Sunday, February 27, 2011

Life Drawing Again (Finally)

I have been too busy travelling, and too busy with other things at home to attend life drawing sessions. Worse, the human figure is something difficult for me if I don't stay in practice. It would be like a rusty musician going to a jam session; the results would be frustrating and embarrassing. Worst of all, without recovering some level of skill, the beauty before me would elude my feeble attempts to capture it on paper, and that would make me grind my teeth.

So with the Florida trip behind me, and having sketched my way back into some level of skill, and even some comfort with figures, (see previous post), I bundled up my gear and went to a life drawing session. On the way to the car I discovered that any trepidation or concern I used to feel even last year (student fears left over from college days) is gone. The Chicago sketch trip, and maybe turning fifty, have moved me to a place of unconcern. I'm drawing to see - not for any other purpose.

We had a male model - probably in his mid sixties, I would guess. By coincidence this is the first male nude model I have drawn since college. I was excited at the prospect, and I was not disappointed. His body was significantly different from my own (the only male body I know well, after all), and he was wirey, tall, and in good shape for his age. The result was a beautiful series of articulated bones and muscles, which I was eager to capture on paper. I didn't succeed as I would like, and that would normally have made me sweat and struggle to relax, but I simply seem beyond that now. I just took each drawing as it came, wasn't working to please or show anyone else, and I challenged or pampered myself as I saw fit. Even when the results were poor, I was enjoying myself. That's new, for me.

We always begin these sessions the same way, with four poses of two minutes each (the lead artist sets a timer). The first photo in this post is of two of those sketches, in sienna. All of the sketches in this series are done with pastel on 18x24 inch brown craft paper; think brown paper grocery bag and you have the right feel - I like that surface.

These are followed by four poses of 5 minutes each - I've posted three of those above (drawn in brown), to give you some idea how I progressed that evening, and how much can be done in 5 minutes. Others in the room are far more skilled than I, and get practice several times every week; they get an incredible amount on paper in five minutes.

Then we do two ten minute poses, a fifteen minute pose, and take a break (more for the model than for the artists). Here is the fifteen minute pose. It has plenty of issues. I was still warming up through these longer drawings, feeling rusty and unable to get into the right side of my brain. I was flickering back and forth for this sketch. None of these three were particularly inspiring poses, either - and that matters to me. Seated poses, like this one, often strike me as a basket of limbs, and I'm not interested. Even when I enjoy the female form from the perspective of a man (rather than as an artist) I mostly notice the torso, not arms and legs, though I will notice unusually lovely or shapely limbs on anyone, male or female. For instance, I was distracted during the pre-session chit-chat by the forearms of one of the other artists. They were powerful and well proportioned, and he held them with grace. By the way, to get the correct sense of last night's session, picture three male artists and one male model - all of us in our 50s and 60s, all with gray or white hair, and all of us in spectacles. I was actually the young guy in the room; it made me grin.

The last two poses, after the break, are twenty or twenty five minutes long, and usually that's where we've all hit our stride and there is time to get to some of the details that have been tantalizing me all evening. Sometimes those poses are boring - the model has to pick something they can hold that long - and other times they're great. It's all a surprise. Here is my first 25 minute drawing. I'm not pleased with it for many reasons (in many places it's incorrect, period) - and I missed a great opportunity with this natural and relaxed pose because the muscles and bones that were on display in this case were marvelous, showing the model's age and the beauty of that age expressed in male flesh. There was so much going on, though, and I was so greedy to capture all of it that I believe I lost most of it. But I just grinned and moved on. The hand is actually better than I often manage, so I was pleased with that progress.

This last drawing finally captures some of the feeling of the model as an individual, and I'm happy with the male lines, the muscles and the bones, particularly in the shoulder, which I emphasized here. I finally remembered to hold the chalk for a moment and LOOK - and think how I wanted to position things, what was the focal point for the drawing, the form or series of lines that were the most important for this pose. Previously I had just been attacking the page, trying not to think too hard about anything, to keep my left brain out of it.

I wish the head weren't off the top of the page - I would have liked to have the top simply fade into the paper, as I did with the back of his hair. And the head should probably be a bit larger, I think. But these aren't finished drawings - they're exercises. They're about seeing, not about creating something in particular. Like music practice for a musician. Scales at first, and perhaps, by the end, something someone might want to hear through an open window. Then gone.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Airport Sketches

These are from my recent trip to Florida. I flew down on Saturday and worked Sunday afternoon through Wednesday, then flew back on Thursday. So I had time to sketch in airports, and time to sketch a little on Saturday and Sunday there at Universal in Orlando. Those sketches were more detailed drawings, and are for another post. Here is the Mexican band which was playing in Raleight-Durham Airport on Saturday when I flew down. They were by the ticketing area, and so I went right over and sketched them. I love that the shortest and widest musician was also playing the shortest proportioned and the widest instrument. It was as if he here playing a short necked cello as a guitar, or a guitar proportioned like a cello. I'd forgotten about this unusual instrument - I haven't seen one in many years. These guys were pretty good, and lots of fun.

