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2017, A Year of Letting Go, A Year of Change

As the year comes to a close and I look back on it, I find it difficult to put into words how I feel about so many things. I have felt crushing disappointment in our country’s political direction, but have felt helpless to do anything of consequence to help it. But the discomfort of it has used up most of what little patience I have for that sort of thing, and I have instead tried to pour my energies into my art and my mental health. Both have improved noticeably.

I continue to paint en plein air on Wednesdays. The big change is that this past month I also began practicing clothed-model figure painting every Friday with a drawing and painting group, meeting at our Cultural Arts Alliance‘s Foster Gallery. I have considerable experience in drawing the nude figure and enjoy it immensely — it was one of my areas of emphasis for my Fine Arts degree. But I haven’t practiced figure painting a lot. I am learning to handle my brushes better, and I am learning to create skin tones using the Zorn palette, which is very limited – white, yellow ochre, cadmium red, and black. Below are some of my figurative efforts, all with our amazing model Abigail. We post our group’s studies on Facebook under Figurative Artists Atelier.The first painting, in blue jeans, is the one I did this week, and the painting with her wearing the Madame X dress, was last week. These are all 3-hour poses divided into 20-minute segments with 5 or 10 minute breaks. I am purposefully painting profiles or near profiles because they are easier, and that allows me to practice my brushwork and skin tones. Click on the images for purchase information.

I have had an idea in the back of my head for several years, and it will involve figures on larger canvases, a theme I can follow and see what develops. On Christmas Day I built 2 stretcher frames, both  of them 6 feet tall, and stretched raw linen on them each and applied sizing, and have since added three coats of primer, so stay tuned!

Oil painting of thin young woman with dreads, in casual clothes

Sketch of Abigail as Madame X Oil painting of woman in fancy long dress like Sargent's Madame X
Oil painting of young woman posing under a spotlight
This was my first painting with the group, and you can see that I was challenged by the proportions, so the head is considerably larger than it should be. But how about that floodlight!

 

 

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My Drawing Was Used to Illustrate a Berks Story Project

www.joanvienot.comWell, for 2 seconds anyway, but still, it’s fun to have been involved!  It’s in a Berks Story Project interview with author/adventurer Cindy Ross, at http://www.berksstoryproject.com/#!cindy-ross/cmzr.  It all began last February when out of the blue, I received an email by way of the contact form on my website:

Hi Joan,
I’m an independent multimedia producer in Reading, PA. I’m writing to ask your permission to use one of your life drawings in one of my forthcoming productions. It is a short video documentary, in the story-telling style of The Moth, about how a woman resolved her conflicts with her father over her choices in life. She mentions in the video that she worked for a number of years as a life drawing model. I would like to show a couple of examples of figure drawings in that section of the video, including this drawing of yours:

https://joanvienot.com/figure-drawing/figure-drawing-how-lucky-am-i-1660#.UvADyvY29Ng
(top left)

The final video will be archived on our web site, berksstoryproject.com. The video will also appear on the web site of our local community access TV station, BCTV.org.

Unfortunately, though, I cannot pay a license fee, but I would certainly give proper credit. The Berks Story Project is a personal project and a labor of love for me and my co-producer. We make no money producing the videos, and we don’t charge viewers fees to watch them.

Please let me know either way whether you will grant us permission to use the drawing.

Sincerely,
David Walker

I was intrigued by the project, which their Facebook page describes as being about the extraordinary stories of ordinary people in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

The Berks Story Project is a growing collection of short multimedia stories about people in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Created in 2009 by David Walker, the project was inspired by intimate first-person narratives told on radio programs such as Story Corps and This American Life. Jane Palmer joined David in 2012 as co-producer. Our mission is to share the extraordinary personal stories of ordinary people in our own community. These are stories about love and war, tragedy, hope and aspiration, dreams lost and found — the universal themes that bind us all. We find them in every corner of Berks, wherever people are willing to open up about a compelling, transformational experience. Joined together like the patches of a quilt, the stories form an evolving narrative of this extraordinary place.

