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Posts Tagged ‘Karen’

14KarenPaperBagDraw.  Draw anytime.  Draw anything. There’s always something lying around that begs to be drawn.  A paper bag, for example.  I recommend that students practice and here’s an example of a motivated student, Karen Gerrard, producing a fine drawing at home of, what else, an inspiring paper bag.  It probably was a little more wrinkled than the drawing shows, but she simplified the planes to great effect.

14KEHpaperbagBetter than the drawing I did during class.  A face kept coming out and I ended up shading the right side of the bag to obscure the grimace.  Happens all the time with inanimate objects—oh, look, there’s a face.  Once you see it, you can’t not see it.   Drawing is always an adventure, full of unexpected turns and–crinkles. Simplify, simplify!

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Without preliminary sketches, Karen produced this exquisite line drawing of a face. She drew without a model or an image. It’s her invention, probably a self-portrait after her disappointment with the earlier drawing project. (See the still life set up in the previous post.)

Picasso comes to mind.

I don’t know if Karen was paying homage to Picasso.  But I’ll venture a guess about her immediate source of inspiration: the red and blue paper mask-face that an after-schooler had left in our classroom.

What’s the connection to Picasso?

Picasso spent his teen age years, in the 1890’s, in Barcelona.  He was precocious as an artist and as a thinker.  The friends he hung out with (in a café called Els Quatre Gats)  were artists and writers, ten and fifteen years older than he.  Barcelona in that decade was a hotbed of anarchy.  Artists were outraged at the social injustice, poverty and bourgeois complacency they saw in the city. Central to anarchist beliefs was the faith in the power of art to alter the ways in which people thought, to change the consciousness of the age and thus to hasten the social revolution.

When Picasso moved to Paris in 1904, his friends were again artists and poets who debated the function of art in an urgently needed social and aesthetic revolution.

In Paris at the time, African and Oceanic  art could be bought on the cheap at flea markets.  Artists who worked in the modern vein all owned such masks and sculptures, including Picasso.  When Picasso visited the Ethological Museum (called the Trocadero at that time), he was smitten by the rawness of what was then called “primitive art.”  It was “against everything,” he said. Tribal artifacts, including the art of American Indians,  represented the antithesis of overly refined 19th century European art. Since this refined art documented the corruption and decadence of the society he rejected, he saw in “primitive” art a potential for total rebellion and therefore a hope of stirring the consciousness of his contemporaries.  The shock might wake them out of their comfortable bourgeois complacency and make them consider new social, political ideas and a new aesthetic.

Picasso famously drew the profile in the front view of a face, as for example in his Girl before a Mirror, 1932. (Detail shown here.) At right, a Kwakiutl mask from British Columbia.

Art students and art lovers can hardly get around Picasso.  There he is, the colossus of the 20th century.  It’s hard not to be influenced by some aspect of his many styles of working during his very long life.  Who can say what inspired Karen to make this fine drawing?  But there you are, I see Picasso in it.

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How hard is it to get somebody to sit still for you?  Very.  For free? Forget it.  The going rate for models at art schools is $45-$50/hr. You can’t afford that, just for your own practice.  So that’s out. But you need to and want to draw faces, hands, the figure.

Look around you.  You’re actually inundated with images.  The photography in magazines is excellent.  Some of it, of course, is touched up to a bland, lifeless  perfection.  But much advertising is excellent.  Part of your visual self-education involves spotting the good stuff.  A good image to work from has distinctive shadows, motion and asymmetry.

I bring magazine clippings to class for us to work from.  When it was demo time a couple of weeks ago, a student pulled out this clipping. My demo was about the versatility of the Aquarellable Pencil, using two tones, sepia and black and then going in with a wet brush.  Notice how the unpredictability of the wash adds character and depth to the face, which otherwise might have gone into the bland, lifeless direction.

(Btw, this was the demo that inspired Karen to make the three face studies I presented in the previous post.)

Moral: there’s no excuse to go for a day without drawing.

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When I fill a long studio table with materials for a demo—papers and various drawing tools—I only intend to offer ideas and present possibilities.  Nothing I say ever amounts to an assignment and if it did, ha, are you kidding we don’t do assignments.  So, no assignments for this group, but when it comes to inspiration they do respond in the most amazing way.

Here’s a student, Karen, who has only worked with pencil before and look what happens after a half hour demo with Aquarellable Pencil and Ink.

Not only does she use the aquarellable with complete abandon and ease, but she draws this face (from a photo) with pronounced and expressive  asymmetry.  Symmetry takes a bit of dexterity to pull off but basically it’s easy. Also… boring, static, dead.  What’s harder is asymmetry and, I think, that’s because it takes more courage.  So, does the facile, wipeable water-soluble pencil boost the artist’s courage?  Hmm.  Maybe. Since you can’t really make a mistake, you can try anything.  That’s a good state of mind to be in when you’re drawing.

