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Posts Tagged ‘life drawing’

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.

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

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Life Drawing, Pencil

Only seven or eight people show up for this life drawing group.  Working from the figure is not for the faint-hearted.  Let’s just say it, it’s hard work.  I came back today after taking the summer off and faced considerable discouragement.  In three hours I produced one drawing I want to look at.  It’s a beginning. Good to be back.

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

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Models for life drawing do whatever they want.

A model will alternate standing poses with crouching poses and then she may feel like folding herself up and after that she’s likely to invert herself, feet up against the wall.  Since I like to create a dense drawing surface, with overlapping figures, I tend to have several sheets of paper in the works.  Let’s see, now her head is down and her arm is draping off the model stand…where should that go…there’s not much time to decide.  The pose may last only three minutes. Then the paper has to be taped down…the timer ticks away.  But this urgency is all for the good.  It concentrates the mind.

The paper here was prepared in the manner discussed  May 6, 2011.

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Representation in painting became superfluous and problematic shortly after the invention of photography in the 1830s.  By the end of that century artists, though trained in the discipline of representation, turned to abstraction and highly subjective experimentations with form and media.  Being a dyed-in-the-wool modernist, I share their sensibility. When I do representational studies I have no intention of exhibiting them.   I do them for myself, for the sheer pleasure of drawing.   In my life drawing group I sometimes experiment with materials that are difficult to control and sometimes, like earlier this week, I go with the intention of working representationally, of studying the anatomy and getting it right.

Well, not quite.  I gave myself an extra challenge–can’t seem to get away from the modernist involvement with the mess of the materials.   I had prepared the gloss paper (that I like to work on, 11 x 17)  with a thin wash of acrylic in sepia.  Then I drew on that with black China Marker, which I’ve talked about here before.  China Marker is waxy and cannot be erased.  The only way to remove a line is to scrape it off with a razor blade.  Now, when this is done on prepared paper, the thin acrylic layer also comes off, exposing the original white of the paper.  The effect of that is that the scraping, while functioning as the removal of the undesired line, is at the same time attracting attention to itself.  The scraping becomes part of the working process itself, in fact a kind of celebration of erasure.

You can be sure, that nobody in the 16th century was allowed to think of erasure in this complementary light.  But we moderns (and postmoderns) see  process itself as occupying center stage.  The work is not so much about the result, as about the work-and-thought process itself.

It’s an idea that still meets with a lot of resistance, a hundred and fifty years later.  What developed in my life drawing session was disconcerting at first, but then it was exciting because I saw the philosophical implications of negation there.  It reminded me of Mark Tansey.  My exposing the surface of the paper and embracing the scraping process as integral to my work, is peanuts—literally just scratching the surface—compared to the work of Mark Tansey, who makes his monochrome paintings by scraping away the paint he applied to the canvas in the morning of his working day when he started making the painting.  He paints by removing paint, he actually unpaints.  Since oil paint dries in about six hours, that’s all the time he has to finish his unpainting.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Tansey

http://www.orbit.zkm.de/?q=node/275

For readings on negation as a philosophical topic, see Mark C. Taylor’s books.

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The Stabilo pencil is aquarellable.  That means water-soluble.  After I have some lines down, I like to make them bleed by running a water-loaded brush along them.  In that process, the brush will pick up some pigment, allowing me to continue sketching with a very pale wet line.  If I go over or through those wet lines with the Stabilo pencil it will produce a very gritty and unpredictable effect.  This is risky, but therein lies the pleasure of drawing like this.

The paper I use, as mentioned before in this blog, has a gloss finish, meaning the water puddles on the surface without seeping in.  The technique does not allow for erasing, but since the pigment is suspended on the surface, it can be pushed around, up to a point, within limits.

Sometimes I start the drawing with a clean watery brush, sketching out the main thrust of the gesture.  Then, quickly, while these lines are still soppy, I start working with the Stabilo pencil.  The water makes everything unpredictable. The head with braid (left) resulted from this quick, impulsive way of working,   Anatomical accuracy and likeness of the model are, of course, lost.  But instead, we gain what  we might call expressiveness, a sense of urgency and a feeling for the complexity of the human condition.

Top: Ten one-minute poses. Bottom: Foreshortened figure, and Reclining figure. Each, a 10-15 minute pose.

(Click to enlarge)

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