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Archive for the ‘Life drawing’ Category

130328DraperyArchMeg

It’s never JUST drapery. Drapery is uncanny stuff.  It has a way of looking like something else.  Its round, merging 130328DraperyArchMeg1shapes are reminiscent of the human body, so that if you practice drawing drapery you’ll find it easier to draw from the figure. When this drawing was almost done, the artist/student Meg, said, “it looks like muscles.”  So it does, like an arm and a shoulder.  We talked about the option of drawing more of the drapery in the still life and filling up more of the page, but the shape of what she already had looked complete in itself.

The shape is an arch.  Is the arch archetypal or symbolic?  We’ve had it in our architecture for about five-thousand years.  The Egyptians used it, the Etruscans developed it further and the Romans celebrated its grandeur and exploited its 13RomanArchunassailable transfer of stresses.  In western architecture, to the end of the 19th century, it remained the sturdiest and loveliest form for a portal, an entrance, a gate.  With the glass skyscraper, we abolished the distinction between outside and inside and, so, who cares about portals, it’s all the same, whatever.  I do love glass and steel, but give me a Roman Arch…and to get back to the question about archetypal and symbolic, I don’t know, but I can see and feel that it’s round.Life forms are round, all of them.  Round is where we live.

When this sliver of an arch appeared on Meg’s paper, it had enough life in it to stand alone.

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12Gaby4OneMins11

By tradition, Life Classes start with a few one-minute poses. This is called “warming up.”  What does that mean and what are we warming up, exactly?

Warming up is what athletes famously do and have to do so that they will not strain a muscle.  Warming up for an athlete means going slow and easy, stretching gently and gradually increasing tension, weight and speed.  That makes sense.

But in an art class, warming up means going fast.  Drawing a figure in one minute, believe me, is fast.  It’s actually a bit scary, anything but slow and easy, as with athletes warming up.

Why, then, do we do it?  We do it in order to switch on our heightened seeing, which means seeing the whole figure all at once.  Psychologists call it the “Gestalt,” the whole thing, no bit by bit scanning. On the way to class, as we drive and walk, we’re scanning the visual landscape through which we navigate.  But to draw, we have to see intensely.  To switch on this intensity, we—POW!—we draw a nude body in one minute.  Then another and another, all on the same sheet of paper, because, well, because there’s no time to take out another sheet and position it on the drawing board.  What we’re warming up is the mind.

The result is a lovely play on lines,  creating a rhythm on the page.  What’s most important is that we don’t get continuous contour lines when we draw with this speed.  The contour lines are interrupted.  The drawing breathes. It suggests life and it engages the viewer.

Drawing by Gaby, graphite,  December 2012

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12LinneHeadOfNude

In the recent posts about The Contour and Leonardo’s sfumato I said that a drawing can be described as “painterly.”  The difference between linear and painterly is this:  a linear style outlines the figure and separates it from the ground; in a painterly work, the figure and the ground flow into one another.  In studying Western art, the Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945) noticed that the earlier art is linear and then in the 16th century, the line opens up and the image becomes painterly.  You can find the whole theory in his “Principles of Art History,” a book that is surprisingly lively and readable, considering when it was written.

Contemporary art teachers wouldn’t go into that kind of scholarship—and I don’t, in class.  Basically, what we want to get at is, “Hey, everybody—loosen up!”  Easier said than done. The tendency for beginning students (as with our ancestors) is to firmly outline your subject.  Opening up the contour is far from being sloppy.  It involves a whole other way of seeing and thinking. You see the contour and visualize it as you draw, but you don’t state it directly.  This requires tremendous concentration and getting to that ability to concentrate takes practice over time.

12LinneNudeHere, then, is Linné’s recent drawing from a model.  I sometimes blow up my students’ drawings at the Xerox machine so that they can appreciate their own progress.  It’s also helpful to isolate one passage, such as the head, in order to take it out of context.  Cropping your drawing like this helps you focus on the qualities in your drawing, rather than your representational skills.

