Thursday, May 10, 2012

Out of My Comfort Zone

10 minute figure drawing

Life Drawing, Layman’s Definition; drawing naked people. 

Life Drawing, Artist’s Definition; exploring the human form through drawing the live, unclothed figure in various poses, paying attention to anatomy, proportions, volume, soft and hard edges and the play of light across the figure. 

That pretty much sums up what any good equine or animal artist does as well, except that you have to deal with fur and feathers.  So when I heard about a two day life drawing class being held at the Dennos Museum in nearby Traverse City, I jumped at the chance to attend.  The instructor was Mary Guntzviller who is a well known local artist and an excellent teacher. 

It had been twenty eight years since I last did any life drawing back in art school, but I do remember learning a lot in those classes. Even so, the thought of doing life drawing was way out of my comfort zone! 

I arrived at class the first morning with a great deal of trepidation but was soon put at ease by Mary’s relaxed teaching style. It seems I wasn’t the only duck out of water, so to speak, with little or no experience at life drawing. 

Our models consisted of two males and a female who each modeled during one of three sessions. We worked at easels and used mostly very large sheets of newsprint. We were admonished to fill  the whole sheet and use our shoulders as pivot points for our drawing arms to prevent us from getting too tight with our drawings. Our medium was vine charcoal with some use of graphite sticks and pastel for shading.

We started out each session doing gesture drawings while the models changed poses every 30 seconds. Yes, I did say 30 SECONDS! We were taught to start with a  stick figure and then to build the body on that - if you had the time to get that far! A quick wipe off of the paper between poses was all we got. The purpose of this is to teach you to look for just the gesture of the figure and not for details; grab the basic movement and form of the figure as fast as you can before you can think too much about it. 

These little stick poses can be very graceful. 

The final gesture exercise was to draw the volume of the figure using spirals. 

Spiral Man, charcoal on paper
From there we progressed to ten minute line drawings using  a pencil to measure the proportions of the body and the angles of the figure, just as you often see artists do as they hold a pencil out at arm’s length toward their subject. It’s amazing how much your mind can fool you about proportions. What you THINK you see, isn’t what you see at all! 

20 minute figure drawing, charcoal
And then we progressed to longer poses of 20- 40 minutes which gave us time to add some volume to the figures by adding shadows and defining the form by indicating bones and muscles. 

30 minute figure drawing, charcoal and graphite
The most challenging of all were poses which required us to draw the foreshortened figure.  In other words, drawing the figure with the body or parts going away from or toward you. Your mind can REALLY play tricks on you here! 

exercise in foreshortening
30 minute foreshortening drawing, charcoal and graphite
But the exercise I enjoyed the most was one using a light and a dark pastel to indicate the form of the model using no lines. On the first try, the lights were turned off, and the only light we had to work by was the floodlight on the model. It was impossible to get too fussy with the figure this way, but I couldn’t resist doing some blending  of lights and darks to create more than the required two values. This turned out to be my best effort of the three drawings we did. 

volume study, pastel
I found the class to be both exhilarating and exhausting. I was definitely way out of my comfort zone! However, the benefits to my art are probably enormous. I can apply what I learned and practiced in this class to drawing horses and other animals from life, and when I have to put a human in my painting, I’ll have a better understanding of human anatomy and how to render it. 

Going out of one’s comfort zone once in a while is a very good thing. And, I’m already looking forward to any other opportunities to do life drawings that might come my way. I wonder if my husband would be willing to pose...

40 minute figure drawing, charcoal and graphite

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