DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


The Penetrating Glance

Clear Sight, 2007, by Fred Hatt

Clear Sight, 2007, by Fred Hatt

Artists who work from direct observation have a special way of looking at their subjects, a darting glance that picks up impressions the way a janitor’s litter spike snags trash. Nearly every action that builds up the drawing or painting follows from one of those quick looks. You look and make a mark, look again to refine the mark, look again to find the spatial relation of this to that, look for angles, look for curves, look for shades and colors, look to compare, look to correct. You’re constantly comparing your sketch to your model, translating perceptions into marks, trying to see better and capture better all the time, and racing the clock. In a classroom full of artists of mixed levels of experience, you can pick out the ones that know what they’re doing by watching how they look: how efficient and focused is their glance, and how frequently they look between their paper and the model.

My friend and fellow figurative artist Karen Miles made a little film about this (email subscribers will need to follow this link to view the film on YouTube):

These artists are drawing at Minerva Durham’s Spring Studio in New York, a drawing studio that attracts the most dedicated practitioners of drawing from the live model. If you were to observe a drawing session at Spring Studio, you’d probably be struck first by the quiet intensity of the whole group of artists. There is no music, no talking, just the single-minded focus on seeing and drawing.

Crouch, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Crouch, 2009, by Fred Hatt

In quick poses my glances are looking for overall forms, trying to see the figure as an arrangement of curves in space.

On One Knee, 2013, by Fred Hatt

On One Knee, 2013, by Fred Hatt

In the crayon drawing above, I made a first rough pass in magenta, then refined my contours in a bolder blue. There was probably a glance for nearly every separate stroke in the drawing. The sketch below is done with a brush and black watercolor. The individual strokes are easier to distinguish here. I see the curve of the shoulder and that becomes a brush stroke, then glance at the breast and make that curve, then at the belly and make that curve, and so on. Each marking has a certain rhythm and motion that reflect a quick tracing of that particular contour in my perceptual system.

Music, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Music, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Quite apart from the act of drawing, the normal visual process works by assembling impressions picked up by quick movements of the eyes called saccades. The eyes only see clearly over a narrow angle; the overall sharp photographic image we think we see is constructed in the brain as the fragmentary impressions of the saccades are knitted together. (Here’s a more detailed blog post about how that works.)

Complementary Poses, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Complementary Poses, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Constant practice improves the speed by which we receive such perceptions. Each moment of seeing is translated into a movement of the hand. The resulting marks reflect the quality of these movements, and thereby trace a record of the act of vision, a series of impressions made as the artist experiences them.

Passion, 2003, by Fred Hatt

Passion, 2003, by Fred Hatt

Drawing is not simply a copying of contours, but a trail left in permanent marks as the mind examines a scene over a particular period of time. Seen this way, it is clear that drawing captures something that photography does not. A camera, like an NSA surveillance program, indiscriminately vacuums up every detail of light information in its range. A drawing artist is more like a murder-mystery detective, following all the trails, picking up clues, details, impressions, until a coherent picture emerges from the process. Photography is a mechanical scan, while drawing is an active, responsive exploration of a scene. The distinction is between intelligence gathering and intelligent gathering.

Corner, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Corner, 2008, by Fred Hatt

The drawing medium affects how I see. When I am holding a pencil, as in the sketch above, I see the scene in terms of lines. When I use a fan brush, as below, I see broader strokes of light and shadow revealing the form in space.

Folding Forward, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Folding Forward, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I look for curves, and I look for angles. The form is constructed of flowing, rhythmic curves. The spatial arrangement of those curves is defined by angular connections.

Hands on Sacrum, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Hands on Sacrum, 2013, by Fred Hatt

In drawing with a linear medium such as crayon or pencil, light, shade and color must all be translated into line. I imagine that I am drawing, not on flat paper, but directly on the body itself, so that every line follows the three-dimensional shape of the body. Notice the white serpentine line running from armpit to hip in the torso study below. It represents the center of a highlighted area, but its meandering reveals the subtle irregularities imparted to the surface of the skin by underlying layers of bone and muscle, as a raindrop snaking down a windshield shows the hidden undulations in seemingly smooth glass.

Lines of Energy on a Torso, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Lines of Energy on a Torso, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Every glance is a fragment of perceiving. Every glance becomes a stroke in the drawing. It is a living process to record the phenomenon of life.

Imagining, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Imagining, 2008, by Fred Hatt

When there is more time to develop a drawing, additional layers of perceptions build up as the artist looks at the subject again and again. Light, shade, color, reflection, absorption, space, energy, temperature, texture, gravity, vibration, growth and decay – all the phenomena of matter and of life can be found by looking and looking some more.

