So, yeah. I’ve been sort of blah on blogging lately. I find this happens to me when I get very visually focused… the words, they evacuate. Sometimes they tip out my ear when I sleep or drop out a pant leg as I’m shuffling around, a jumble of random letters and broken up words lying on my pillow, collecting on the floor. I look at them and I think “o, pretty. Collage!” and then I sweep them into a corner where they get all wound up in a cyclone of dog hair and dust and hoovered up by Johnny Clean, the man who lives to vacumn his Saturday mornings away.
The result is, of course, that I have a major backload of stuff to tell you. Like, I am now vegetarian (well, almost, I still eat fish and seafood). And have been for nearly a year. Forgot to tell you that. And yoga, I’m big on that too. Been doing lots and lots of yoga. For more than a year. And all sorts of other miscellaneous stuff that I keep meaning to tell you, but don’t. Because the words fall down my pant leg and vanish.
But the big thing is: I have somehow found my style. The style. wow. It sort of just arrived one day a couple of weeks ago and it’s been sticking around and feeling so awfully good. It’s still shifting a bit as I work through various projects and at first I was reluctant to post about it, all superstitious that it was gonna up and vanish on me the minute I did, but no… I think I’ve found the knack. Above is the first absolutely complete illo that I’ve done in this new vein. I am working on three other illos in the same style with plans for more, more, more, but they are in various stage of completion and progress has been interrupted a tad by paying design gigs that rolled in this week.
A bit about what I mean by style: for quite sometime I’ve been looking for a way to keep my drawing up front in a way that I can take from drawing board to computer screen and back again and still have it feel fresh and spontaneous and consistent whether I’m working in traditional media or digitally. And I needed to find a way to do it with relative speed and ease. And I’ve found it, at last. It’s sort of been there all along, I just needed to recognize it and apply it with more intention than I had been doing previously. And figuring it out was mostly about just relaxing and trying to let my own way of seeing and drawing speak for itself, just be. And most importantly, stripping back to basics and not over thinking it, overwhelming the line work. Let myself do the things I do well and jettison the rest.
This is a portrait of one of the greatest influences in my life these days, my darling friend Penelope Dullaghan who has been crucial in supporting my development as an artist, encouraging me on my way, celebrating my little victories on the path and making me laugh when I have tripped and cracked my tailbone. Thank you, Pen, for being there so consistently for me, for always knowing what to say and for making my days lighter, brighter, better always.
sending powerful good thoughts to: Tara, Ali, Kate, Bob, and Louie the dog. Wishing each of you health, healing, and happiness.
yesterday morning I threw my back out and my first thought was “O no! I’m going to miss my last drawing studio!” actually, I’m lying. My first thought was “O crap! Ow! Ow! and Ow!” My second thru 99th thoughts were probably pretty similar, but embroidered around the edges with complete bafflement and curses. And also a lot of inelegant grunting.
And to be sure, I’m not certain that ‘threw my back out” is the right phrase as I think what I’ve done is somehow strain, tear or pull the muscles attaching to the spine directly beneath my right shoulder blade. But I’ve never done anything like that before and man, it hurt like hell. And made getting out of bed a pretty tough proposition.
But after all the screamy yelly ow ow ow thoughts evacuated, my brain latched on to the grim possibility that I wouldn’t be able to go to my last life drawing studio this evening. And that made me feel wholly pathetic and deeply ancient.
After inhaling a bunch of muscle relaxants and slapping on one of those stench-licious icy hot patch thingies and doing some careful stretching, I feel much better now and am confident I can tackle the last class. Which is good. Because I really, really love them. They make me feel all artist-y and erudite and stuff, plus I really enjoy seeing how other artists in my class work. I will be signing up for the next session in January for sure and I’m hoping a lot of the same people from this session do too.
