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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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The Importance of Warming Up in Figure Drawing

I need to warm-up for a little while before my efforts at figure drawing start to flow naturally.  During the initial warm-up period, I try to capture the general directional line of the model, and a few of the light and dark patterns, or perhaps some of the essential contours or textures.  Often it feels like I am drawing a stick figure, just trying to get the general angles and proportions correct.  I draw fast, because our warm-up drawings start with 30-second or 1-minute or two-minute poses.  The model often takes slightly off-balance or less comfortable poses during the warm-up period, knowing that he or she doesn’t have to hold them for long.  I find that effort on the part of the model inspiring, and it motivates me to try harder.  I usually use the broad side of a chalky medium for the warm-up drawings, sometimes even drawing with white nupastel, which helps me to see where the light is striking the model, though white alone usually doesn’t photograph well enough to post here in my blog.  I draw with minimal concern for accuracy, sometimes merely trying to switch gears, from the left-brained thinking about my day-job as I drove to the session, to the right-brain activity of figure drawing.  Drawing is first of all a physical activity, so like an athlete, an artist needs to work at it a little in order to coordinate the hand with the eye, and a period of warm-up drawings helps with that.

As you can see by the examples below, warm-up gestures have strange lines, curves going the wrong direction, places that get overdeveloped, and other places not drawn at all, wrong proportions, and yet an undeniable essence of the figure.  These are warm-up gestures of the same pose from this past week’s figure drawing session at Studio b:  one by me, one by Nancy Nichols Williams, and one by Steve Wagner.

Joan Vienot

Nancy Williams

Steve Wagner

I enjoy the time spent warming-up, but 2-minutes is always too short.  But then too, 5 minutes is too short, and so is 20 minutes, and come to think of it, rarely is a pose long enough for me to feel like I actually finished!  The next drawings include another of my warm-up gestures, and then two longer drawings, perhaps 20-minutes or 30 minutes.  I left early from this session, exhausted from teaching all day, the 2nd of a 2½ day crash-course that I teach at a nearby college, certifying swimming pool operators to meet health department requirements.

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

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Figure Drawing: The Power of the Group, Chakra Work, Music and Communication

Last week I didn’t draw, except for my practice at home.  Instead I watched and listened to a lot of live music at the 30A Songwriters Festival, which I blogged about in my last post.  And last Friday I attended a yoga presentation on the Root Chakra, the first in a 7-week series, a subject which is all new to me.  Then on Tuesday a friend and I got together and brought each other up to date, all good.  And Wednesday, a whole bunch of artists I hadn’t seen for a while were at figure drawing, at the regular weekly session at Studio b., which was exhilarating.

So whether a positive result of my fledgling efforts to allow more energy to flow through the Root Chakra, or good old-fashioned open communication with a dear friend, or listening to so much good music, I felt very confident in my artistic expression this week.  I found myself very quickly lost in the process of executing each pose.  When I lose myself is when I enjoy it the most and feel the most successful at capturing what to me is the basic emotive and visual essence of the pose, whether I am focused on the light, or mass, or shapes, texture, or line.

Our model struggled with the standing pose at top left.  Supporting herself on one leg with a locked knee, she wasn’t able to hold it for as long as she had intended.  Nevertheless, even with the pose a little shorter than expected, I felt completely comfortable with the end result, leaving portions of the drawing a little sketchy.  In fact I think I am enjoying that more and more, developing only the more important area of each pose, although I need to be careful not to always leave the feet undeveloped, because that might be suspected laziness.  Feet are difficult to draw.

The drawing at upper right is the only drawing I was unsure about, when I was finished, because her right elbow creates a triangular shape above the woman’s throat.  Effective composition  requires the artist to be judicious, to leave out visual description which merely confuses.  So I worked on this drawing when I got home, removing the elbow shape entirely, and then drawing it back in.  Sometimes it is that little quirk of confusion that requires the viewer to puzzle for a moment, and engage a bit more, holding his attention for a bit longer.  And in this day and age of instant communication, holding someone’s attention is like gold to an artist.

Speaking of attention, to those of you who wade through my blogs each week, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!  You don’t even have to say anything, though I love it if you do — I feed off your collective support.  May we all give support to each other for our efforts at creative expression, whatever the avenue!

