So…. I’ve been toiling away here till all hours of the night lately. work, work, work. Which is all good, but I’ve been grateful for a bit of break the past two days… if only because I desperately needed to do some laundry and other assorted, seriously banal household stuff. And you know, just take a break from sitting in this chair for hours and hours on end. I’m hoping to get a couple of hours today to work on personal work (um, yeah, so you think I could possibly work the word “work” in here any more?! possible?)
Whilst (whilst!) I’m toiling away, there are usually a couple times a day when I hit send and have 15 minutes or an hour while I wait for client feedback or approval. Often I use these breaks to do things like, well, you know, pee and eat dinner and stuff… but sometimes I just sit here and draw, waiting for the mailbox ping that tells me my client has approved the design and I can get back to it . This is one of the sketches I did last week over the course of a couple of days. I don’t know where the Japanese influence came from, though I suspect it was from my exhaustive searching of the net for paper lantern examples. I was actually looking for Mexican Fiesta lanterns, but inevitably came across lots of Japanese paper lanterns. And I got into this feathery line thing that was just fun to practice, though once again, true to form, I overworked this sketch and should’ve stopped and put it away about an hour before I did. But whatever. I still sort of like this, or the idea of it, and am filing it as an idea for future personal work. (sketch is ballpoint pen on bond paper)
Happy Friday all! Don’t work too hard!
wow. Something happened today that almost NEVER happens. I scanned in a painting I wasn’t completely sold on and actually ended up liking the on screen version of it better than the actual painting. hmmm. Interesting, very very interesting. I’m thinking it’s probably the nature of the screen (being backlit, of course) Anyhoo…
Something has switched on inside me in the past three weeks and all I want to do is paint. I mean I am FULLY jazzed about it, 24 hours a day. I am bursting with ideas and the energy to try them out. I haven’t felt this way in… well, I don’t quite remember ever feeling this way. Maybe back in art school. Problem is that, of course, there are like 900 other things for me to do right now, none of them having to do with painting. sigh. But I’ve been carving out the time whenever I can (and stealing time from other areas of my life ie: laundry which explains why I am wearing the same sweater I have been wearing for the past three days. Same socks too) and just pushing the paint blobs around. Because I’m afraid if I don’t act on this energy now, it’s going to fizzle out entirely and I’ll miss the opportunity to get my inner artist on.
I have this plan to paint a representation of every month of the year. This is December. There may be another December in the works too, as this painting was not what i had pictured in my head at all. Rather, it was the picture that I felt I had to get rid of before I could do the “real” one. See, I have a major tendency toward overworking and over “decorating” everything I paint/illustrate and I’m trying to break that by using reverse psychology on myself and going full bore (boar?!) and completely indulging my tendencies instead of battling it, thinking that I can work it out of my system. It’s kinda backfiring though because while I’m not 100 percent satisfied with the results (I’m hovering around 72 percent on this one) , I’m having a BLAST painting this way, trying out new stuff (like I’ve never painted a horse before. I’ve drawn a couple, but never attempted painting one). so hmmmm… I dunno. Maybe I will just go on indulging myself and see where that leads.
so what do you think? I’m asking for honest feedback here. Please don’t just tell me it’s pretty. Tell me if you think it’s too juvenile, too overworked, too cliche. I can hack it. Promise. I really want to know what you think… and I don’t care if you’re an artist or know anything about illustration/art at all. I’ll give you my own thoughts about it after I hear yours. Here’s a detail (the actual painting is about 18 inches wide by 13 inches high and I had to scan it in in four parts and tile it together in photoshop. My kingdom for a huge flatbed scanner). It’s painted with acrylics on illustration board by the way and really cheap paintbrushes because I completely savage paintbrushes so there is no sense in buying the good ones!)
You know, for someone whose job it is to design/illustrate stuff that promotes events, products and people …. I really sort of suck at self promotion. I don’t know why that is exactly, but my friends**, I have got to change that! Over the next couple of months, I’m really going to focus my energies on that. I’n hard at work now on creating a new portfolio, stocked with my (air quotes) new style (end air quotes) and I’m going to start featuring more of my design work too.
But today, I’m going to flog myself in book form. About a little over a year ago, Danny Gregory, a creative genius I’ve admired for years and years, asked me to participate in his new project An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators, and Designers. The book is about to be released and can be pre-ordered from Amazon here. I was flattered and flabbergasted… and looking at this short film (click here) Danny made to promote the book, I am even more humbled and honored to be included with such incredible talent.
The book features the work of 50 artists of all walks of life, including big guns like James Jean and R.Crumb, plus pages from some of my lovely artist friends like Penelope Dullaghan, Rama Hughes, and Rama’s charming wife Christine Castro Hughes.
