What I learned from Figure Drawing

By July 31, 2015 Art, Being an artist
Figure Drawing supplies-Charcoal and Pastel Drawing Supplies

Last Monday night…

I did something I haven’t done in over a decade.

I slung my little black bag filled with well worn pastels, pencils and crumbling charcoal over my shoulder then awkwardly tucked my drawing board under my arm.

Took a deep breathe and walked into a studio for a life drawing class.

Figure drawing in green paste;

The very first time I drew from a live nude model, I was a freshman in college embarking on the bumpy voyage to become a real artist.

To be honest, I felt totally terrified to be staring at a naked person like some sort of voyeur. The model took the stand and removed his robe to reveal himself, as an Adonis with dark hair and dark eyes that he used… to stare right back.

I was blessed to have an extraordinary teacher, Shelly Thorstensen, who had her own dark eyes that could see the curious fear in her students. Shelly was a curvaceous woman who stomped around our sketch pads commanding us over and over to just “draw!” Leaving no space to get caught up in “thinking” too much.

Figure Drawing female standing

The sound of soft charcoal scrapping over newsprint filled the room.

Unfortunately, Adonis emerged onto the paper as a faceless, footless, misshaped hunchback. Looking at my pitiful drawing, my fear was replaced with laughing at myself but my curiosity was hooked.

How could I get what my eye was seeing to come through my fingers and out onto the paper? More importantly…how could I do it in a way that the lines expressed that essence of a person?

That part that isn’t seen through eyes. The intangible thing that makes something art.

Figure Drawing

I feel in love with figure drawing for no other reason than the joy of it.

Beyond skill building in things like perspective and anatomy, it taught me reverence for all body types. I’ve drawn models who are flabby old men, tattooed warriors,and pierced princesses as well as bodies that are just barely bones or lost under a blanket of flesh.

In everyone of these models, I found something extraordinarily interesting to turn into lines and shadows.

My eyes learned to see what is uniquely human that gets lost in our photoshopped culture. I also, learned to see myself as an artist creating the shapes and light playing on the paper. Working to find a style that was my own.

I always kept my drawings to myself and just focused on showing my paintings. Occasionally, I’ll paint a face but rarely do I paint figures.

Although my paintings are born out of intuition, I think in the past my practice of drawing has fueled my painting. Figure drawing is such energetic experience. There is an immediateness to getting the figure on the paper, always dancing with the edge of time and the finality of making a mark that matters. When I’m at my best my paintings capture this energetic quality from a abstract place.

Reclining Figure

For years, after I graduated I continued going to open sketch nights but unfortunately drifted away from drawing.

I’m sure… I couldn’t find a class that was convenient or my bank account was too bare to budget the fee. Maybe, in an exhausted moment I convinced myself it wasn’t worth the effort anymore as with each move I hauled around boxes of sketches… I refuse to throw out.

I guess it doesn’t really matter why I stopped drawing because I started again.

As the model took fluid gestural poses I felt awkward and stiff. In my mind, I heard Shelly’s voice commanding just “draw”. For three hours my fingers grew dark with charcoal, as my eyes tried to reawaken to what I had forgotten. To remember myself as an artist.

Someday, I’ll open the boxes of drawings that I have stacked in my basement.  I imagine I’ll find a travel log of sorts from the voyage I’ve taken with the models that helped me learn to be an artist.

In the meantime, I’m going to post some of my sketches, with their missing feet, out of proportion heads and lines that are just trying to find their way again, here on the blog. I’m thinking it will be a way for me to keep my art on course. Hopefully, encourage me not to drop anchor and get stuck again.

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Author Siobhan


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