The sketch above is the model we had three weeks ago. Her name is Devon and she has a wonderful light and effervescence about her and exquisitely sculpted hands. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good view of her hands while she was posing and the class was packed that week so I couldn’t really move to a better position, but I did manage to capture a reasonable fascimile of her merry expression, I think. Her natural default expression is one of gentle joy, with her lips turning up at the corners and a happy lilt at the end of her nose and the corners of her eyes. With her clothes and her glasses on, she reminded me of Lisa Loeb, but as soon as she disrobed, she put me in mind of Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies I could easily imagine her perched on the leaf of a raspberry branch, tiny wings twittering between her shoulder blades, or tiptoeing to the edge of a lily pad to peer at her reflection.
It’s boundlessly interesting to me how each model brings their own atmosphere into the studio and how markedly individual each of them is. And how the different atmosphere seems to influence each artist’s work, their approach. It seems to me the model is creating something as much as the artist. It’s an intriquing relationship. I can see why artists get hung up on their models, and how deeply a model can function as a prompt. Like Andrew Wyeth and his muse Helga, or Salvador Dali and Gala. Or Vermeer and the girl with a pearl earring.
Last week, in sharp contrast to the buoyant spirit and light of Devon, we had an older model with masses of dark hair and beautiful legs, but a heavy mantle of sadness shrounding her entire being. She immensely intriguing, mysterious, and I found myself absolutely compelled to draw her, look at her. At the same time though, I felt somehow guilty about it, as if I was encroaching on some kind of private pain. That’s really the first time I felt that way, as if I were taking advantage of a model’s vulnerability or somehow insulting them. Still, I think I got some good work out of that session (I’ll post those sometime later… still haven’t scanned any of it in and the drawings are lying in a pile under my drawing table).
I could talk about this stuff for forever, but alas… I have a major deadline this afternoon and much work to do after spending most of the day yesterday convalescing. sigh.
So remember a couple of weeks ago when I was yammering away about the life drawing session that I applied for too late and couldn’t get into? And how I decided to take a class in acrylic painting techniques instead? Well, turns out the acrylic class got cancelled. But as luck would have it, one of the life drawing people dropped out and as I was first on the waiting list, I got a spot. Woo-hoo! So tonight I go for my third session.
It’s all pretty relaxed. There are about 10 artists in the session and the model who basically dictates how the next three hours go. Above is last week’s model, Pascal. Pascal was really difficult to get a grasp on. He has a nice lithe physique, but he is very slight. He has muscle definition, but his muscles are sleek and otter-like and it took more than half the 3 hour class before I felt I was starting to get a grip on how to draw him. I had to exaggerate his muscles and angles quite a bit to get to a happy place. I’m oddly thankful that I wasn’t the only one having trouble. I talked to two of my other classmates and they talked about having the same problem. The pose above was a 40 minute pose, and by the far the best image I came out with.
The first week’s model was great fun to draw! and a much more experienced model. She said she had been modelling for art classes all across the GTA for more than 16 years. She is a big person, really big. Maybe 350 lbs? Or perhaps more. But her skin was perfectly smooth and her round proportions create a marvellous landscape for drawing. Plus her most of her poses were very dynamic and interesting. I’ve only scanned in one of those drawings so far (i’ve been drawing really big, at least 14 x 17 and mostly larger than that so I have to “tile” my images when I scan them in on my little scanner and it’s a pain in the butt and also why the edges of the images are choppy and uneven, showing where I overlapped the tiles) The pose below was a 20 minute pose, but I beefed up the lines a bit afterward.
I’ll see how it goes tonight. We have a different model every week. I think I’m going to start concentrating on individual body parts rather than trying so hard to capture the whole person. Also think I will bring in some better quality paper tonight and my iPod. And maybe I need to stop relying so much on graphite and start exploring a bit more with charcoal and chalk. My drawings are still a little stiff and static for my liking, but I think it will all get more fluid as I continue in these sessions.
oh boo. I called and the life drawing session is filled already. I knew I left it too late. I looked into finding a similar session at Sheridan College (they have an incredible animation program there), but as far as I can tell, they don’t offer a similar open studio life drawing class for non-students… lots of more structured academic courses, but that’s not what I’m looking for right now. I’d probably be too late to register for the fall there anyway. And anywhere else I can think of would be too far to drive on a week night (too big a pain in the arse is what I mean).