Cindy Ross writes a blog at cindyrosstraveler.com.  Here’s The Berks Story Project documentary about Cindy Ross, “What Cindy Wants”.  My drawing is shown for about 2 seconds at 3:06, along with drawings by other artists:

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After a Month Away, Returning to Figure Drawing

It was exhilarating, returning to figure drawing after more than a month.  Colleen Duffley, owner of Studio b, has been in Italy and other exotic places fulfilling her professional photography obligations.

I too have been elsewhere, as my last blog post indicated, including two weeks in British Columbia.  So getting out the chalk and paper and easel and coming back to the Studio was like the proverbial oasis in the desert!

I wasn’t too rusty, considering how long it had been, because I had been keeping up with my daily doodling, but more than that, I think what helped me stay in tune was my continuous practice of photography, which is a great tool for maintaining my “eye” and my feeling for composition.

The model this week had amazing turquoise hair,  and it demanded to be noticed.  As it happens, I have a number of sticks of Nupastel of that exact color, which I had bought expecting eventually to use in background imagery with the colors of the Gulf of Mexico here in Northwest Florida where I live.  The Gulf is an impossible blue-green, which looks unbelievable whenever I have used that color in my art, but which is absolutely correct for the color of the model’s hair.

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

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Figure Drawing at ArtsQuest 2012

One of the premiere art events in Northwest Florida is ArtsQuest, the fine art and music festival held every Mother’s Day weekend.  This year it includes 130 international visual artists of all genres.   While the artists sit in their booths, musicians perform in the open-air amphitheater, and demonstration areas give attendees opportunity to see art being produced and perhaps even try their hand at something they may or may not have ever tried before.

I am privileged to sit on the Board of Directors of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County which produces the festival.  The festival requires the assistance of many volunteers, and Directors are not exempt.  So I volunteered to demonstrate figure drawing for two hours yesterday afternoon.  Two of the other demonstrating artists joined me, plein air painter Lynette Miesen sketching the model, and Sue Carol Knight Woodley painting.  Sue Carol had demonstrated and coached people with portrait painting for the previous two hours, and Lynette was actively plein air painting in front of the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters booth.  Margaret Rogers demonstrated weaving in the booth across from us, displaying many of her gorgeous completed weavings.  We were in the courtyard next to the world-famous Bud and Alley’s Restaurant in Seaside, Florida.

The model, Beth Roth, is a professional model, and I asked her to time us so that I could concentrate on drawing.  It makes a difference to me whether I am timing the pose or not, as to my level of concentration.  When I am in charge of the timer, I find myself doing a little clock-watching, which inhibits the free-flowing abandon I find most conducive to expression.   We were under a white tent, and although there were shadows, there was so much light that when I tried to heighten the contrast with a floodlight, I couldn’t tell the difference when I turned it on, so I gave up on that idea.

I encouraged a few passers-by to try their hand at it.  One was a professional artist visiting for the festival, and he said that he goes to figure drawing sessions every month or two, because the practice improves his other work.  Another had a lot of fun sketching, and she asked for one of my 10-minute sketches, above left.  When I gave it to her, she insisted on paying something, so I asked her to put a tip in the kitty for the model, which she was happy to do.

I had a few pre-game jitters but once we got going, I settled in and was hardly aware of the spectators talking and looking over my shoulder as I drew.  I did notice the change in pitch as people explained to their children what was going on, and I was thrilled that kids were there.  I think it is important to take children to creative venues and to encourage them to make the arts a part of their everyday life.

I know that I would benefit from more portrait study.  Neither of the two drawings below do justice to the model’s beauty and serenity, but distortions and all, I count them as successful.

