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Thinking about Composition in Figure Drawing

Having spent nearly two years improving my skills at figure drawing, I think I would like to spend more time thinking about how the figure is presented on the paper, which begins to determine whether the piece can stand alone as a composition.  When I look back at the bulk of my work, the pieces that appeal the most to me have an unfinished quality, in that perhaps I did not try to capture the figure in its entirety.  I’d like to preserve that quality.

This week at Studio b.’s figure drawing session, we had an exquisitely beautiful model, and I found that I still need a lot of work on portraiture, as I think I failed miserably to get a likeness let alone to show how pretty she is.  However, I like the pieces I turned out, since they have just a little more “atmosphere” than much of my previous work.  Something seemed different about this night at Studio b., perhaps the bad weather, it being the night of the terrible Tuscaloosa tornado.

At left I also am posting the drawing, now more developed, that I had started on the last day of the portrait workshop that I was taking from Charlotte Arnold last month.  When I last posted it, it was primarily a head study.  I used a photograph of that model and her pose,  for reference.

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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The Luxury of A Longer Pose

We had a live model posing for the portrait workshop I am taking from  Charlotte Arnold, and for our final drawing this week we had the luxury of a longer pose.  When I am figure drawing, I need to try to get the whole figure drawn, or at least much of it as I can, which doesn’t allow much time on any one part of the body.  So getting more than 30 minutes to draw just a face in the portrait workshop was extraordinary.  The drawing is still unfinished because I spent the whole time on the face.

At our figure drawing session at Studio b. this week, we returned to the shorter poses and a familiar model.  I was able to capture bits and pieces of a likeness of her face, but only in a rough and hurried fashion, nothing worth showing.  But that showed me I am making progress with the portrait workshop I am taking.  I have posted only one drawing from the session, a simple one, just lines, one that captured the essence of that particular pose.

Click on the images for a larger view.

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Head Studies and Portraits, continued…

Last week I had started a portrait in an open studio session I attended in order to get some time practicing for the Charlotte Arnold workshop I am taking on Tuesdays.  At right is the finished piece.  I am satisfied with it as a finished drawing, even though I didn’t capture the model’s exquisite beauty.  There was much about this drawing that felt very new while I was working it, the fine dreadlocks in particular.

This week our instructor asked us to pick a drawing from a book and try to draw it exactly the way the artist had, using the same media.  I picked a drawing by Nicholai Fechin.  I am not very comfortable with charcoal, his medium for this drawing — left to my own choice, I would have used a pencil.  The drawing I am posting, is my third try.  The original copy from the book is on the left, and my copy is on the right.

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Portraits: More Practice

One of the points of blogging about my art is to show my struggles, my occasional two-steps-backwards, as well as my one-step-forward.  So I bravely display my struggling efforts towards gaining some competence with portraiture.  I attended an open studio session today, to practice drawing a face.  The model stayed in the same pose throughout the 3-hour session, taking 5-minute breaks every half-hour or so.  I think that drawing “Plane Man” two days ago helped me to see form, highlights, and shadows.  I used the first half-hour to warm-up, using nupastels to make a full-color sketch.

Then I settled in and spent the next 3 segments using a soft graphite on Canson Rives paper that Charlotte gave me to try out.  I’ve used Canson Edition, and I liked Canson Rives even better.  Tooth is a texture in the paper that “grabs” onto the media, and makes it easy to make marks.  The tooth on the Rives paper was excellent, and one side had more texture than the other.  I nearly finished the drawing at left.  There are some obvious problems, places that actually make me wince as I review it, like the white line showing the leading edge of her neck, which grows strangely out of the reflected light under her chin.  I will have to work on that some more.  And I doubt anyone would recognize the model from my drawing, since I made her face, and especially her eyes, too narrow.  But I did do a fair job of suggesting her beautiful dreadlocks.

Unfinished, Nupastel and Graphtint

There was one last 30-minute segment left in the session, and I used that time to start a drawing of her profile, from just a few feet away.  I started with the white highlights, allowing the paper to show through for some of the midtones, and then I used a reddish-brown tinted graphite pencil to create the darker values.  But I didn’t even get to start on her hair before it was time to pack up.  If I finish this drawing, then I will decide whether to darken or wash out the graphtint for effect or to improve the representation.  Graphtint is a fun pencil, not as “washable” as a watercolor pencil, but able to be washed somewhat, to create a more watery effect which can be much softer than the pencil strokes alone.  It brightens the color when wet.  My apologies for the orange tone of the piece — it’s not orange at all, but rather a light brown.

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Portrait Drawing: Practice, Practice, Practice

Plane Man: Graphite, vine charcoal, pressed charcoal

Craftsmanship is different from art.  Craftsmanship is a familiarity and skill with subject and media.  I do a lot of work to try to improve my craftsmanship.  I think the craft of drawing is really an exercise in seeing.  By practicing, of course I am practicing with various media and subject matter or poses, but what I really am doing is learning to see better.   Today I started a 5-week, 3-hours per week, portrait workshop taught by Charlotte Arnold in Destin, Florida.  I’m not actually interested in drawing portraits, which is fortunate given that symmetry escapes me, but I would like a better understanding of how to draw the head for my figurative works.

Plane Man: Graphite

Charlotte referenced the 10,000 Hour Rule, which says in essence that if you practice anything for 10,000 hours, you are bound to get better at it.  She suggested we keep a sketchbook with us at all times, and to practice all the time, drawing ellipses if not actually representational subjects.

She brought in a life-sized plaster cast called Plane Man and set a floodlight on it, for us to draw from various angles.  I’d never actually seen Plane Man before, except in art supply magazines.  I probably should have picked it up and touched the various planes, to learn a little more about it before I started drawing it, but I just drew whatever I could see.  Some of the planes were indistinguishable from the adjacent planes because of the lighting, and the rest were much more obvious in the white plaster than they are in a person’s face.  Charlotte said that if we learn the angles on the Plane Man, we will know what to look for when attempting a portrait.

One half of Plane Man’s face was made of very angular planes, and on the other half the angles were more subtle, with maybe a hint of a curve here and there.  I drew on manilla paper, not intending to keep them except for a before-and-after reference that I can look at when the course is over.

Portrait workshop instructor Charlotte Arnold recently moved back to the area after being gone for nearly 8 years. She has spent the last 4 years in the Chicago area studying and working in the open studios at The Palette and Chisel Academy of Fine Art in Chicago where she is an Artist Member. She is also a member of the Oil Painters of America, Portrait Society of America, Portrait Society of Florida, Women Artists of the Southeast, and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.