DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Empathic Portraits

Filed under: Figure Drawing: Portraits — Tags: , , , , , — fred @ 23:03

Henry, 2010, by Fred Hatt

To draw a portrait from life is about more than just reproducing the shapes that constitute the model’s appearance.  It has to capture the look of the person, to be a recognizable likeness.  But I want my portraits to go beyond likeness, to suggest a mind full of thoughts and a heart full of feelings.

When I’ve done portraits on commission, I’ve often been not completely happy with the results.  I’ve come to believe it’s because when I’m being paid to produce, I can’t quite get to the relaxed state in which I do my best work.  That’s something I’ll have to work on.  For this post, my illustrations are drawn from recent work I’ve done at the regular monday morning three-hour pose at Spring Studio, for which I’ve been the official monitor for many years now.  At these sessions I’m neither being paid nor paying for the model.  I’m there every week, and I can afford to experiment.  Not all the drawings are great, but often enough I can really get in a groove.

Alley, 2010, by Fred Hatt

When I’m drawing from a live model, most of my attention is focused on perceiving and reproducing the curves and angles, values and colors I see.  It’s a practice I’ve pursued diligently for over fifteen years.  The drawing never quite captures all the subtle wonders of the living figure in front of me, so I can direct all the energy I can muster toward this task for the available time without ever coming to the end of it.  Because I’ve practiced so much, this act of observational drawing is like a meditation.  I don’t know what happens with brainwaves, but I know that the sensory and motor parts of the brain both become fully absorbed in the task of drawing.  In this state, a subconscious awareness also comes into play, and I think this is the key to capturing a living essence.

Esteban, 2009, by Fred Hatt

In drawing, I look at the model so intensely that the experience becomes like that of gazing upon a beloved.  The unique qualities of the face, even its asymmetry or scars, become beauty in my drawing eyes.  The eyes, the hand, and the brain are fully engaged in a compelling but unperfectable task.  The setting is physically and emotionally safe.  Then the perception of the heart is able to open.  I may not know what the model is thinking, but I have a sense of what they are feeling, at least the tensions and discomforts of the pose and the energy with which the model responds to that challenge.

Yisroel, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Having done the long pose as a model myself informs this awareness.  The body is not designed to remain immobile for long, and there is a certain amount of low-level pain and suffering involved.  Some models think, some meditate, some recite poetry or sing songs in their minds.  Some show pride or defiance, others look sad or tired, thoughtful or reminiscent.

Michael, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Jiri, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Madelyn, 2010, by Fred Hatt

It is not only the face that shows these feelings, but often the entire body.  The face and the body bear the marks of the person’s experience of life, and express the attitude with which they confront the world.

Diane (face), 2009, by Fred Hatt

Diane (body), 2009, by Fred Hatt

Joe, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Joe, 2009, by Fred Hatt

All these drawings are 50 x 70 cm (19.6″ x 27.5″), aquarelle crayon on paper.  Some of my other portrait drawings can be seen on my portfolio site and on this post or any posts on this blog tagged “portraits“.

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