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

 

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Figure Drawing in a New Venue

It was interesting to draw in a new location last week.  Studio b. has moved to a nearby community, and the room was filled with unsorted moving boxes, furniture, and art.  The ordered disarray appealed to me.  The ambience at the new location is much warmer, with rich woods instead of cold plaster and tile, and with plentiful windows which let in light from every angle.  I was in heaven during the warm-up drawings, the low sun adding warm tones.  The model chose her own poses during the shorter warm-up sets.  Light from the multiple sources put complex highlights and subtle double shadows on the model’s skin.  As usual, most of the short poses were standing poses or twisting poses, perhaps even a little off-balance, which would be too hard to hold for any duration.  The longer poses were as always,  more stable as a matter of compassion for the model.

For the final pose, the model sat on the stairway to the second floor, where the single light source simplified the shadow patterns.  I sat at the base of the stairs where I could see her from that unusual vantage point.  What interested me the most was the exposed underside of her chin and her upturned nose.  The foreshortening had to be kept subtle even though it felt extreme, with her arm being larger because of its proximity to me.

I am happy with the end result in every respect except for one — it doesn’t look very much like the actual model!  Generally speaking, when drawing a portrait I count it a success if the positions of the eyes, nose, and mouth seem parallel.  Maybe if I practiced portraiture more often, I would be able to capture the likeness better.

It’s a challenge to create something someone might want to hang in their home.  It seems like the drawing either needs to wow the viewer with technical craftsmanship or else it needs to be someone they know or to remind them of someone they know.  In the end, I draw for my own pleasure and compulsion, trying to simplify what I see, to capture the essential character of the person or the expression I interpreted without concern for whether someone else will like it.

At left is a photo of me making the drawing posted above.

I am excited to announce that a few pieces of my art will be hanging in the lobby/reception area of the South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College here in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.  The opening reception will be Friday, April 6, 2012, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM.  Titled “A Passion for Art”, the show spotlights the members of the A+Art Committee which serves under the umbrella of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.  The show exhibits works by Charlotte Arnold, Lauren Carvalho, Betty Cork, Miffie Hollyday, Susan Lucas, Mike McCarty, Robin Wiesneth, and me, Joan Vienot.  The show will close May 15, 2012.

 

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

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Figure Drawing with Music in my Head

The room was quiet as we drew at Studio b. this week.  The model was extraordinary, performing poses during our one-minute and three-minute warm-up period that would have taxed an accomplished yogi.  We warmed up with gesture drawings for about half an hour, before drawing a few 10 and 20 minute poses, and then finally a 45 minute pose.  I’ve been enjoying a combination of white nupastel with black graphite for a while now, but in my final drawing I opted for a blue pencil with the white nupastel, at left.  The form was very simple from my vantage point, for the most part being only a silhouette with very little modeling.  Her shoulder blade was prominent, and there was a highlight on the muscle edging her spine, so I put a little more emphasis on her hair and the fabric she was lying on, to provide textural contrast.

The night before, I had listened to Amber Rubarth performing there at Studio b., in the courtyard below our figure drawing room.  Her music was still playing in my head as I drew.  I videotaped a few of her songs, but I don’t yet know how to upload them from my whiz-bang new iPhone, so here’s a link to a previous performance by Amber:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Mn9VtIFM0g.

I made a mistake on the drawing pictured at right, something I know I should never do.  I had torn a corner of the page off, to give to another artist who wanted to order the kind of paper I was using.  Then I kept that paper, to draw on.  I’d been carrying it around for several weeks, and last night I decided to draw on it, without trimming off the torn corner.  I used the rest of the borders as my boundaries, treating the torn corner as if it wasn’t torn.  Now that the drawing is completed, I see that I would have to mat out or trim off that torn corner, and with it, lose other essential parts of the drawing.  Since there is excess paper on another side, I think a good framer might be able to patch it, but the patch would show, upon close inspection.  So I have priced it as a sketch, even though the drawing turned out exactly as I wanted it.  Lesson learned, hopefully — If a corner is missing, always trim the paper to square up that corner before using it.