And if all THAT, doesn’t completely sell you on the book, perhaps my dulcet tones on this my first EVAH! podcast will. Warning: I was nervous and so my responses are uber-long and rambling as I am sadly wont to be. But endlessly fascinating, I assure you (ahem!). And Danny sounds like a smooth Jazz DJ and that’s a always a plus.
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.
It never fails. as soon as my thoughts start drifting and circling around art again, as soon as I start feeling that tickle of excitement and inspiration in the pit of my stomach, as soon as I turn with real earnestness to my drawing table, the space above my head opens and an unanticipated deluge of design work swamps me good.
It’s a difficult balance. Design work is pretty much my bread and butter and I enjoy it. I do. I’m never going to set the world on fire with my design prowess, I’m never going to revolutionize the industry, I’m never gonna be David Carson or Saul Bass, but I have a knack for producing reliably open, user friendly design that makes my clients happy. I am fortunate enough to have some fun, talented and connected clients that I really enjoy working with and through them, I have done projects for Target, Loreal, Olay and the like.
But I don’t get the same rush from design that I get from illustration. Design isn’t a personal process. It’s all about finding the right visual solution, interpreting someone else’s vision in a way they may not be able to do for themselves. Sometimes, I really love the end product but ultimately, it’s not about whether it’s to my own taste or not… it’s whether it communicates the clients’ desire and hits their target audience, delivers their message. I work hard at it and I am delighted when my clients are pleased and the piece I designed really delivers. It is challenging and rewarding and it certainly keeps me occupied, but not the way art and illustration do.
Design is just not as deeply personal for me as illustration, it doesn’t fill me the same way. Or torture me the same way either. Illustration demands something completely different from me. I can’t quite figure out how to explain it, other than to say that design is all about how other people think while illustration is about how I think. And feel. Illustration is much more about feeling than thinking. I tap into a whole different part of my brain when I am drawing or painting than I do when I’m designing. It’s like the difference between solving a math equation and writing a poem (although that analogy is a little weak too because again, I find the process of writing and the process of illustration/art entirely different again).
The fundamental challenge of problem solving is the same, but the route you take to get there is entirely divergent. Design is an express train straight to the target destination with clearly defined markers and clearly legible signage pointing the path whilst (whilst!) Illustration is a careless meander through the countryside, with unscheduled stops to peer into the knots of trees to spy on roosting squirrels and to look under footbridges for evidence of trolls and the Billygoats Gruff. Illustration takes naps, gets pollen and chocolate all over her clothing, takes back alleys (blind alleys too), trips and stumbles a lot and very rarely arrives on time. Design finds that sort of thing pretty much horrifying.
blah, blah, blah, blah… it’s doubtful that this makes much sense to anyone but me, but there it is. My as-per-usual long-winded way of telling you that this year I am really trying to make some real headway with my illustration career. I’ve been making noises about that for quite some time now, I know. And I have made some real forays into the back room. I have made some real progress there. Not the truly measurable kind of progress, to be sure, but things are beginning to tumble into place for me in terms of what I want to do with illustration, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. And what I’ve discovered is in order to make serious progress with my illustration, I need to stop taking it so damn seriously.
If we’re laying it all out on the table, I have to tell you that I really got my panties in a bunch about it this past fall. I flopped and floundered, threw a right wobbly and kicked over paint pots and stuff. I swore up a storm and pouted in the corner and flung myself sobbing across the bed. I spent a lot of time thinking big, v. serious, v. angsty Capital A Artistic thoughts, frowning and stroking my chin and generally carrying on as if it was The Only Thing That Mattered. Sometimes I thought for a moment that I had it by the tail, other times I was sure I had lost it forever.
And then January came a long and knocked me completely sideways and for a good 5-6 weeks there, I had not one real thought about illustration or anything to do with it. So imagine my surprise when I woke up this week to find myself doodling about and feeling quite comfortable and merry and absolutely, spectacularly friendly towards the subject. January was a horrible month for me and I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed it in any way, but one thing is for sure… it certainly righted my perspective and somehow paved the way for me to open up to the simple joy of creating again simply for the fun of it, the ease of it. And that, folks, is the essential ingredient that I lost last year with all my writhing about. In the twist and shout of trying to do Very Important Work Of Impeccable Taste, Talent and Originality (or VIWITTO), I totally smothered the one thing that keeps illustration alive for me. Joy, Simple joy.
I think I’ve got it back, at least for the moment. Joy is fluttering prettily around this room, morphing into shapes various and sundry, trailing dog hair and cookie crumbs and little silvery sparklets. And for once, I’m pretty sure it will still be here when I get finished with my unexpected pile of math problems.
* The above is a little self-portrait I did the other day for Rama Hughes’ Portrait Party. The Portrait Party is an incredibly inspired idea and if you enjoy drawing or painting on an level, I really encourage you to check it out and pass it on.
