Last summer I took the same class with Lisa Johnson, also at the Visual Arts Center. Lisa is a terrific teacher. She analyzes the figure and teaches how many head lengths there are to the body and other proportions. It's very helpful for figuring out precise placement of body parts. It's also great for learning measuring and comparison skills. I loved the class and planned to go to Figure Drawing sessions afterwards to continue practicing my skills. Alas, I didn't.
So this year, feeling like my skills were rusty, I took Tommy VanAuken's class. He has a completely different approach. He teaches through gesture drawings. Gesture drawings are VERY fast (between 15 seconds and 1 minute) representations of the ENTIRE - yes, the entire! - figure. The point is to capture the essence of the movement. It also has the incredible bonus of allowing the artist to capture proportions accurately without even trying. If the eye is attuned to the figure and the hand is attached to what the eye is seeing, the proportions come out accurately, almost like magic. There's a major skill to doing gesture drawings well, and I won't say I'm terrific at it, but I have improved dramatically over the course of the six weeks.
The first ones I'm showing here are after about 3 weeks. Tommy made us do about 40 gesture drawings with thick, fat vine charcoal in 15 seconds. That was a great opportunity to stop thinking and to capture the essence. These drawings were made first with the fat charcoal then I went and did some contour lines around the form. We had a minute for each of these.
These next drawings are from this past week. Again I used the fat charcoal then a thinner charcoal pencil to get the contour. I admit I am fascinated by how possible it is to capture so much in such a brief time.
Chris, my husband, asked me the other day what it is about the figure that is so endlessly fascinating that people have been drawing it since time immemorial, and, more specifically, that I want to do it twice a week. I had to think about that. I think part of it is that it's a discrete object, unlike the landscape which contains so many zillions of objects that they can never all be comprehensively drawn. The landscape overwhelms me. Also, we know the human figure. We know when we're on target, and we know when we aren't. It's a constant challenge to draw it well. And there is such beauty, such infinite beauty, in the human form. The curves, the subtleties, the shadows, the light, the spark of soul. There are so many different forms the body can put itself into, and each person can do each of those (barring physical issues), so there is a never-ending assortment of positions to draw. I haven't gotten bored yet.
When I was painting from photographs, I also experienced the spark, the luminosity, the soul, but I got weary of copying from a grid. I am excited to be trying to convey the beauty now from life.
Here are a few pictures I drew 3 weeks ago in class. The first two were 20 minute poses.
We had 40 minutes to capture this pose. It's very helpful to have more time to shade the figure and to indicate the pillows she's resting on, etc.
Below is the picture I did last Friday. There's a lot of foreshortening going on. That means that part of her body is much closer to me, therefore larger, than other parts (her head, arms, etc.) In order to draw it accurately, it's important to measure the different parts. Otherwise, she will end up looking totally bizarre and out of proportion. Foreshortening is one of the more difficult things to manage when drawing the figure (or anything else, for that matter).