Thursday, January 8, 2009

Life Drawing - Twenty Two Years Later

When I was originally in art school I dreaded figure drawing class. I was nervous about the nude model (I got used to that - though I never felt even the slightest sexual stirrings, no matter how lovely the model - too many other fears). I had no idea how to draw something so complex, and so beautiful. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information I had to process. My left brain took over and did sticks and straight lines and over simplifications and horrors for proportions.

So when I went to the life drawing studio at a local arts center with Oldest this evening, I was mildly apprehensive. I was afraid it would be just like it was in college. I've actually been having college flashbacks all week. I had been meaning to go ever since I found out about it, and after seeing my first sample of The Pagan Shpinx's Friday Nudes. Probably four months ago. But one thing and another got in the way (conveniently?). So I never had gotten to it.

But now Oldest is preparing his portfolio for the School of Art and Design at NCSU, and he hadn't done any figure drawing yet. So we both went this evening. The model was supposed to be a male, which didn't thrill me (I'm just not as interested in the male body - I wonder why...) but we arrived and it was a lovely, curvy young lady who had not modeled for this group before. She posed beautifully and imaginatively - several commented on it afterwards, and I will be calling the director tomorrow to say we would like her back sometime soon.

The first poses were four two minute warm-ups, and then four five minute warm-ups, then two ten minute poses. You don't get to see those. They were like the bad old days. But it didn't bother me - no professor coming up behind me, etc. - I just drew and got into the beauty of the young person before me, and by the last warm-up drawing I was finally getting what my professors had been saying about tones, line quality, and SEEING. My right brain was gaining control. Then, after a short break, I put a big arm chair on the platform for her, some other artists (regulars) lit some lights which were behind her, from my position, and we did three twenty minute poses. And things came together for me and I drew. This is how the best drawings in college came out - maybe one in two or three classes. I had three in a row tonight. It felt incredible. And I could see, no suprise, that Oldest had several drawings which he could be comfortable putting in his portfolio. We hope to go again next week - last chance before the portfolio interview.

He really got into it, as did I, when we switched (for the long poses) from the light newsprint and one color of pastel, to the medium toned paper and the two colors (one for darks, one for highlights). He loved that way of working, especially given the strong lighting we had on the figure for those three poses. And so did I. I had a great time doing this - the beauty of the experience, of seeing the human body that deeply and enjoying the lovely details that reveal the bones or show the soft flesh, was a bit intoxicating. And with the medium toned paper you get to concetrate on the exciting highs and lows.

And I suddenly understand why some artists always draw or paint the human figure.

These are all 18 x 24. They were drawn standing at an easel (Oldest also insisted on this, though tables were available and several of the other artists used them). They were all finished in twenty minutes or less. The time limit also tends to clear the head - keeps you focused - scares away the left brain - and it's merciful for the model.

12 comments:

linda said...

these are very nice, steve....I can't believe you say you were never good at them... maybe you just "thought" you weren't...

Miriam said...

I am thrilled to read this post, as I have been contemplating signing up for a life drawing class at my local art center. This gives me courage. I just know that there is something "missing" lately in my painting, and when I meditate on it...it seems to me it comes up drawing skills that really need to be sharpened. I always felt like I figured stuff out when I was in life drawing classes before. I have to agree with your friend above in that I can't believe you never thought you were good! These are gorgeous! Thanks for your comment on my simple heart.

kenju said...

These are wonderful, especially the middle one. That's a great angle! I don't blame you for wanting that model again. Either she's inspired - or she inspired you.

DarklyFey said...

So, so beautiful. My husband is encouraging me to take art classes, and I think I would like to do some life drawing classes. One of the things I like best to draw are people. Sucking at it is no longer an option! :)

June Saville said...

Hi Steve
A few years ago I had eighteen precious months in drawing classes. It's a remarkable experience and one with benefits one can't imagine beforehand.
I like your work. And you're right about the model. Some people have the knack, some don't ...
June in Oz

Odd Chick said...

I've never done any life drawing. Your description sounds very typical of what I would feel - but then, somehow relaxing into the right brain. I'm really envious of your opportunities. You did an amazing job. Hey, your comments about what you believed a "guardian" would look like, inspired me to draw something weirdly wonderful- thanks for the comments.

