, the passion, will be difficult to recreate.  So I decided to bring a tablet of 18 x 24 Canson Cream that I had bought a good 6 months ago, and I did all of my warm-up drawings on good paper.  I missed the rough texture, or “tooth” of the manilla and gray bogus papers I usually warm up on — the tablet of good paper is very smooth.

Below left is one of my warm-up drawings, a 5 minute pose, and the other two are longer poses on Stonehenge and Rives.

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

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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 with a Live Model

To a figure drawing artist, the title of this post is redundant, but the non-artist may not know that we use live models in figure drawing.  To this point, I have been a bit of a fanatic about it, allowing errors and inaccuracies to be a part of the final drawing.

But I am thinking that I would like to take a photograph for reference for correcting and finishing a live-model drawing outside of the studio, away from the live model.  My hesitancy to use a camera comes from my concern that I may lose some of the immediacy of expression if I work on my drawings very much outside of the studio.  But I would like the accomplishnent of a more complete, or perhaps I should say, more technically accurate drawing, which can more easily be done, I think, with a less hurried pose or with a photograph for reference.

Next week I’m bringing a camera to the Wednesday night figure drawing session at Studio b., if the model doesn’t mind me taking a photo.

Following are a few warm-up gestures from this week’s session, followed by a drawing from a longer pose.

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The Bare Bones of Figure Drawing

Heather Clements taught a 4-hour figure drawing workshop at Studio b. Saturday afternoon.  She used slides to show us where the underlying skeletal structure and muscular anatomy were evident in paintings and sculptures by such artists as Rubens, Michelangelo, daVinci, Philip Perlstein, Picasso, Egon Schiele, and others.  She also gave us  a packet of photos and drawings of the skeletal and muscular anatomy to study and use as a reference.

Our initial assignment was to try to imagine the skeleton underneath the model’s pose and to draw that skeletal pose.  It was a hard job.  When I attended the University of Northern Colorado, I studied anatomy, not for my Fine Arts major, but for my other major, Health, Physical Education and Recreation.  But that was many years ago, and I have forgotten most of it.  So I just copied what Heather had shown us, as best I could.  I was impressed with how quickly it began to make sense, and I began to feel very comfortable with it.  Below is the progression of some of my warm-up skeleton gestures, with the last one showing the fleshy form added during in the final 30 seconds of an 8-minute pose, after the imaginary skeleton was already drawn.

This turned out to be an immensely helpful exercise, as I found it much easier to locate the various parts of the figure in relation to each other later on in the session.  But rarely do things ever go quite the way I wish they would when I am developing a new awareness, and I complicated things further by trying out some colored conte that I had been carrying around for about half a year in my box of drawing media.  I’ll probably get up the nerve to try the conte again, but I know for sure that I will be getting out my anatomy books and studying the skeletal structure of various poses.  Below are my two final drawings from today’s workshop.

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Guest Artist at Studio b: Eileen West

Henri Matisse - Nude at the Mirrow - 1937
Henri Matisse - Nude at the Mirror 1937

Eileen West was the guest artist at Studio b this week, the first in a series.  She gave a presentation about her approach to the figure, and she referenced Henri Matisse, in particular his Nude at the Mirror (shown at right).  She pointed out how Matisse did not strive for accuracy or for tonal expression of the form in this drawing and yet it conveyed such emotion.  She quoted Picasso as saying that he spent 4 years learning to paint like Rafael, and the rest of his life learning to paint like a child.

She asked us to try to express emotion in our drawings and she asked us to look at the entire setting, not just figure and ground, and not to get stuck on absolute accuracy.  I thought it was easier to express emotion when we were warming up with 1-minute gestures, but more difficult when the model held sustained poses.  Eileen said to consider everything she said to be lies, but I knew she spoke her truth and I felt privileged that she shared it with us.

My first drawing here adds in some of the elements of the studio and makes almost no attempt at modeling, sort of Matisse-y, although any inaccuracy in the contours was unintentional.  In the second drawing, I just emptied my mind and went with the moment.

After Eileen's presentation 1
After Eileen's presentation 2
Eileen West, of Seagrove Beach, FL, was our guest artist at studio b this week.  She talked about being aware of the entire setting, and encouraged us to incorporate the setting into our drawings, as opposed to ordinary figure/ground drawings.  She showed us some slides of art by Henri Matisse, including this one pictured, Nude at the Mirror, to exemplify how he incorporated the surroundings and was not very worried about exact accuracy, and not at all worried about modeling of form.  She quoted Picasso as saying he spent 4 years learning to draw like Rafael, and the rest of his life learning to draw like a child.