Last week I posted about the master of the “naked portrait”, Lucian Freud, who often spent hundreds of hours over a period of many months on a single painting. Naked portraits are also among my practices, but I lack the patience to spend so much time laboring over a single image. I feel my best work arises more from spontaneity than from perseverance, and so I just churn ’em out and hope a few are worth saving.
I run a weekly session at New York’s Spring Studio featuring a nude “long pose” – long by sketch standards, not by oil painting standards. My class lasts three hours and starts with a set of two-minute warm-up poses; subtracting that set and breaks, the amount of time allotted for drawing the pose amounts to two hours.
Most artists work on a single drawing or painting during the session. So do I, sometimes, but I also frequently decide to start over again one or more times. In this post I’ll share recent examples of multiple tries at the same pose from the same viewing angle. I’m sharing some of my failures, work I wouldn’t normally exhibit, because of what they reveal about my process.
The sketch that opens this post shows how I begin analyzing the angles of a pose. You can see how I use a combination of triangulation and rhythmic curves to find the tension and structural energy of the pose. In my second attempt, below, I’m building on that analysis, but drawing closer. I often use lines to indicate the contours between shadows and highlights.
Finally, I decide that all the magnificent arches and cantilevers of this pose are distilled in Marilyn’s face, with its pointed eyebrows and lips, and the lovely taut bow of the collarbone.
Christophe is a model with an acting background, and his specialty is facial expressions. Here he gave us anguish, leaning to one side.
Here I spent most of the session developing the drawing above. At some point near the end of the session I decided I’d best stop working on it. lest I overwork it and destroy its power, a mistake I still sometimes make. So I spent the last half hour or so simplifying what I’d learned from the previous hours of study of Christophe’s expression into a linear abstraction of emotion, below. Even though this drawing is an afterthought, I think it’s stronger than the one I spent more time on. I wouldn’t have been able to do something like this from the start – its simplicity only arises from the experience of prolonged looking.
Here’s one of my favorite models, Betty. I think I began drawing using the yellow crayon sideways to indicate the highlights of the body, then used white and black lines to delineate details and the contours between highlight and shadow areas. Proportions are wildly off here, with the head half the size of the torso.
So I started again and developed this figure in relation to the elements around it. The head may still be a little too big, but that’s my strongest distortive tendency. The face has so much structural complexity and carries so much expressive power, it needs as much space in the drawing as it needs!
Below is another example where I managed to come up with a representation of the model’s face, body and expression that was pretty satisfactory, overall, but a bit dull, perhaps.
So I moved in on the face and tried to summarize its specificity in line.
Here’s stage one of a look at Luke’s seated pose. All the drawings in this post were made during the summer. In the hot months, the aquarelle crayons I use are softer and lay down a thicker layer of wax than they do in the cooler months. Once there’s a certain density of wax on the paper, revision is hopeless.
A second attempt shows my understanding of the figure sharpening. Here I’m using a lot of cross-contours.
Finally, again, I move in closer. Here the style I”m using is like carving with a chisel. I’m trying to approximate colors by the method of optical mixing.
The final series of drawings in this post is from this past Monday. This was my first shot at drawing Leah, a model that has inspired several lovely paintings by Daniel Maidman. I started out measuring the pose by head-lengths.
In the second attempt, the head was oversized – my usual tendency. The pose has subtly changed since the first set, with the left knee and arm covering less of the torso. Most of the artists were clustered to the model’s right side during this pose, and probably didn’t even notice the change in the pose. I took advantage of it to study the structure of the chest and abdomen.
My third try at this pose finds me moving closer, to allow a more detailed treatment of the face. Still not quite right, though.
Here’s the final try, developed during the last third of the session. I still haven’t really captured Leah’s face, but I’m happy with the color and the challenging dangling hand in front of the thigh. It can be hard to really get the essence of a model in the first session of studying her or him – you get what you can, and then time’s up!