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

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Overlap Between Media – Drawing and Painting

This week I started setting up my studio for painting.   It’s been a long time since I did any significant painting, especially in oils, which is what I intend to use, for the most part.  I have some ancient paints, which I think will be adequate while I re-acquaint myself with color mixing.

I well-remember the elements and principles of composition.  After all, I taught art in a high school for 3 years.  The introductory course focussed on the elements and principles of design:  line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, and harmony, balance, and rhythm.  But color can be immensely complex.  Within that single element are hues, values, intensities, shades, tints, compliments, keys, analagous, primary, secondary, warm, cool, transparent, opaque, permanent, tertiary, and my goodness, stop, I’m already intimidated!

I had done most of the corrections of my drawings in the main part of my house, and my studio was just recently renovated, so it was not set up at all.  I carried the studio furniture into the new space — easels, taborets, drafting tables, and desks.  It feels very strange in there with nothing on the walls yet, and the tables and easels are empty.

My only injury was a bad whack on the top of my head when the post of my big easel smacked into a dropped ceiling and stopped me in my tracks.  (Note to self.)

I still attended the weekly figure drawing session at Studio b.   Our model this week had been in Europe this past fall.  She told me she had shown my website posts all over Europe, which pleased me hugely.  I have no idea how many people actually read my posts, or how long they spend looking at my drawings.  My webmaster is counting it all, but I haven’t asked him what the numbers are.  At this point, I am just happy to share the process.  Below are two warm-up drawings with multiple poses, and two longer poses.

 Click on any image for a larger view.

 

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

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Don’t Worry, Just Draw!

Sometimes the artists will talk during the breaks between the longer poses at the figure drawing sessions at Studio b.  This week we touched on the purpose of our lives, parallel universes, and the annihilation of the solar system that is going to happen in a zillion years.  I have to confess, I have never lain awake at night over any those issues.  It’s challenge enough just being myself in my small world!

My life is pretty basic.  My “day-job” can be all-consuming.  Many of my activities are trade-offs, where I have to give up one thing so I can do another.  But having made those trade-offs, I am so much healthier than I was 3 years ago when I first started working out, and I draw better than 2 years ago when I started coming to the figure drawing sessions at the b., and I have more friends since spending more time paddling the local waters over the last 2 years, and somehow I have managed to find a little time to practice meditation and yoga.  All told, that probably consumes 20 hours a week.  If the economy changes, and my work gets busy again, I’m going to have to make some choices, because that 20 hours is time I used to spend working.  But for now, things are good, and the solar system is not worrying me.  Global warming, yes, acidification of the oceans, yes, but the solar system , no.

I don’t worry about anything very much.  Once in a while, not having a lot of money will make me itch, but not too often, because the experiences I have make me wealthy beyond any amount of money.  The trick is merely to be present, to be looking at what is, and allowing myself to be amazed.  And that brings me back to figure drawing, to my state of mind when I am most successful at capturing the essence of a particular pose.

Both of the poses I show above, were about 30-minutes long.  I roughly and lightly sketched the gesture with white Nupastel, and then refined the shapes and the lighting with both nupastel and graphite.

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

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Surrounded by Painters at Figure Drawing

On this night at Studio b. at the regular weekly figure drawing session, I was the only artist who exclusively draws the figure.  David Orme-Johnson brought his watercolor paints, and Nancy Nichols Williams brought her acrylics.  Steve Wagner also is an accomplished figure painter, although on this night he worked with charcoal and white on brown paper.  As expected of all students majoring in art in any university, I took my share of figure painting classes, but when it comes to the figure, I like making dry marks on paper.

I warmed up with some small sketches using water soluble graphite pencil on watercolor paper, which I added a wash to later when I got home.

I enjoyed the longer poses.  I feel that I am coming closer to my intended effect as I continue to use graphite and white nupastel.  It is always a challenge to draw the female model we had tonight, who is in constant training for triathlons and is now training for an Ironman next year.  Her musculature is supremely developed, but I find myself minimizing her definition, probably because it becomes very detailed and I always feel like I am rushed and must simplify.

The first pose I have posted above was supposed to be for 10 minutes, but we asked the model to hold it a little longer, so it grew to 15.  The pose below was for 45 minutes, with a break after the first half hour.  That longer pose allowed me to spend a little more time on the face.