If you are interested in having any of my drawings or sketches, contact me on the contact form through this website.

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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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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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The Figure Artist’s Shell

First, some blatant self-promotion — if you will “Like” my facebook page and share one of my posts, it will greatly improve my fan base.  Right now my exposure is a little puny.  It may be because I am practicing figure drawing, which is the subject of this blog post.

Some people are not comfortable with the nude figure.  It is more accepted in some cultures, certainly more so in Europe than in the United States.  In many areas of the world, it is not at all unusual to see bare-breasted or nude people at public locations like the beach.  But in the United States, many people are taught that the body is to be hidden, some even associating it with shame, others merely with privacy.  Many years ago, I remember when one of my drawings was accepted for a juried show when I attended the University of Northern Colorado.  My drawing instructor told me that my wildly expressionistic and colorful drawing was not selected for technical merit, but rather for the sheer expressive quality.  The subject was a dancer, drawn in bold strokes of bright reds and greens, with charcoal contours defining the figure.  I had actually attended some modern dance classes where I was allowed to sketch the dancers, and that drawing was from one of those sessions.  The figure was neither clothed nor unclothed in the drawing — it was simply gestural, to reflect the dynamic movement of the fast-moving dancer.  But I remember when I brought it home, and proudly showed it to my family, one family member told me that I should be ashamed, that it was nasty.  It was not the first time that my art had not been received exactly how I expected, but I had already by that time grown a shell, so while the comment is one I will forever remember, it did not stop me from pursuing my favorite subject, the human figure.

Other areas of the world readily display nude sculpture and paintings.  But here in the U.S., we are a little more prudish, distinguishing “non-offensive” art as “family-friendly”.  Public institutions displaying art might refuse to display nude pieces because they want to be family-friendly, because children seeing nude artwork most certainly will be corrupted.  More likely, they need to keep their more conservative benefactors happy, so they are reluctant to take risks.

In our weekly figure drawing session a couple of months ago, a woman from England brought her talented 13-year-old son to participate.  Clearly he was practiced — this was not his first time drawing a nude model.  Shock of shocks, instead of having some puerile, voyeuristic interest, he behaved just like all the other artists, immediately and matter-of-factly diving into his drawing.

The stigma is so pervasive where I live, in rural Northwest Florida, that it was a long time before there was any nude figure drawing available on a consistent basis.  In the not-so-distant past in fact, the sheriff was called to shut down previous efforts at one gallery.  Even now in my area, even with the sophistication of the people now living in the beach area which has been developed over the past 30 years, out of the 40-some good-sized galleries between Destin and Panama City Beach, Studio b. in Alys Beach stands alone in offering regularly weekly figure drawing sessions with a live nude model.

Working from a human figure is unlike any other subject.  A tree for example, will be very forgiving if you draw a branch coming out of the trunk at a different angle.  The figure on the other hand will look grotesque if you draw an arm coming out of the trunk at the wrong angle.  There are certain articulations that joints can do, and the viewer’s eye will notice if it is incorrect even if they can’t consciously put their finger on it.  If an artist wants to put people in his art, it is essential that he practice figure drawing, if he wants them to be convincing.  There are a number of artists in the area who use figures in their work, who might benefit from more practice.  Just saying…

Not everyone is comfortable with nude figures — I recognize that.  At least now, if someone is uncomfortable with my work, at least to my face they just give a tepid response if any, and not outright condemnation.  To a great extent, I think that people who have been exposed to the nude as an art form, view it as a thing of beauty, and the more they are exposed to it, the sooner they can let go of the nasty or shameful interpretations they may have been taught to associate with nudity.  When we see all things as having beauty or at least a correctness in all stages of their existence, then perhaps we will care for our planet and its life forms with more reverence.  My figure drawings are very simply my personal expression of the beauty and complexity of the human form and my efforts toward mastery of that expression.

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