Saturday, August 25, 2012

My journey to vital gesture drawings

I had a breakthrough in figure drawing class, our last one, a couple of days ago.  We were doing gesture drawings at the beginning of class, as always.  I've become fairly pleased with how mine are starting to look.  When I first started class, they were pretty unskillful and I would come home feeling disappointed and frustrated.  I would watch Tommy draw his and could see how he got there, but I couldn't begin to draw something that pleased me aesthetically the way his did.  I didn't like my line.  Eventually, gradually, they began to develop, and I stopped feeling quite so constantly frustrated by them.  Here are some from 2 weeks ago.  Certainly you can tell what position the woman was in.  I don't think they're gorgeous, but they're not bad.

That same week, a few later, I decided to draw larger to see how that felt.  I wanted to stop restricting my movement, thinking that if I gave myself more space, I'd move more freely and the lines might get juicier.  This is the result of that.  I like it much better.

This past Wed, I was working on getting into the groove again, still drawing a bit small.  I first draw with a large piece of willow or vine charcoal to get the basic form of the figure, then I go back and draw contour lines around the figure.  In these I particularly liked the articulation of her calf in the one of the left and of her right elbow and shoulder (our left) on the figure on the right.  As I was drawing one of these, I overheard Tommy suggest to the student behind me that she draw the figure as if it's all one continuous piece of wire and she's sculpting it.  I know I'd heard him say that before, but this time it stuck and the picture below was the immediate result:
To me, these have a completely different feeling.  They might not be quite as accurate proportionally, but then again, perhaps they are.  One thing I know they are is more vital feeling to me.  I love the lines.  They remind me of some drawings I've seen by Matisse.  I don't mean to give myself an overabundance of praise - it's just that I like the lightness of line and the looseness I was able to achieve.  It's a huge breakthrough for me since before these I always felt so verklemmt, tight, rule-bound.  With these I finally found some joy and pleasure in exploring her image.  

new method next to old
The next one I did, I tried the same method.  She was sitting in a more complicated pose.  I started to get lost and unsure of myself so I drew it again using the method I'd used before.  Even though the new style looks a bit bizarre, I prefer it.  It simply has more vitality, in my opinion.  For the next two images, I decided to work on the whole page.  These made me happy.  I so enjoyed running the very sharp charcoal pencil point across the page, imagining myself actually touching the contours of her body as I went.  And I love the looseness and lightness of the image!  THIS is what I've been trying to do all these years since I first learned to do gesture drawings.  Now I can't wait to go to figure drawing tonight to practice some more!
Figure Drawing by Matisse

When we started working on the first 30 minute pose, I began it the same way - full page, large, light touch with the pencil.  The image was more complicated since she was holding a guitar.  I notice it came out almost life size and left out her legs completely.  I was trying to figure out what to do next but couldn't decide so I flipped the page and started over in the manner to which I am accustomed. That result is the more realistic looking image above.  I'm thankful I'm finally starting to get some skill so I can represent the models with some accuracy realistically.  I have a long way to go for them to look good, but at least they don't look quite as gallywampus as they did at first.  BUT what I notice is that I like the first one I did better.  It's more interesting, more full of life.  

For the next long pose, Tommy suggested I start loose again but this time push it a little bit and see where it goes, be willing to "ruin" a gesture drawing I like just to see what's on the other side.  Good advice.  I drew the gesture drawing light and loose with some distortions (unintended).  Tommy came over then and suggested I try to draw the way Sargeant did - stand back from the canvas to get some distance, look at the model carefully, then approach the canvas and place the mark in exactly the right place.  I was yearning for color, feeling like I could approach it much better with color, but having just white and black conte crayons along with vine charcoal and charcoal pencils restricted my choices and helped me learn all I could from what I had.  I tried to be mindful of each stroke and to place it carefully and exactly.  
I am very aware that her face looks weird, but it doesn't bother me.  I kind of like it, in fact.  And I like the overall piece.  It keeps me looking and more intrigued than does the above realistic one with the guitar.  I wrote about the experience of drawing this one on my blog from 8/24/12.  

I'm excited to have found a different way of approaching the models and my drawings of them.  I feel like I pushed through some fairly substantial resistance and came out the other side.  Tonight I'm going to Figure Drawing Session and will bring my pastels and some good paper so I can play with yet another way of approaching the drawings.  Experimentation is the life blood of art.  I'm becoming more and more grateful for this time away from pressure when I can take chances and can learn more about materials, methods, and myself.


  1. I love this Susan. It is so not at all what I am accustomed to seeing from you. It's fresh and interesting and unique. I hope you continue to explore this style. It makes no matter that I can't "identify" the person, it becomes about the body language. Love, love, love this Susan!

  2. This is the "life" that you have always been. Lifely! There is a clear moment between model and artist. Poignant!
    I have been going to life classes as well. Started about a year ago. I missed being the student. I have been really turned on by the experimentation.
    Can't wait to share our experiences.
    Love tom
    PS: Off to one month residency in Oregon on Monday.