Legs, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Legs, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Color and light in the real world are complex and slippery. Capturing such things is not a matter of simply duplicating a surface hue and value. Everything is relative, so everything must be seen relative to other things in the scene. As the work develops, the glances are comparative. What areas are redder than their neighboring areas? What areas are greener?

Back Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Back Light, 2013, by Fred Hatt

A body exists in space, and the image in the drawing becomes more real as it develops a sense of space. Further glances look at the parts of the body as they intersect with elements of the background.

In a Room, 2013, by Fred Hatt

In a Room, 2013, by Fred Hatt

I keep glancing, looking at light that reflects into shadows and light that penetrates the translucent skin and emerges tinged and diffused, looking at creases that swallow light and bulges that create specular highlights and gradients.

Side Arc, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Side Arc, 2013, by Fred Hatt

To draw is to see seeing, that is, to experience in action all the processes that go into visual perception.

Prone, Crossed Ankles, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Prone, Crossed Ankles, 2013, by Fred Hatt


Rough and Refined Versions


Sh About to Rise, 2013, by Fred Hatt, details of sketch and final version side-by-side

Sh About to Rise, 2013, by Fred Hatt, details of sketch and final version side-by-side

The first post of Drawing Life was published on March 15, 2009, so the fourth blogaversary is upon us. I want to thank my readers, those that have been following since the start and those that have recently discovered the blog, those that subscribe by email and those that just check it out a few times a year. I just can’t help producing a constant flow of images – it’s my nature – but looking at the site stats and seeing how many people look in on what I post here, and especially receiving comments, motivates me to keep sharing with you through this forum. I invite you, dear reader, to tell me what you’d like to see more of here, questions you’ve wanted to ask me, or topics you think I should address. Please comment.

Some readers are mainly interested in figure drawing and art technique, some are interested in body art, others respond most strongly to the photographic visual essays, and still others to the art-historical surveys. For me, it’s all of a piece, all about my approach to visual art as a practice of self-development – a journey I have chosen as the central journey of my life, an effort to transform perception and a quest for mastery in an open-ended craft.

I long ago discovered that I needed a core practice, a strong trellis upon which to cultivate my twisty vines. For me, that core practice is figure drawing. It provides me with an ideal combination of discipline and inspiration, self-measurement and freedom to explore. Looking back over the last six months of posts on Drawing Life I noticed it’s been a long time since I just posted an update on my recent figure drawing work, and I’ve built up quite an archive of unposted work in the past year – enough to explore various themes in separate posts.

In my figure drawing practice I attend two regular weekly sessions, one of which (at Figureworks) consists of poses two minutes to twenty minutes in length, and the other of which (at Spring Studio) includes a single longer pose. Total drawing time on that pose, subtracting breaks, amounts to about two hours. It’s enough time to do a fairly refined drawing, though I approach it differently at different times, sometimes focusing on capturing a likeness, sometimes looking at subtleties of color or shading, sometimes studying the relationship of the face to the body or of the model to the surroundings, or any combination of these things. Sometimes I get off to a solid start and keep working on one sheet of paper for the whole duration of the pose. Other times I do a sketch and then start over again for one reason or another. This post is a collection of recent pairs of rough, sketchy versions and more finished versions of the same poses. It’s a way of looking into my process.  For each pair, my commentary will be inserted between the sketchy and polished versions.

Ch Diagonal, sketch version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Ch Diagonal, sketch version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Often I start out studying the whole figure and then decide to focus on a cropped view. This pose has a strong diagonal through-line, from right foot to head, with the model’s left limbs acting as right-angled buttresses.  After doing the sketch above, I decided I wanted to work larger to get more detail in the face, realizing that the diagonal tilt of the body worked in the composition without having to go all the way down to the right foot. In this case, the sketch was weak, but doing it helped to sharpen my perception for the more developed drawing.

Ch Diagonal, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Ch Diagonal, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Sage, sketch version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Here I felt the initial sketch was, in its rough form, a superb realization of my way of analyzing the figure, using curved lines to trace continuities of form, light, and body energy.  Further developing the drawing above would have obscured the white energy lines, destroying a drawing that is simple and intense. In this case I stopped, not because the sketch was weak or flawed, but because it was excellent in its undeveloped form. I went on to do the study below, applying most of my attention to the model’s face as an image of strong character and lived experience. I’m glad I stopped and saved the above version as a separate drawing, because it shows the robust, vibrant energy of the model’s abdomen, something that the second drawing omits.