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.
ha. you totally thought this was gonna be a nude didn’t you? C’mon, admit it. Well, nope. It’s a tree hurling itself thru space. And I drew it (in ink) a couple of weeks ago when I was looking at the full moon and suddenly thought ‘what if once a month, during a full moon, all the trees in the forest voluntarily uproot themselves and spring into the sky trying to catch the moon?’ a romantic thought, no? But alas, probably not a very realistic one. You would think that if all the trees in the world spontaneously uprooted themselves and flung themselves into the sky once a month, we would have heard about it by now. Scientists, lumberjacks, fairytale trolls… someone would have copped on to that by now and spilled the beans. ‘Cuz think about it…it would be a pretty noisy affair. All that ripping of roots and kerthumping of earth and swish of branches. Imagine the collective crash they would make when they came to earth again. Yeah… LOUD! Ad think about all the angry woodland creatures… squirrels and owls and turkey vultures and raccoons ( one c or two? I can never remember.) That would be a right rude awakening, wouldn’t it? Imagine your house tearing itself from its foundation and shuttling into the sky once a month. Though, probably after centuries of this kind of activity, the woodland critters would have hatched some kinda contingeny plan. Involving parachutes and bungee cords, I’m sure. And maybe little padded astronaut suits. But instead of NASA patches sewn over the breast or sleeve, they would have little acorn emblems or something. You’d see the little woodland creatures suiting up, pulling their suits over their little furry bods, stuffing their tails out special vents and you’d know… oh yeah. Full moon coming up. Looks like the trees are getting ready for their monthly howler. yeah, I know. I’m a little strange. But good strange. Friendly strange. Completely non-serial killer strange. I swear!
Anyway, it’s kind of a cool image. I likes it.
And whoa! Get a load of me! Posting three times in one week!!! will wonders never cease? well, what can I say? I’m a feast or famine kinda girl.
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.
another recent sketch. For some whacked reason, the women I’ve been drawing lately keep coming out lookng like Lisa Rinna, but moderately less botoxed/collagen injected. Not sure what’s up with that since all I know about Lisa Rinna is that she is married to Harry Hamlin and it’s not like I’ve ever been a fan of either of them. But whatevs.
Okay… so I have an urgent question to pose to you readers (all three of you!) I’ve decided to do a weekly life drawing session at the community art center starting the third week of this month (supposing I haven’t missed the registration deadline! I keep forgetting to call. Note to self:First thing tomorrow! ) There’s no instructor. I don’t really need an instructor at this point (though i could always learn something I’m sure), just more practice. And I was thinking I would post some of the results here. But I’m not sure how you would feel about that. ‘Cuz life drawing… that means nude models you know. And I’m not sure if some of you would be offended by that or not and have avoided posting any life drawing of the nude sort in the past for that reason .
I don’t think I have any kids (under 18s) looking at this blog, but I don’t know for sure. Do I?! If you are a kid, speak up now or forever hold your peace. (or is it piece?! Both make sense to me) Now, I personally have no problem with nudity in art and if I had a kid, I would have no problem with them viewing artful nudity. But that’s me. Others may feel differently and I know some parents are more concerned about that kind of thing. Though personally, I think Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and Bratz dolls are more of an affront to childhood innocence than say Degas’s bathers or the Venus de Milo or whatever. Not that I’m putting my work on the same level, mind you. I’m just saying!
And though I am working to move my portfolio and art in a more grown-up editorial/fine art direction, I am aware that most of the work you know me by is for the children’s market. So there’s a bit of a fine line there.
So please… if you have something to contribute on the possibility of me posting artful (tasteful) nudity on this blog, please speak up. That doesn’t mean I won’t still post it, but I will look into a way to post it more discretely. Maybe it’s not even an issue of underage viewers. Maybe it’s a matter of being work appropriate (although I imagine that if you are viewing this site at work, you are viewing it covertly anyway. Or else it’s already been blocked by the powers that be!)
So anyway, please let me know what you think. It’s an interesting issue all around I think.
okay, wow. Who knew cabbage would prove so popular?! Well, it ain’t cabbage and it ain’t a photo, but I hope you like it anyway… here’s a doodle from my sketchbook. I was just goofing around, absent mindedly, and off the end of my pencil came this mournful lass. I’ve decided her name is Valentine McMurphy and she’s awaiting her sailor sweetheart’s return from sea.
I don’t know where my words have gone. maybe the coyote ate them. maybe they have evaporated like the snow leaving gravel and goo and snow mold in their stead. I dunno. I feel kinda guilty about it… like I should have something to say, something to tell you. But I don’t just now. All i have are drawings and graphite dust and a deep yearning to have the kind of gorgeous spring they are having elsewhere, the kind sewn about with pretty pink petals and delicate new leaves. And a mango hurricane smoothie.
Another february page from ye old sketchbook. Have no idea where she came from, but she looks like a girl with a story of some sort, don’t you think?