Another characteristic of the Aquarellable Pencil is that it glides over gloss paper without pressure. It feels effortless.

All three drawings are on gloss paper, the first two in Aquarellable Pencil and the third in ink.

(Click for enlargements.)

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I’ll have to ask my students, if I’ve ever actually shouted, “stop!”  I don’t think so.  But, as I make my rounds in the studio-classroom, I do occasionally say something like, “Do you think this drawing is close to being finished?”  or  “This might be close to being finished, don’t you think?”  or “This looks close to finished, what do you think?”  I can tell you, though, that this business of deciding when it’s finished has become a running joke in my drawing class.  When I lean close to a student and voice one of these questions about, you know, is it finished, there’s likely to be a chuckle in the room and maybe somebody’s mock- gagged voice will say, “stop!”  It’s funny and it’s also taken seriously by now because everybody at some time or another has overworked a drawing.  Whether to add one more crinkle in the drapery or to put in the decorative stuff on the crockery we’ve got in the still life set up—it’s tempting, but it may bring the power of the drawing down a notch or two.

Sometimes it’s a matter of time.  The artist/student expects to slave away at a drawing, because, well, because we think if we work hard and long, the result will deserve applause.  (People who sign up for a drawing class are always overachievers.  That’s my theory, anyway, certainly in MY drawing class.)

Karen G., working from a still life set up with lots of drapery and some pots and apples, the usual stuff, looked at her drawing and thought it might be finished.  She hesitated, because she had only been working at this for about forty-five-minutes.  When in doubt, we prop the drawing up on one of the easels and look at it from a distance.  There it is.  Another stroke of the pencil would obviously destroy it.  Serene, self-assured and reticent, it’s complete.

(For the photo of the still life set up and two other student drawings done from it, see the two previous posts.)

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Strips of canvas, that’s all I presented to my drawing students.  I stretch my own canvas for my paintings and since the roll is 60 inches wide there’s always a scrap.  It’s beautiful, substantial stuff.  When you crinkle it a bit, it can conjure up a fantastic landscape. Or it can stimulate abstract seeing. Or it can bring out new ways to use the drawing tools for the sheer pleasure of drawing.  Facing drapery in a drawing class can be daunting, but it can also be quite liberating since you’re not obliged to get the proportions right.  You can stretch and compress, edit, omit and relocate folds and crevices to please yourself.  The imagination takes over.  Yeah!

Above, drawing in pencil by Karen G., about 9” x 12”

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When I set up a still life for my drawing class I do fuss with the drapery and the objects, but not in the way you might think.  I make the fabric crinkly and energetic.  As for the objects, the more absurd the association between them, the better.  What I mean is that when the objects don’t tell a coherent story, the mind doesn’t slide into some conventional sense of “beauty” and instead really focuses on shapes and the spaces between them.  This is a subversive idea, isn’t it!  You spend your whole life straining to achieve coherence and non-absurdity and you’re proud of your skills in that department.  Now you find yourself in a drawing class and this normal-looking instructor encouraged you to go subversive.  Well, boys and girls, that’s the dirty little art secret:  you have to throw that grenade.  You have to add a twist; you have to invent;  you have to have an idea; you have to slip us a surprise.

Here then is Karen G.’s take on this still life.  To start with, of all the parts of the still life she can pick on, she chooses a bit of corner drapery  (#4) and the stem—only the stem—of the amaryllis.  It’s a plastic amaryllis (towards #1)  with a thick coiled stem. The choice of this portion of the still life is itself already wonderfully daring.  In the drawing, we won’t know what the coil represents, it will be an absurd—because disconnected and unnamable—shape.  The stem ends at #2.  But because we can’t see the flower, we don’t know what this is and it looks like a tube inserted in the hilly cloth.  At this stage of the drawing, the space at #3 is empty.  What to do?  After two hours of drawing, Karen’s imagination has stepped out of the everyday literal perception of objects and into its proper domain: invention.  She invents the coil at #3.  Makes it up out of thin air.  Now we have a coil entering the hilly shape in the front and exiting in the back.  This creates a paradox, in that we can see clearly what’s going on (because of the quality of the drawing) and at the same time this construction does not occur in real life and flies in the face of our expectations about still lifes.  The viewer is momentarily stumped and is drawn into contemplation of this paradox. A paradox, however, is not the same thing as a mess.  Notice the echoing of the same shape, a diamond, at 3 and 4 and just to the right of 2.  The drawing draws you into art.

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”—Oscar Wilde

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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