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Adjust, Adapt, Accommodate – Painting through Challenges

After several months of adjusting to challenges on several fronts, things are settling down and I am returning to painting in oils. In early February, I had the first of two surgeries on my hands, to create a new joint for the base of my thumb. I chose to have this done on my left, non-dominant, hand first, so that I could plan for the disability I will have when I am recovering from the same surgery on my right thumb later this year. The surgery I had is called a CMC arthroplasty, and I am fortunate to have nearby one of the best clinics in the country, the Andrews Institute of Orthopedics right here in Northwest Florida (thank you Dr. Steven Kronlage!). I was not comfortable using my oil paints when I started painting again, what with the mess I usually make and my left hand not being of much help, so I switched to watercolor paints for a little while. Below are a few of my watercolors painted en plein air during weekly outings with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters.

2016-0302 Village Church

2016-0309 Dune Impression

2016-0309 Dune in Bloom

2016-0309 Windy Dunes

2016-0316 Monet Ferns

I tried out watercolor canvas in my studio for the first time, and I liked it very much. After spraying several light coats of Golden archival spray (matte), the painting can be framed without glass, so the watercolor painting is open to the viewer, instead of being separated from the viewer by glass. I painted the painting below in the studio, to submit to a Cultural Arts Alliance show of watercolor paintings which Melissa Brown and I are coordinating for the A+Art Committee, whose mission is to showcase CAA member artists’ work in our Art in Public Spaces program. The show will open with a reception at 5:00 on April 1, 2016 at the Bayou Arts Center, 105 Hogtown Bayou Lane, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459. It will show through June 1, 2016.

2016-0304 The Red Boat
Click painting for purchase information.

I went to the local figure drawing session CAA holds every two weeks, thanks to Nancy Nichols Williams’ persevering efforts, which was managed by Liza Snyder this week. I should draw more often, to stay in practice, and I am looking forward to a reduction in my work hours at my job so that I can do just that. Below is one of my warm-up sketches from this week.

2016-0322 Avatar Light

And finally, this week, I broke out my oils again, after 7 weeks away from them, for the weekly painting session with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, on my friend Erika Stoyer’s backyard patio. My left hand now is strong enough to be able to wipe my brushes when I am cleaning them during the painting. The day was overcast almost the whole time, with the sun peeking through just as I was finishing up.

2016-0323 Genoa Patio

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Figure Drawing: Commitment to Practice

After warming up with two-minute, 5-minute, and 20 minute drawings, I spent the last hour of the figure drawing session drawing the model clothed, in her blue jeans and her brightly colored shawl.  I had noticed her shawl when she first arrived.  I was the only artist this week, braving the rainy weather, so I had my choice of pose and costume.  I worked with watercolor pencils, which brighten and get runny when wet with clear water spray or brush wash.  I used the watercolor pencils without water while drawing there at Studio b., waiting until I got back to my home studio to do the wet work.

There is a lot to be said for making a commitment.  My commitment, a couple years ago, was to myself, to participate in the weekly sessions at Studio b., making them my highest priority for Wednesday nights.  It has paid off, in that I learn another new aspect of figure drawing every week.  I rarely use color in my figure drawings, so this week when I did, I was very uncomfortable, several times making the decision not to tear it up and start over with my usual white nupastel and graphite, which I very much wanted to do.  I achieved the delicious color-texture of the shawl, and managed to show the slightly worn character of the jeans, but I need to return to her face and try to refine her features.

Below are a few of the warm-up sketches from earlier in the session.

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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Dueling Pencils, Figure Drawing at Studio b.

Last Wednesday evening was “open studio” at Studio b., which is to say that we did not have a scheduled instructor.  The tentative plan is to schedule guest artists on the third Wednesday of every month, and open studio if a guest isn’t scheduled.  One of the regular figure drawing artists, Steve Wagner, was asked if he would share his approach to the figure with the group, and he said he would and he asked me to also.  I laughingly referred to our session as Dueling Pencils, since we were presenting together.

Each week the artists warm up with a number of 30-second gesture drawings, progressing to one-minute, then two-minute, and perhaps 5-minute or 10 -minute drawings before we move on to longer poses.  By doing these quick poses, we “wake up”, improving our hand-eye coordination, learning what the model looks like, and trying to remember how to draw.

Steve and I each talked for a minute and then we each demonstrated a 30-second gesture.  Steve’s gestures actually map out the landmarks and the masses of the figure, whereas my 30-second warm-up drawings are little more than a vague scribble, usually way out of proportion and perhaps only suggesting the angles of the body and limbs and the general directional line of the figure.

When we advanced to the 2-minute gestures, Steve and I each showed and talked about our gestures, and everyone turned their papers outward towards the center and showed their efforts.   It is interesting to see how the other artists approach the figure — that’s one of the values of practicing in a group.  Sometimes I am lucky, turning out a gesture that might have a sense of completion without further development.  I felt like that happened with my first 2-minute gesture, shown above left.

Our model had ballet experience, and it showed in her poses, especially with the positions of her hands and feet, and her attitude, in the tilt of her head.  We were channeling a little Degas, I think.

The two works I have posted below are 30-minute drawings from later in the session.  The last one is drawn with watercolor pencils which I finished later in my studio at home.

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Figure Drawing with Pencil Wash

Watercolor Pencil Wash, 5 x 7

I rarely use color to show “local color”, that is, the actual color of the model’s skin and hair.  I have more fun when I draw light and shadow.  But this week the model at Studio b. wore a red slip that caught the light in exquisite ways.  Red just demands to be noticed.

I warmed up with nupastel and conte, switching to watercolor pencils and washable graphite on hot press watercolor paper.  Hot press is very smooth paper.  Wet color pushes around on it very easily, since there is no texture to catch onto the pigment.

It was a fun night, with a new model.  She gave us many challenging poses, especially when we were warming up.  Usually our models are fully nude, because only by drawing the nude do you get practice in seeing how the whole figure is put together.  I think all my practice has made drawing a clothed model easier.  It was easier to “see” the form beneath the clothes.

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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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Figure Drawing with One Continuous Line

Large Female Standing by Stool
Non-permanent pen and wash, collection of Tracy Rothstein

This week, Studio b‘s figure drawing instructor Heather Clements gave a demonstration, drawing the model by using one continuous line.  Never lifting the pencil from the paper proved challenging, especially the process of drawing without laying in a gesture first.  Proportions and shapes had to be corrected by successive efforts.  Tonal values and textures were the result of an accumulation of  lines, or by varying the pressure, to give lines more weight.

I warmed up using nupastel, and switched to a water-based non-permanent marker, and finally to watercolor pencils.   I washed over the non-permanent marker drawing and the watercolor pencil drawings when I got back to my home/studio afterwards.

The energy at these sessions is very high.  One of the participants said he had never been so productive!  It’s such a pleasure working beside talented, enthused artists.  And working with a larger model is freeing.  When the subject is less “perfect”, I don’t focus so much on getting things  exactly right, which allows more play just for the fun of it.

Large Female Wearing a Ring Large Female Kneeling Large Female from Behind, Leaning Forward Large Female on Folding Chair