So I signed up for a class called “multi-imagery” in acrylics which focuses on different techniques with acrylic (like photo transfer, mixed media and stuff) instead and will make sure to sign up early for the life drawing studio when the new season begins in January.
The acrylic class will be good too. Acrylic is my preferred medium, but you know… I’ve never taken a formal class in acrylic painting techniques. Isn’t that weird? That strikes me as weird. Especially for someone with a degree in Visual Communication (Illustration and Design major) plus the year I spent in Fine Art while at University. I mean, yes, I used acrylic the whole time (most of us did), but we were never formally instructed in painting (except watercolor… we had a couple of watercolor workshops). Our assignments were often limited in terms of the palette (monochromatic color schemes, analogous color schemes, two color… whatever) but the choice of media was left up to us. Like I said, most of us painted our illustrations with acrylics, put some worked pencil color, ink, pastel or watercolour. Of course, assignments for computer illustration were done digitally. I’ve been throughly instructed in color and (to a lesser degree) compostition and perspective and all that, but never in actual painting technique. I’ve tried just about every medium going, but acrylic has always been my preference. Aside from good old graphite that is. Watercolor is too wishy washy for me – not meaty enough, color pencil takes too long for someone as impatient as me, pastel is fun but too delicate for me (chalk pastel especially). I like ink but have had too many accidents involving white sofas and permanently imbedded stains in carpeting to make that a regular choice and I love oils but they’re too toxic to work with a lot and take forEVER to dry (cure). I would love to try egg tempera one of these days.
So while it would be inaccurate to say I’m entirely self-taught in acrylic (I do remember discussions about drybrush and various glazing mediums etc.) most of what I know about painting is as a result of experiment and playing around with the stuff, reading about it. So this will be good. Not AS good mind you, but good nonetheless.
Really, the whole point of me taking an art class is not for the education so much as just getting out and meeting some people with similar interests and sort of… I dunno… formalizing my approach to art if you know what I mean, keep me from getting complacent. While I firmly believe you are never done learning and I’m certain that I can always learn something new, I’m taking courses through a small local art center, not a university program or something and I will likely be as skilled if not more so than the instructor (Gah! that sounds so conceited, but you know what I mean). That’s okay. I don’t need to be taught HOW to draw, how to paint, how to illustrate… I’ve been doing that just fine. I know HOW already. What I’m really looking for is motivation to keep growing, keep stretching and hopefully, the opportunity to actually meet people with a similar bent. Three dimensionally, I mean. I have terrific internet friends and I adore each of you and you inspire me so much and I could not function without you… but I realized recently that I don’t have one single friend in this province that I could just go for coffee with and talk about art/illustration. Since we left Alberta six years ago, I haven’t met a single illustrator. O, I know creative people… but most of them work in television. That kind of creativity counts of course, but it’s different. Long and short of it is, it’s about time I investigated the local art scene and start making an effort to be a part of my community in that sense.
But I am still interested in the whole life drawing discussion and whether there would be any objection to me posting nude figure drawings. So far, it would seem that no one objects. And some people are very encouraging. So maybe I’ll dig out some of my old figure drawings and scan them in to tie you over until I can get into a formal session.
Note: After I posted the post below (Lisa Rinna’s prom dress) I remembered that I had written about the subject of life drawing a couple of times before and went back and found this old archived post from my first blog on Diaryland. I thought I would post it again here for your enlightenment and entertainment.
From the vaults 03/03/2004:
This morning, I checked in on Danny Gregory’s Everyday Matters as has become my daily practice and discovered his topic today is life drawing. This is a wee bit coincidental because I’ve been thinking about writing on just that subject for a couple of weeks now, ever since borrowing five library books on the subject (primarily for their segments on foreshortening).
Last Monday, I was leafing through one which has a lot of photographs of models in various poses, and Johnny Handsome walked in and peeked over my shoulder.
“Whoa, naked people!” he exclaimed, all titillated as people generally are when they spy pictures of naked people. He playfully plucked my book from my hands and began flipping through the pages with a look of bemusement. And then he handed it back to me.
“All done?” I said.