Learning to draw can often be discouraging, but actually you’re better than you think. You develop not gradually, but in spurts and part of my job is to help you notice that you just made a spurt.

Yeah!

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These drawings were not demos.  I encourage my students to take risks when they work from the figure. When we have a model, I sometimes do some drawing myself.  I want to show how scribbly my own work is and how I leave every line without erasing.  The quest for perfection is paralyzing and perfection itself –well, we don’t even know what that is, but I can tell you it’s boring.

Above, three quick head studies in pencil, 11 x 17.

A figure study, pencil, 11 x 17.

Figure study in Aquarellable Pencil and watercolor wash, on index (non-glossy), 11 x 14.

Let’s crop that last one.

So much more immediate and engaging.

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Hands are considered hard.  So is playing the Moonlight Sonata.  You do have to practice the hard bits.  And then, when you’re working on drawing the figure, the head or the torso, getting the hand in there will be a delight.  Here are some classroom examples.  Notice how lively a page of studies of hands can be.  Just hands.  Love it!

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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was a prodigy.  He drew incessantly as a child, filling the margins of his school books with sketches.  His father, an art teacher, is said to have handed his son his own brushes and paints, saying, “here, you have surpassed me.”  When Picasso was fourteen, his drawings looked like this.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), the son of a strict Calvinist minister, was interested in drawing as a child and as a young adult while he worked as an assistant art dealer, teacher and missionary.  It wasn’t until his late twenties that he devoted himself to art full time.  At the age of twenty seven, his drawing looked awkward and tortured.

I cringe when I look at this.  But he persisted.  He worked at it, for ten years, never achieving the grace of Picasso’s draftsmanship.   Van Gogh is not admired for his drawings, but for the evocative power of his paintings.  The passion we sense in his paintings relies on primary colors and, oddly enough,  an unaffected calligraphy in the handling of the brush, course and immediate.

A graceful line can be so admirable as to challenge imitation.  But not everybody can make a line dance.  What to do?  Must the line dance?  What if, like Van Gogh’s ten years after the above drawing, it screams, groans, and pounds its fists in rage?  What if the line you produce speaks a language you have never heard before?

The next few posts here will be devoted to my students’ recent work. Amazing things happen in that drawing class all the time.  That’s because (I think) the students are beginning to respond to their own markmaking, their own line quality, their own dynamics.  None of them are Picassos.

An article on Picasso’s early work: http://www.salon.com/2012/01/09/picassos_fascinating_early_works/

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Foreshortening is frightening.

But we see foreshortened shapes all the time.  When you look at a face in a front view, the nose is foreshortened; when a person sits in a chair in front of you, the thighs and forearms will be foreshortened.  So, how can this be frightening?

When you draw a foreshortened limb and you really have to look at that shape, it looks weird.  It’s so frightening, you go into denial.  Can’t be, your eyes say. Your drawing hand will aid and abet this denial, by elongating what in fact is seen to be compressed.

When I announced that we would do foreshortening next class, a student said, “sounds like surgery.”  So I brought flowers to place near the Barcsay nude we were going to work from.

Jenö Barcsay’s book Anatomy for the Artist, makes a fine reference book.  I have blown up one of his reclining nudes to three feet.  When it’s tacked up on a wall, I can be very specific in guiding the students in the seeing process.  How do you approach this thing?  Well, first, you need to find a unit of measure.  Take the head.  Whoa, the head is half the picture! So counter-intuitive!  But that’s how foreshortening is.  It will drive you crazy, unless you have a disciplined approach that measures and aligns various points with one another.  It’s the only way, you can’t wing it.

One student, Isabella, insisted on working out her drawing with chiaroscuro effect. Quite an accomplishment.

Like upside-down drawing, foreshortening has the effect of focusing the mind. The students who did not completely work out their Barcsay nude, still benefited from the rigorous seeing process, and then produced satisfying drawings using various other images to work from.

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