DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Givens and Options

Shoulderblade Contact, 2012, by Fred Hatt

In an open life drawing session, the givens are simple:  There is a live nude model, who will take a pose and hold still for a designated period of time.  Using the materials of visual art, we must draw what we can from the model during the interval allowed.  Over a series of sessions, we can expect to see a great variety of models, and if we want to, we can try out many different materials and techniques, but for a given class, we take the model we get and use the materials we’ve brought.  If it’s a big class, we will probably have little or no say about the poses, and may not be able to move from the viewing position we have taken up in advance.  But in the moment the model takes the pose and the timer begins counting down, we still have many options, and must make choices instinctively or deliberately.

How shall we scale the figure?  Do we want to include the whole figure, or just part?  Do we focus our energies on trying to capture a likeness, or a feeling of structure, or what?  Do we isolate the figure, or include background elements?  What details should we include, and what can we omit?  Do we start with light and shadows, or with contours?  Shall we try to keep our hand as loose as possible, or as precise as possible?  These choices face us, in a way limited by our skill, even in a one- or two-minute pose.  If the pose is twenty minutes, or three hours, the options proliferate!  In an instructed class, the teacher may make many of these choices for us, but in an open practice session they are up to us, and the richness of the practice is greatly enhanced by not always making the same choices.

That’s a general observation, the sort of thing I’m always harping on, and would perhaps be best illustrated by work from over the years, specifically selected to highlight the various choices involved.  But what I have to share with you now is a few of my recent watercolor paintings and crayon drawings of the figure.  I’ve arranged them to bring out similarities and differences, and the theme of choices will perhaps provide a lens with which to view them.

Slim, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The first three illustrations are all 10- or 20-minute watercolor sketches of figures with crossed arms.  All of these have a loose, casual feel, but the scribbly strokes are anchored by contour lines that are carefully drawn.  The first two are standing poses, with the faces roughly indicated, and framed to include most of the body but not the feet.  The one below is a seated pose, framed closer, with more attention to the facial expression and the hands.

Arms Folded, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Lines of color on the face give a sense of color and shading, but also convey some quality of emotion or energy.  Below I’ve used a similar approach in a longer drawing – I think this one was about an hour.  I had started out sketching a full figure, but as I went on with it I found that what really interested me about this model was her face, and I couldn’t get the details of the face in a full-figure painting.

Thinking Back, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Including the chest as well as the face allows me to get plenty of expressive detail but also show something of how the head is carried upon the body.  In the watercolor sketches above and below, I’m using two of my favorite pigments, cadmium red and ultramarine blue.  The red shows where the blood flows near the surface, and the blue shows where the light is absorbed.

Relief, 2012, by Fred Hatt

In the long-pose watercolor portrait below, I tried optical color mixing to give a sense of flesh tones.  By cross-hatching using fan brushes with cadmium red and green oxide, with some lamp black and phthalocyanine turquoise, I’m trying to get the glow of life.  Adding bluer tones to the background also emphasizes the warmth of the figure.

Chuck, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The portrait below is drawn with white and reddish-brown aquarelle crayon on warm gray paper, with the darks filled in with black watercolor.  A wet brush was used to blend some of the white aquarelle crayon.

A.Z., 2012, by Fred Hatt

The model below, Julie,  has an inner happiness and confidence that I can’t help but express in my drawings of her.  Plump females may get no respect in the media culture, but they’re very popular as figure drawing models, because their rounded forms are beautiful on paper, and they’re a lot easier to draw than wiry, angular models.  Something about this pose just makes me want to dance, and I had to get the whole figure on the paper, from head to feet, in this 20-minute watercolor sketch.

Coquette, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The body leans to one side, and that violation of balance makes a still pose seem active.  In the long pose watercolor below, I chose to develop rectangular elements in the background to contrast the inclined body.

Piet, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Every Monday morning at Spring Studio I am the monitor for the 3-hour long pose session.  We do a set of 2-minute warm-up poses and then, subtracting the breaks, we have about two hours to study a single pose.  Once in a while, we have two models at once.  Two models isn’t just twice the work, it multiplies the geometrical relationships of elements and reveals every feature of the face and body by contrast to a very different face and body.  The intensity of observation required usually sends me into a more realist mode than I might otherwise pursue.