Steve Emery said...

Linda - no, these are good, those were not... And I'm looking forward to getting better, now that I know what I want to accomplish and there is no reason to let someone else control the materials or assignment.

I'm hoping you posted the dragon today - I've got to go see.

Miriam - Your reason for wanting to do life drawing sounds familiar to me. I felt like I was not really drawing figures as well as I could - depth, volume and life missing somewhat. I thought if I drew figures from life again I might breathe some of that back into my work even when I'm using photographs. And I wanted to see how I had grown. And there isn't anything more beautiful than the human nude. And you're welcome.

Kenju - yep, that's my favorite, and when she took that pose (Actually the fist of the longer poses) I stood paralyzed for a moment because I was so surprised at the potential, and a little concerned that I couldn't really make full use of it, and then I just grinned and dove in and it turned out well. I left word with the Art School director this afternoon that we want her back again soon.

DarklyFey - Go for it! There really isn't anything to lose. I know from some artists I follow who do it regularly, though, that some days it just doesn't click and everything comes out weird. I'm keeping that in mind for myself, too.

June - I am so glad you are still here - and I hope to have time to visit your site soon - maybe this evening. When I was in school I was so up tight I couldn't get the benefit - but I see it now. I'll be posting an afterword tonight...

Odd Chick - Thanks! The right brain is an amazing place. I wish you had somewhere to go do this - I think you would love it. I have to come see what you've painted now...

Lisa said...

Your drawings here really are wonderful. After how long of a break from using a live model? That's quite remarkable.

I love the way you captured the light on the last one. As a former live model, I can tell you that these would have pleased her to see (I hope she did see them) and yes, it is merciful to not have to hold the pose for too long. Something always itches at the most inconvenient time.

Pagan Sphinx said...

These are so good, Steve! I was excited for you as you described how the class evolved.

I adore seeing the female body reflected in art - drawing, painting, sculpture. I'm glad that my Evening Nudes posts helped to inspire you to try your hand at figure drawing again.

I don't want to miss this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoy and appreciate knowing you. Being able to share in your artistic self-discovery and partake of your friendship have been highlights in my blogging "life".

Love,
Gina

Steve Emery said...

Linda - We were new to the group - so, I didn't push anything. They were a very quiet bunch - almost totally unsocial, actually. The model was charming. I didn't get a chance to show her these - perhaps next time. I did make it a point of letting the director know that we wanted her to come back.

I bet you were a beautiful model. Part of the problem, for me, in a twenty minute pose, is that there isn't time to do justice to the entire figure and to the face. Faces are harder and scarier, because likeness is such an issue. And our model had a lovely face - beautiful cheek bones, playful full mouth, small girlish chin, brown eyes and lovely arched eyebrows. She seemed always on the verge of an impish grin.

And it's been almost twenty two years since I last drew the figure from a model.

Pagan - My friendship with you on-line has been an important part of my artistic renaissance, and a great pleasure. You, Linda, and Lisa are probably the three most influential blog friends I have right now - all of you are encouraging, frequent commenters, and all of you are pushing me in just the right sorts of ways (but differently, each of you). If I only check four blogs in an evening it will usually be MoominLight, Vulture Peak Muse, The Pagan Sphinx, and That's Why. Dearest (MoominLight), of course, is in an altogether different spot, and by far the most important influence on my work. She had a lot to do with my starting to paint again at all, and has encouraged me all along the way. She has also helped me keep it playful... That's vital.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

If you were going to paint me (nude or otherwise, which you never will, but if you were . . .), I would like to be painted like your ursa major and ursa minor and so on, with lots of colors and trees.

Steve Emery said...

Mary - I think that's the kind of thing that would come out of drawing on the watercolor paper. I wouldn't be able to remember the pose well enough to paint it realistically - it would end up being the starting point for some more imaginary situation. And that's probably more fun, anyway. Although, I don't know - I had thoughts the following two days about drawing from life - it's such a fast, furious kind of thing, racing to catch the pose, and it's such a concentrated effort, that it was rather intoxicating in its own right. I think I could get addicted to being in the zone that way.