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.


susan said...

I haven't drawn from life in many years now but I used to love doing it for just the reasons you describe. Once again, the last drawing is better from my point of view than you think it is. I hope you get the opportunity for more regular practice for a while.

Steve Emery said...

Susan, Thanks for the encouragement. I'll definitely head back soon - it's addictive. I wonder if you could find a way to do it where you are???

susan said...

I'm planning to wait til I'm a few years older and truly decrepit. Why go half way?