“Yeah. I thought it would be much more sexy. But it’s not really sexy at all.”
And that’s the thing that struck me. It isn’t sexy drawing naked people. You would think it would be, but no.
I’ve had lots of experience drawing naked people. It’s an art school thang. I always kind of assume everyone has sat in on a life drawing class and it always surprises me a bit when I realize that not everyone has, that not even most people have.
And I think the common assumption would be that drawing nudes would be a hot and sweaty endeavor, fraught with sexual urgings and such at the site of unveiled nipples and thigh muscles and pubic regions and long stretches of flesh. I think people might even think it a wee bit naughty or scandalous.
I know my Granny Ford certainly didn’t think it appropriate for a nineteen year old me to be drawing nude people sprawled across sagging old art studio couches of questionable origin and vintage… especially nude and sprawling MEN with all their manly bits hanging out for all the world to see. I think she thought it akin to pornography.
“What?!” I remember her expression clearly, bread crumbs tumbling from her lips, her hand gripping the butter knife as she prepared to slather a luncheon roll with butter, goggling in horror when i casually mentioned that i had to get back to school soon because we had a life drawing session and it was particularly important that I not miss them, as models were expensive and more exotic and infrequent than the usual dry still life set-ups of boxes and cones and tinfoil. “They’re naked? Completely? Completely naked? And they are sometimes men?!”
It was clear this was a horror too profound for her, one that made her feel a little faint and nauseated. The butter knife, still hovering in mid-air, trembled a little with building outrage as I tried to brush it off with a casual roll off my eyes and a shrug.
“Believe me, Gran, it’s no big deal. It’s not much different than drawing a tree or a chair, really.” (Although in fact, it is. It’s much different.)
“And the university…the university…they endorse this? This is a part of your class? Your education? These…these…these naked people? You can’t draw them with their clothes on?”
“O, Gran. It’s just human anatomy. You have to see the musculature, the way the arms connect to the shoulders, the way the legs connect to the torso and the way the knee bend and all that.”
“but why can’t they just wear shorts or something?” she looked almost tearful. I don’t know. Maybe she thought this damned me to hell. maybe she thought the site of naked people would permanently pervert me, bend my moral compass in some unalterable way. Maybe she was imagining my smoldering remains, her granddaughter singed to cinders whilst some cloven hooved demon pranced and paraded (no doubt wagging his hind ones in a provocative and unseemly way).
“O, Gran. It’s just ART! Art, you know? Artists have been doing nudes for centuries. Monet drew naked people, Picasso drew naked people, Da Vinci drew naked people… in fact he drew cadavers stolen from the gallows. He actually peeled back their skin to look at the muscles. He drew some of the first medical textbooks. ”
Her mouth tightened into a thin ridge of disapproval. Although I had not convinced her, I’m sure, she let the subject drop with the resigned, mournful air of someone who had done all they could, but you know, sigh… there was just no saving some people.
The first life drawing class I took was anti-climatic indeed. My last year of high school (in Denver, Colorado), I was among a group of promising art students selected from area high schools to participate in a special series of professional artist’s workshops and among the events was to be a life drawing session with real live and naked models. I was bursting with anticipation as I set up my easel and impatiently clipped newsprint to it, charcoal at the ready. Patiently I waited for something… an instructor to appear, a glorious alabaster body in a traditional greek pose to be suddenly unveiled…something.
I waited, and waited. Minutes ticked by.
My curious peers stirred and began whispering. A spiky hair guy in nothing but a paisley robe padded through, looking confused. A couple of middle aged adults with serious expressions muttered in the doorway, looking at us, a shiny faced mob of about fourteen high schoolers then disappeared.
More minutes. Stretching now to nearly an hour. It was all becoming very mysterious. I stared blankly around the studio at my puzzled classmates, at the sheet draped platform around which photographer’s lamps and drawing easels were uniformly arranged. the air was filled with a low buzz of anticipation….and nothing.
And then suddenly a large, bespectacled women gripping a clipboard appeared at my elbow, asking for my vitals. What was my name, what school was I from, and what was my birth date.