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

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Figure Drawing the Night Before Thanksgiving

The model couldn’t make it to Studio b. for our figure drawing session this week, so the owner of the Studio, Colleen Duffley, graciously offered us her time, posing clothed for us.  When the artist knows the model, it seems important to try to be accurate in the drawing, for the sake of not offending the model by one’s poor craftsmanship.  I tried to put that additional pressure out of my head as I drew.

Clothed models are much easier to draw than nudes.  Clothing is very forgiving — I can fudge one way or another with a line or a shadow on clothing without it feeling awkward.  Nevertheless, I still wanted more time, even on the 20 and 30-minute poses.  Between the wire-mesh of the model’s chair, and the leather and denim of her clothing, and her extraordinarily beautiful, curly hair, it was frustrating to be faced with such rich textures that I could only hint at because of the duration of the poses.

Below are two warm-up drawings, and two longer poses.  Click on any image for a larger view.

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

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Showing Some of My Work

I have participated in two recent showings of my work – one local at the Bayou Arts Center, the new home of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, and one with international exposure, at Studio b.  At Studio b., probably 75 of my drawings were displayed, informally.  At Bayou Arts, CAA Board members art will be exhibited until sometime in December.  These are the pieces I am exhibiting there, including drawings, photography, and encaustic:

And this past weekend I entered 3 drawings in an international juried competition, Au Natural: The Nude in the 21st Century.  On November 30, 2011, they’ll let me know whether any of my pieces were accepted.  Below are the pieces I submitted.  They are drawn in the style I am having fun with right now, using graphite on toned paper, with white nupastel for the highlights.

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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Figure Drawing on the Run

What have I been doing for a month?  Well…. first there was a Saturday figure drawing workshop by Heather Clements at Studio b., followed by the regular Wednesday night figure drawing session, a trip to Chattanooga with two friends to do a 6-mile stand-up paddle race, and then the opening of Studio b.’s “Figure It Out” figurative art show, and this week, helping receive the art for the upcoming figurative show presented by the A+Art Committee of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County at the South Walton campus of Northwest Florida State College, then another regular Wednesday night figure drawing session, and today, the orientation meeting for my upcoming service on the CAA board, meanwhile trying to maintain my life routines and keep up with my “day job” (my businesses)…  it’s been a little hectic lately.  I’ve tried not to sacrifice anything, until this week when I absolutely had to give up my morning workouts to gain another couple of hours every day.  I managed to get in a little creekside hike with a couple of friends last Saturday, a yoga session at Balance Health Studio and a glass of juice at Raw and Juicy with another friend on Sunday.  I missed my Monday night meditation group meeting because I’m sitting the gallery at Studio b. every evening this week.  So, you see, it’s been crazy-busy lately.  I don’t like to be this busy.  Even during quiet moments at the gallery, I’m catching up on some business work, except tonight when I’m evaluating my life while I blog about it.  But I guess you can tell, figure drawing would be the last thing I would give up.  I think that’s how it is for figurative artists.  As I look at all the drawings and paintings here at Studio b. for this show, I am realizing that all of the artists represented are compelled to draw.  We draw for the sheer pleasure of it.  We pay a small fee to be here, and we pay the model with tips, and we collect our own art — mine is stacked high on a shelf in my house, with only a few pieces framed and hanging.  It actually was a pleasant surprise to me when pieces started selling out of the show.  Below are the drawings that sold on opening night.

18 x 24 14 x 24 14 x 20 18 x 24

Here are a couple of photos from opening night.  The atmosphere was casual and friendly.  In one gallery Colleen Duffley, owner of Studio b., had hired a model and set up easels and supplies for the guests to try their hand at figure drawing, and several did try!

You might notice that I draw in many different styles.  Supposedly an accomplished artist becomes recognizable by their style.  If that is the case, my work might never be recognizably mine, because I like to approach the figure differently almost every time I draw.  Of  course, the usual challenges remain, due to the time constraints of any given pose, so there may be proportional problems, like the drawing at left that I made a couple of weeks ago, where I think I made the head a good bit larger than it really was, in proportion to the rest of the figure.  This week I focused on what may become my style, because I like the quality of the expression — it feels comfortable, it feels like “me”.  The drawings below are from last night’s session, and my favorite is the last drawing.  Click on any of the drawings for a larger view.

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

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