Then, with my boarding pass printed and bag checked, I sat down and did a drawing to try to capture the sweeping open beauty of the new terminal, with it's wood and cables and metal connectors. The very first time I ever saw it the construction reminded me of the style and materials used by the Wright brothers on their first plane - and I wonder if that's what the architect intended. I wish they would suspend one of the replicas of the plane from the ceiling.

This sketch was done with people coming and going at my gate, built up gradually while I waited to board. Nothing makes the time go faster than sketching.

These all feel unrelaxed and forced to me - and they felt that way when I drew them. Later, in Florida, I got more into the drawings, and relaxed more. Practicing a little nearly every day is the only way to make progress, and to regain the quick connection with the right side of the brain which is so necessary to doing good drawing.

On the last day, after the other sketches (separate post, as I said above) I was again in the airport, waiting for my departure home. I could not resist this scene, and the style is more relaxed, and more effective. This sketch made me feel I was ready for a figure drawing session when I got home. But that is yet another post...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sketching in Airports

I usually work in the airport, and on the plane. Laptops and wi-fi devices mean that the six hours I spend getting from one office to another are not completely lost on travelling. It's the main reason for flying rather than driving in many cases, for me.

But there are also times when the laptop isn't allowed, or the timeframe is too small to do anything meaningful for the job. If my blackberry is caught up (e-mail viewed and answered) then I pull out a moleskine and a pen and draw some unsuspecting fellow travellers.

This first sketch was done in less than ten minutes, while standing awaiting my turn to board my flight home. I always have my smallest moleskine in my computer bag, and, if nothing else, I have a ballpoint pen.

Often people move, and I don't get to finish. I'm concentrating on faces, at the moment, trying to crack the code on the human head, expressions, age, and other things that make each of us so unique and fascinating to me. I bought an anatomy book recently, and I finally resumed life drawing sessions again last night - that's another post. This little sketch (just about life size, if you click on it) is more interesting, I think, because I could not finish, and I simply started another figure, to make the most of the time. These two men were actually not sitting near each other at all.

On the plane there is the time from the closing of the door to 10,000 feet, when "all portable electronic devices must be turned off and stowed." (I think I can recite the entire flight attendant litany from memory... "In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will deploy. Pull the mask toward you...") This was a simple drawing of the man in the front row, across the aisle from me. I liked the shape of his head, and the mere hints of face from this angle - eye cavity, eye brow, eye lashes, tip of nose.

Monday, February 14, 2011

30 Years

Thirty years ago, on another warm, sunny Valentine's Day, family and friends gathered in Raleigh, NC to watch two highschool sweethearts get married and drive out into their life together. I only remember snatches of that day - mostly because I was so nervous. If I had it to do over, I would slow down the vows, and try harder to imprint on my faulty memory the moment I looked into her eyes and said I would indeed take her to be mine, and give her myself, as well.

Looking back at the photos, I certainly can understand why I was initially drawn to Dearest. And she has been a sensitive, warm, affectionate, smart, fascinating friend, companion, and lover to me through these last thirty years. I haven't got a single thing to complain about - and I have a great deal to rejoice over. And, to me, she still looks the same, combined with the beautiful way she looks now.

Frankly, my life sometimes seems like a fantasy, like I was living in some fairy tale place, sharing these days and years with her and with our children. I know it hasn't all been easy, and there have been patches that were difficult. We're certainly not perfect. But as the years have passed I feel that the imperfections are part of the charm, the grace, of our connection. I find myself smiling inside and out about all sorts of things.

She continues to tickle me, inspire me, tease me, and excite me. I've had my wish - to be married to the girl of my dreams.

Happy Anniversary, Dearest. I'm looking forward to the next 30 years.

Happy Birthday and Happy Valentine's to Daughter

Happy Birthday, Daughter, and Happy Valentine's Day.

This was drawn and painted on our October trip, for you, but I saved it for this.

I hope your day is wonderful - and this year, as well.



Friday, February 4, 2011

Where Is This?

I have no idea where this is, or where it came from. I can't even clearly recall how it started (well, I do remember that the cat came forward first). I don't know how the animals became buildings. I don't have any idea why elephants are wandering this city. I do know it first surfaced two months agao and has been on the board while two others were completed around it, jumping line.

And I do know I like this one very much. It's what I wanted. That only happens this well once in a while. Maybe I have to get this much out of the way, where I can't chronicle the path, where I'm not paying attention to the steps, in order to reach this kind of place.

I don't have a title for this one, either, and that's also unusual, since titles seem to suggest themselves easily for most of my paintings.

19x19 - watercolor on Arches hot press. I used to go through a lot of Burnt Sienna as a teenager - I loved using it all over this painting.

Nothing drawn on any board at the moment - it may be a while before I have another one to show, or even before I'm ready to pick up a brush. Pencil for a bit, exploring the weird white world of the blank page and the things that emerge from that bright Arches fog.