DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt



Filed under: Figure Drawing: Practice — Tags: , , , , , — fred @ 11:08

Opposite Sides, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Life drawing as a practice involves a tension between habit and novelty.  Everyone I know who attends open figure drawing sessions has their favorite places to set up, their usual distance and scale, their familiar materials and techniques.  Anything unfamiliar, even a model you aren’t used to, is likely to make the quality of your work suffer.  Naturally, most artists are happy when they’re drawing or painting fluently, and unhappy when they’re struggling and stumbling, and they find that cleaving to habitual ways helps a lot.  This is as true for me as it is for any artist.

On the other hand, constantly working a well-worn rut will never get you anywhere new.  It’s exercise, but not the kind of exercise that builds strength or expands capacity.  It’s boring, and often the artwork that comes out of it is well-controlled but boring.  I believe most artists are far too sensitive to doing bad or awkward work, and far too insensitive to the hazards of the rut.

Boredom is a regular aspect of life drawing sessions.  Even when you love drawing and love looking at naked bodies, and often feel excitement and flow in your work, there are times when you’re looking at the same model in the same pose you’ve seen a hundred times, when your angle of view obscures the most dynamic part of the pose, or when your energy level flags.

My strategy is to introduce controlled variations, to break one part of the set of habits at a time.  I might try changing my scale of drawing, moving away from my habitual spot, or focusing on a particular aspect of the pose or scene that’s different from my usual approach.  When the model takes the pose, I’ll often make a choice at that moment:  Which element of my work should depart from the norm?

The drawing at the top of the post is from the Monday morning long pose class I supervise at Spring Studio.  After a set of quick poses for warm-up, the model takes a single pose for the rest of the session.  Subtracting the breaks, we have about two hours of drawing time for the long pose.  I’m quick, so my greatest hazard is to overwork drawings, a mistake I still find myself making sometimes.

Kuan, the model for the above drawing, has a beautifully toned and well-defined body.  She took a sideways seated pose, looking towards the center of the room.  I took the opportunity to go to the left side of the room and study her back.  But I thought I’d be likely to overwork just the back, so I used half the sheet of paper, saving the other half for a study of the same pose from the opposite side of the room.  Besides going beyond the one-sided view to which two-dimensional artists usually confine themselves, this turned out to be a fascinating study in proportional and structural relationships.

Absence, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The 20-minute drawing above was done at Figureworks, where the models pose in an archway between two rooms.  I was at an angle where this reclining pose was highly foreshortened and partially blocked by the edge of the arch on the left.  I could have moved to a different spot, to see an unobstructed view, or a more straight-on angle.  Instead, I chose to let the left edge of the paper be the edge of the arch, centering the composition on the empty part of the blanket on which the model was lying.

Floor Cloth, 2010, by Fred Hatt

In this reclining pose, I also focused on the floor and the blanket, leaving the body as a silhouette with some cross-contour shading.  Here the shape formed by the body is defined by its negative space.  The folds of the fabric even help give a sense of the weight and solidity of the body.

Framing, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Here’s another pose defined largely by coloring in the negative spaces.  The colors used for walls, floor and fabric have nothing to do with the actual hues of the scene.  They’re chosen to enhance the form of the pose.  I particularly like the diamond-shaped space between the arms, chest and thigh, that takes on the appearance of a tetrahedron with yellow and green faces.

Contour, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Here’s another archway pose, with the model turned away from me and the edge on the right blocked.  I started drawing in red, just the front contour of the body from shoulder to knee, but then I decided I wanted to include the foot and the hair, so I flipped the paper upside down and drew again, at a smaller scale, on the opposite side of the page.  I left the upside-down red contour, making an interesting river of negative space between the two views of the pose.

Right Triangles, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Side views of the body are particularly challenging, especially when none of the landmark features are visible.  Here my attention was captured by the squareness of the seated pose and the angularity of the model’s face.  The colored areas in the background are pure invention, to emphasize this contrast between right angles and diagonals.

Cluster of Fingers, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Here is yet another seated pose, viewed from the side.  I could find no dynamism in the pose or composition, and couldn’t see the model’s face, but the hands were clasped together in a way that was highly complex, and I was close enough to see them pretty well, so I took the opportunity to practice hands, widely considered the most difficult part of the body to capture in drawing.

Nazarene, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Like complicated hand positions, the face at an unusual angle is very challenging to draw, so I try to practice it when the opportunity arises.  These attempts often turn out with distortions, and this drawing does have certain distortions, but I think it succeeds in capturing a sense of aliveness, not only through the facial expression, but also through the angles and composition.

Sketcher and Poser, 2011, by Fred Hatt

This portrait from a Figureworks life drawing session needed one more element, so I included a sketch of Randall, Firgureworks’ proprietor, with his sketchbook on the other side of the room.  I made him much smaller in relation to the main figure than he actually appeared from my angle of view, which makes the main figure appear to be seen from very close.  This is the same effect you get with a photo taken from close to the subject with a wide-angle lens, with the perspective differences between foreground and background exaggerated.

Facing Light, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Here’s a back view with the shape of the figure highlighted by the window she’s facing and the light from the window reflecting off the polished hardwood floor.  Sometimes a very simple treatment of the background greatly enhances the sense of real presence of a figure by creating a space for it to occupy.

In a Room, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Here’s a more complex variation on the same idea.  The space is simplified into areas of differing value and color, just enough to make the figure a solid reality in a world of air and light.

Many of these poses could have been boring drawings had I not made choices to do something different from my habitual approach.  These experiments aren’t always successful – in fact they increase my chances of making terrible, embarrassing drawings.  But without the unusual choices, the results might have been competent but rather dull.

All the drawings in this post are aquarelle crayon on paper, approximately 18″ x 24″.

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