Two Women, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The realist mode of painting is obsessive, and when I really get into it, every detail of texture or color becomes achingly beautiful – even the way cellulite refracts light.

Center of Power, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Sometimes in a session you get an angle on a pose that, on first glance, doesn’t seem to offer much.  A back view, flat lighting, not much visible anatomical detail – not much to work with, right?  No, this is an opportunity to notice subtleties, and to find how simple details – the arrangement of the fingers, the way a scarf is tied around the head – can make the boring pose dynamic.

Back with Headscarf, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Here’s another example of a pose that at first seemed a bad viewpoint.  But look at how the angular joints stack up!  Look at how the light pulls everything up and to the right, while the shadows and the black hair give the figure gravity.

Listening, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Contrast the skinny body above with the corpulent body below.  The range of variation of the human form is a wondrous thing to contemplate.

An artist working with a model in his or her own studio would be unlikely to choose either of these sideways/backwards views of a pose, but in a class or an open session you get what you get, and what do you know, this is a great angle to reveal the energy of the body!

Column, 2012, by Fred Hatt

When I work with a model in my own studio, I can do experiments with angles and lighting that wouldn’t work in a class or open session.  The next two figures were drawn (in aquarelle crayon) by looking through a mirror set on the floor with the model standing above.  This gives a foreshortened view with a standing pose.  In this way, I’m looking up by looking down, while drawing on the floor.  The figure in the mirror is seen upside-down, and these drawings were made that way, with the head at the bottom of the page.  One of the pleasures of the foreshortened view of the figure is unusual juxtapositions of body parts.  Notice below how one elbow aligns with the head, and another with the cleft between buttock and thigh.  That’s something you will never see with the normal straight-on view of a standing pose.

Atlas 2, 2012, by Fred Hatt

My inspiration for these figures was ceiling frescoes, which often show cherubs and mythological characters as though one is looking up at bodies floating in the sky.  The figure towering above has a godlike quality.  This is how adults are seen by babies!

Atlas 1, 2012, by Fred Hatt

This pose was done lying face down on the floor, but it naturally conveys the feel of flying.  I was sorry to lose that left hand, but just couldn’t shrink the figure down enough to fit the entire thing on the page!

Soar, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Here’s a reclining foreshortened view from the head end of the body, with the light coming from behind.  This is a sketch painted with white gouache on black paper.  I love unusual, foreshortened views of the body.  In drawing them, I find it very helpful to think of the eyes as organs of touch from a distance.  The fingertips that are touching this body are rays of light, and it is that touch that the eyes receive and translate into drawing.

Morning Light, 2012, by Fred Hatt

All the pieces in this post are around 18″ x 24″, in watercolor, sometimes with white gouache, and/or in aquarelle crayon on paper.


On Saturday, at Soundance Studio in Brooklyn, I’m showing an experimental video I made last year with dancer Kristin Hatleberg.  Kristin improvised movement at Ringing Rocks Park in Eastern Pennsylvania, a unique landscape with boulders that ring like steel when struck.  Filmmaker Yuko Takebe and I both shot video of Kristin in this environment, and then each of us made our own edits of the combined footage.  It’s fascinating to see how two different sensibilities transform the same raw material.  We’ll be showing both versions of the Ringing Rocks video at an event also featuring other video and live dance work at Soundance Studio in Williamsburg, Broooklyn, this Saturday.  Here are details:

    • Saturday
    • 8:00pm
  • 281 N. 7th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
  • Free Admission! Reservation required!
    2 Excerpts From Generations: A Dance and Film Collaboration Conceived and Directed by Janet Aisawa with choreography by Emily Winkler-Morey and Judith Grodowitz
    Ringing Rocks Remember: Companion Films by Yuko Takebe and Fred Hatt, with dancer Kristin Hatleberg
    Additional Videos by Vanessa Paige & Dalienne Majors’ Video of Sarah Skaggs’ 9/11

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