Some readers have expressed an interest in seeing more of my early figurative drawings, and more of my more “finished” work, so here’s a post drawn from the early years of my intensive practice of life drawing.
In 1996 I had been practicing life drawing regularly at New York’s Spring Studio for two years. Minerva Durham, the artist and teacher who founded the studio, asked me to be the monitor (overseer, proctor, invigilator) of a regular once-a-week three hour long pose figure drawing class. I had to show up every week at the same time, whether I felt like it or not, and take responsibility for the smooth operation of the session. There was no pay, but I got to draw for free.
I had been developing a technique of color drawing with crayons on dark-toned paper, trying to get much of the richness of painting with the speed and spontaneity of drawing. For me, three hours was a long time, and my greatest challenge was to sustain the focus for such a protracted period. (I can hear the oil painters laughing! The egg tempera painters just sigh disdainfully.)
Creating a satisfying composition within three hours soon proved to provide plenty of diversion for my short attention span. Of course the study of the human body and how to render its form and expression is the first task, but if you spend the whole time on that you end up with a figure floating in a void. In reality, the body exists in an environment, with gravity and light and spatial relationships. The actual setting of the model in the studio, though, is cluttered and distracting.
I really had no interest in placing my models into fake nature, mythological forests or imaginary harems. A more abstract treatment of the background seemed the most promising approach.
I had been attracted to drawing more than to painting partly because I was interested in the direct expressiveness of the artist’s marks. In a painting, these marks tend to get blended and obscured, whereas in a drawing they remain more visible. Of course, now that I was developing my figures over several hours, striving towards an illusion of reality, as my drawings were becoming more polished, the process of the drawing was becoming more obscured. So it struck me that I could use the background to reveal some of the process of abstract analysis that the artist goes through on the way to even the most photographic rendering.
I always figure out a pose partly by tracing angular relationships between different parts. There’s a line from the knee to the shoulder, a line from the left nipple to the navel and another from the nipple to the notch of the collarbone, and on and on. Every landmark of the figure has an angular relationship to every other landmark. In the figure above the original markings that were made in constructing the figure were darkened and extended, creating a web of relationships in which the figure is suspended.
That approach proved fruitful. What began as a study of internal relationships vanished from the drawing of the body as its light, shadow and color was developed, but then reappeared in the space surrounding the body. The internal structure manifested in its spatial container.
Sometimes the lines were more delicately indicated by their points of intersection.
I tried to show the body itself as close as possible to what I actually saw, and to use the surrounding space to show its hidden geometry.
At times the treatment could be more subtle, suggesting not so much hard geometrical structure, but a field of energy.
The pose below has a particularly clear simple triangular structure, so the projected lines show the sub-triangles that give it facets.
The body can be projected in curves rather than straight lines. Shadows, furniture and objects, and folds of fabric also create a linear environment in which the figure is embedded.
The figure below was perched symmetrically on a stool. I didn’t bother to draw the stool, but instead traced a stack of horizontal markers that define the proportions of this pose: ankles, knees, hipbones, breasts, shoulders, eyes and ears.
The angles of the figure imply a crystalline structure that defines the person’s energetic being in geometrical terms.
Every being is an organic manifestation of a web of relationships.
Action is structure.
The engagement of a person with their environment is an organic flow, at least as complex as the internal flow that sustains the life of the individual.
All of these drawings are aquarelle on paper, around 18″ x 24″ or a bit bigger. More selections of my work from this period can be seen at the portfolio I put online in 2000, as well as in several posts on this blog.