“So, that makes you what,” she said with a frown, ” sixteen? You can’t be in here. Collect your things and come with me.”
What? Huh? It turns out that one of the student’s mothers had clicked into the fact that life drawing meant drawing people in their …gasp! All-togethers and had complained, had in fact, thrown a major wobbly, leading to the quick and decisive mandate that no one under the age of eighteen be allowed to participate in life drawing sessions. Instead we were herded into the lobby to draw a hastily erected still life of apples and wicker baskets. Eventually they allowed us to do some quick sketches of some shirtless guy in jeans belted with one of those big buckled cowboy belts while concerned capital M Mothers flapped behind us in tight, clucking clusters. In furious protest, I glared narrowly at the Mothers and drew black boxes over the model’s eyes, elbows and general boy zone. No one seemed particularly impressed by my political statement, however.
Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed. And not because I was sixteen and therefore all hopped up on adolescent hormones (although I surely was), and not because despite my share of teenage fumbling, I hadn’t yet seen a completely naked man in the flesh (my little brother, raucous midnight skinny dipping incidents and accidental, mortifying, deeply suppressed flashes of my dad in the bathroom aside).
But because life drawing from real live nude models seemed like the pinnacle of artistic education… like graduating. Finally, the gawky apprentice is allowed some real responsibility, allowed to hang with the big boys. Make the mop swab and swing and fetch the water by itself.
Being all resilient and sixteen and stuff, I recovered. But the allure of life drawing was duly enhanced by this incident.
Round ’bout my second year of university, I switched my major for the third time to Fine Arts (I would go on to switch majors again and again…but my academic history is epic and not the topic here.) As far as I could tell, Fine Art was mostly about looking artfully tousled and nonchalant and developing deeply pretentious, carelessly vague justifications for use during class critiques. And every one hated drawing class. Everyone except me. It was undoubtedly my favourite class.
For the first two months we did endless perspective exercises, drew innumerable still-lifes (still lives?!), practiced draping and shadows and finessing our line work. We did a massive self-portrait series. We drew glass jars on tin foil, studying the texture and lively reflection. We drew endless boxes and even sheets of paper lying flat on the floor.
And then finally, the first of our nude models showed up. And o… I felt like this was an honour I had earned. The joy of drawing something real and full of breath, skin and bones and weighty flesh. Something with a face and a personality, something that moved. Danny Gregory describes it all masterfully and I really encourage you to read his entry about it.
But the point of all this is, once I got past the initial embarrassment of staring openly at an unrobed person, once I got past the “oh, man… i wonder what she/he is thinking… I wonder if she’s cold” … all the preconceived ideas about what it would be like to draw someone in the nude fell to the wayside. It felt natural and easy. And challenging. There really is nothing more challenging to my mind.
And this is the thing….there was nothing remotely sexual about it. If anything, it’s almost clinical. And I guess i can’t speak for others, but I held a kind of reverence for the models. I manufactured their life stories as I drew them. Once, while standing in an endless queue waiting to register, I realized with a start that I’d been standing directly behind one of our regular models (Rosemarie) for at least 45 minutes. I didn’t recognize her with her clothes on. I mean, really… it can not be easy to disrobe in front of a room full of strangers and stand there clad only in goosebumps while they peer at you intently and study your every nook and cranny from every angle, with little regard for creating a flattering portrait. Unlike when you’re drawing someone you know, with life drawing your goal is not to please the sitter. It’s to capture life… a gesture… a moment, volume and mass and try to make the human image root itself as solidly on paper as it is in front of you. And it’s hard.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons I learned in various life drawing classes i’ve taken since. I’m drawing dinosaurs once again and the thing about drawing dinosaurs is there is no photographic reference available. I’m working from photos of skulls and fossil casts and other illustrated interpretations of their skeletons and musculature. And while I’m doing cartoons and they are far from being photographic, I think it’s important to try to imbue them with life and character and mass.
And I’ve been thinking, it’s high time I brushed up on my life drawing skills. I need to hunt down a class as soon as I get through this most recent round o’ work. It will be good for me.