Soft Angles 1 (detail), 2009, by Fred Hatt
Readers have told me they like posts that show my process, even though this means posting drawings I’d never exhibit. I remember as a child seeing an art book that had a series of black-and-white photographs showing multiple stages of Henri Matisse’s reworking of a painting of a seated woman in a long dress. This revealing of painting as a process had a lasting impact on my way of understanding art. I wasn’t able to find this image sequence on the web, but if anyone knows where it is, leave a comment and I’ll insert the link here.
I’m the monitor (non-instructing artist in charge) of a long-pose figure drawing session every Monday morning at Minerva Durham’s legendary Spring Studio in New York. We start with a set of ten two-minute quick poses to warm up, then the model takes a long pose for the rest of the session, twenty minutes at a time with breaks. We have time for five and a half of these sets of the same pose.
I work quickly, so if I get off to a good start I can do a pretty developed piece during one of these sessions, like this example. But sometimes my less-finished drawings are more lively and interesting, and I’m sure I’ve lost some good preliminary drawings by overworking them. So sometimes I’ll do more than one drawing during the session. I could try more than one viewing angle, or a portrait and a full figure, or I could vary the technique or the scale. And sometimes I keep starting over because I’m having trouble getting it. I have found that once you’ve gone too far down the wrong road it’s better to start fresh than to try to fix it.
The subject of the highly finished example linked in the paragraph above is Claudia, professional artist’s model and the blogger behind Museworthy. She was our model Monday morning at Spring Studio last week, and so, between her blog and mine you’ll be able to see multiple aspects of that single drawing session. My sketches from that session’s two-minute warm-up poses are on Museworthy here, and in another Museworthy post you can see Jean Marcellino‘s lovely refined pencil drawing from the session.
I decided to do multiple drawings at this session, always from the same angle. Claudia gave us a pose with a lot of interesting angles. Here’s my sketch from the first twenty-minute set:
Soft Angles 1, 2009, by Fred Hatt
This sketch shows how I start out analyzing the pose and composing it on the paper. I first sketched very loosely and lightly in white crayon. You can see it was too far to the left to look balanced on the page, so I redrew the pose a bit further right. I was figuring out the three triangular negative spaces (in orange), the bounding shape (in jade green), the convex forms and highlights (ovals and curves in white and yellow), the creases and deep shadows (blue), and the flow of muscle and bone forms.
After having studied all the visual aspects of the pose in the first set, I started again in the second set. I scaled up a bit for a tighter composition and was able to depict the pose in cleaner, more economical lines:
Soft Angles 2, 2009, by Fred Hatt
Here there’s just a rough sketch in orange, with dark edges and the outlines of shadows done in dark blue, and bright edges and highlight centers in white. This is the type of composition I generally prefer, with the body extending past the edges of the paper on all four sides. This sketch would be a perfect basis for a highly finished full-color drawing, but perhaps this simpler stage of the work is more interesting as it is.
For the third twenty minute set, starting again, I scaled up even more, to larger-than-life, focusing on Claudia’s face:
Soft Angles 3, 2009, by Fred Hatt
Here I’m working out the three-dimensional structure of the face, looking at light and shadow to separate it into curved surfaces. In this rough twenty minute form, it’s a bit exaggerated, like a caricature. It looks slightly too angular, and makes her look older than she does in reality. If I had worked further on this as a portrait it would have become softer and warmer, the expression less angry and more pensive.
After the third twenty minute set, we had a longer break, and then returned for two and a half more sets. I started again, scaling back down to the full figure, and worked on the next one for two sets, or forty minutes:
Soft Angles 4, 2009, by Fred Hatt
I’ve returned to the analytical mode as at the beginning, extending the lines of the form to see how they intersect. But here I’m developing the roundedness of the form and its relation to its background. But is the head too big? The legs too short? The face is definitely not quite right. It looks sad and angry, which is not really the feeling I’m getting. At the last break I decide to start over once again, even though the final set will only be twelve minutes. I’ve spent all this time looking at planes and angles, light and shadow, but so far I’ve failed to capture the feeling. Maybe I’m finally warmed up.
Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt
By this time I know the pose intimately. Perhaps I can simplify my drawing, getting the essence, letting all the complexity fall away. I stay away from the overpowering white crayons, using a cool blue and yellow-green for the highlights, and two reds for the dark edges. Time’s up! This experiment is concluded.