DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Working Big – Part 1


Nocturne, 2009, 48″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt

Many figurative artists carry on an ongoing practice in group life drawing sessions, as I do, but when they have a chance to work with a model in their own studio, they choose to do work that is much more planned, composed, and developed.  I tend to get less planned and more experimental when I work in my own studio.  It provides an opportunity for spontaneity and direct creative collaboration with the model that just isn’t possible in the group setting, and above all, it makes it possible to work on a bigger scale.  In a classroom shared with other artists, it just wouldn’t do for me to take over half the floor with an enormous drawing.

The crayon drawing above, like all the other large scale drawings in this post, was made without planning or preliminary sketches, going directly to work on a four by five foot sheet of black paper, and the figure is approximately life-size.  (The model is Museworthy‘s Claudia.)  This way of working doesn’t guarantee a good result – in fact, there’s a high failure rate.  The real disasters won’t be shared here.  When it does work, though, the resulting drawings can have a lively quality that too much thinking and planning tends to stifle.

In quick sketching, working much smaller, my way of approximating proportions is to rely on the rhythm of the movements of the hand.  A torso, for example, might be thought of as a musical measure, consisting of a quarter note for the curve of the breast, a series of sixteenth notes for the ribs, and a half note for the abdomen.  (That’s an explanatory metaphor – in practice I never think of visual rhythms in quite such precise terms.)  The smaller the drawing gets, the more difficult it is to use this rhythmic sense, because the movements used to make the lines become so small.  It is easier to feel the fluctuations of movement with the forearm than it is with the fingers, and it is easier still with the whole arm and shoulder.  Sometimes, as in the sketchbook page below, I try shifting the scale of my sketches as an exercise, and for me, working small is challenging!


Michael quick poses, 2012, 17″ x 14″, by Fred Hatt

I’ve done many portraits around twice life-size.  The human face is a complex cluster of forms, and when the drawing or painting is small, we are forced to simplify by the bluntness of our instruments.  You just can’t facet a diamond with a sledgehammer.  Upsizing the subject makes it possible to capture much more meaningful detail with our clumsy fingers and dull tools.


Marilyn, 2011, 19″ x 25″, by Fred Hatt

The remainder of this post consists of large scale figure drawings made in my own studio on papers ranging in size from about 30″ x 48″ (76 x 122 cm) to 60″ x 60″ (152 x 152 cm).  In past posts I’ve found that these large drawings, especially the complex ones with multiple overlapping figures, lose a lot of their impact and even legibility at the size I use for pictures on the blog.  I’ve made these images slightly larger than what I usually use here, but I haven’t made them much larger because I don’t want to give away online pictures of sufficiently high resolution to let someone make book-quality prints.  I hope these reproductions will give you a sense of what the originals are like, and if you want to see them in their full glory, you’ll have to visit my studio or an exhibit of my work!

Feet, 2007, by Fred Hatt

Feet, 2007, 48″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt

I often make my larger work in pairs.  The larger-than-life-scale crayon drawings above and below were done in the same session.  Both are 48″ x 60″.  These are on my portfolio site, and the digital images have been popular recently on Tumblr and Pinterest.

Back and Hand, 2007, by Fred Hatt

Back and Hand, 2007, 48″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt

You might think it would be hard to maintain proportions, painting in watercolors directly from life, without preliminary measurements or sketches, on a piece of paper too large to see all at once from working distance.  In fact, when making the figures smaller than life-size, proportion has been a problem for me.  It gets much easier when the figures are life-size, since I have a very good sense of how long an arm is, how big a hand is, and so on.

Mountain and Valley, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Mountain and Valley, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt

Since I’m working directly from life, and I like the models to take interesting poses that might be challenging to hold over a long period of time, I try to work very quickly.  These are essentially quick sketches, not so different from what I’d do on a much smaller piece of paper in twenty minutes or so, and they have all the roughness that implies.  We’re not used to seeing the scribbly techniques of the quick sketch at this scale.

Towering, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Towering, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt

The drawing above was made by observing through a mirror placed on the floor, to see the figure as though from beneath.  Of course this means the drawing was done upside down.

Spinal Curves, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Spinal Curves, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt

Most artists doing observational work at large scale use an easel, but paper or canvas of this size mounted on an easel would be like a wall between the artist and the model.  For me it’s important to have open space between myself and the model, with no energetic barriers, so I do all of these big drawings on the floor.

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Waxing Moon, 2010, 48″ x 30″, by Fred Hatt

The pair above and below are done in aquarelle crayon on black paper.  Each piece is 48″ x 30″ – the smallest pieces in this post, besides the portrait and quick sketch examples seen near the top.  These drawings were featured in an earlier post, two years ago.

Waning Moon, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Waning Moon, 2009, 48″ x 30″, by Fred Hatt

In the next pair, I’m trying to get the kind of bodily expressiveness Rodin mastered in sculpture, using direct, no-sketch watercolor painting and life-size scaling, and working with exquisite dancer-models.

Melting Glacier, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Melting Glacier, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt

Thawing Permafrost, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Thawing Permafrost, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt

Since I’m working on the floor, I tend to favor reclining poses, as I can see the pose while crawling on top of the drawing paper, without craning my neck.  I love these unusual foreshortened views of the body, and I feel that the view of the head from above has a special subjective quality – it suggests the face we feel from within, rather than the face we present to the world.

Cool Down, 2003, 60" x 60", by Fred Hatt

Cool Down, 2003, 60″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt

Many of my large-scale figure drawings feature multiple, overlapping figures of the same model, incorporating the temporal dimension into the composition.  You can see many examples here,  and posts about the process here and here and here and  here, and those drawings will be the subject of “Working Big, Part 2”, to be posted in about a month.

Double Exposure, 2007, by Fred Hatt

Double Exposure, 2007, 30″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt

Thanks to my great model/collaborators for these drawings:  Claudia, Izaskun, Jeremiah, Kristin, Kuan, Pedro, and Yuko.

My work is included in the exhibit Faces of Figureworks: Self Portraits, January 5 – March 3 at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn, with an opening reception Friday, January 11.  I’ll post further details here soon.  If you’re in NYC, come see me!

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