Sage, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Sage, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

B with Mannequins, sketch version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

B with Mannequins, sketch version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

This is a wonderful model I’ve drawn many times before. For this pose, she set up an array of background elements and I decided to place her in this spatial context, with the blocks and boxes, hanging fabrics, and tattooed mannequin parts around her. In my initial sketch, above, I tried to get everything in the frame.  Later, I decided to develop the drawing with the model more centered, omitting details on the left. But there’s something almost Matissean about the stripped-down, off-center composition of the rough sketch.

B with Mannequins, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

B with Mannequins, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

M with Stockings, sketch version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

M with Stockings, sketch version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

This model, a fine artist in her own right, has the artist’s sense of what will make an interesting pose. She came up with this Schiele-esque pose, angular, fascinatingly awkward, casual and odd, with one stocking on and one hanging from the hands. This kind of pose is complicated and not easy to draw. I studied it in the above sketch for several layers of light and dark forms, angles and curves and cut facets, before attempting the realistic/impressionistic monochrome rendering, below.

M with Stockings, final version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

M with Stockings, final version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Cl Physique, sketch version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Cl Physique, sketch version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

This model is a bodybuilder with incredibly defined muscles, and drawing him is an anatomical study. My initial sketch was an attempt to understand the pose, but I was craving more detail in the face and torso, and decided to develop the drawing in a vertical frame rather than the horizontal one with which I’d begun. This was a session I had to leave early because of a work obligation, so the second drawing here is less refined than some of the others in this post.

Cl Physique, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Cl Physique, final version, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Sh About to Rise, sketch version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Sh About to Rise, sketch version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Here’s another one where the sketch was too good to ruin by developing it, and I felt the model’s face needed more space to show its character. These two drawings need to be seen together. The sketch above shows the character of the body, and the sketch below shows more detail in the character of the face. There’s a limit to the paper size that can be used n the context of the crowded group session. Sometimes I wish I could draw everything in life size.

Sh About to Rise, final version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Sh About to Rise, final version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Reclining K from Head End, sketch version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Reclining K from Head End, sketch version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

This pair is done in my studio, not in the Monday morning long-pose session at Spring Studio, as are all the other examples in this post. Recently I’ve had an opportunity to work with the same model almost weekly in my own studio. I expect there will eventually be a post here about this experience. In my own studio I can work with dramatic lighting that is not practical in the group setting of Spring Studio, and can work directly with the model to refine the poses. After doing the rough crayon and gouache sketch above, the pose was modified to paint the foreshortened view below.

Reclining K from Head End, final version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Reclining K from Head End, final version, 2013, by Fred Hatt

All of the original drawings shown in this post are roughly 19″ x 25″ (48 c 64 cm). Some are drawn with Caran d’Ache aqruarelle crayons alone, and some are painted in gouache, combined with the crayons.


White & Black on Gray

Ben, 2012, gouache by Fred Hatt

It’s a classic drawing technique used by figurative masters like Albrecht Dürer and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (see beautiful examples by both artists at the links) – work on a gray or mid-toned paper or ground, draw highlights in white and shadows in black, and you efficiently produce a full range of values.  If you work on white paper, on the other hand, you are starting from one extreme and have to construct the whole scale going in one direction, which turns out to be difficult and time consuming.  Most of the values we see in a real-life scene are closer to middle gray than they are to pure white or black.  Starting from a gray ground isn’t just a more efficient way to draw, it’s a more subtle way to observe.  You see the variations in relation to the average, noticing the brightest highlights and the darkest shadows, then looking for areas that are a bit lighter or a bit darker than their surroundings.

When I first started attending life drawing sessions as a regular practice, back in the mid-1990’s, I quickly realized that speed is of the essence in both observing and marking.  The timer is always running, and the model can only hold the pose for a limited time, and the more interesting is the pose, the more limited is the time.  So I want to draw as much as I can as quickly as possible, and the gray paper technique is amazingly swift.  In this post I’ll share a variety of my figure drawings and paintings using variations of this technique in its monochrome mode, with observations that may be of interest if you draw or paint or are interested in the process of observational art.  Some aspects of my technique may be more evident in the absence of color.

Reclining Male, 1995, Conté crayon by Fred Hatt

It doesn’t really matter what order you do things in.  Sometimes I start with contour lines, then add some shading, then pick up the highlights. If the highlights are lightened, the gray ground can represent a basic shadow.

Man and Shadow, 1996, Conté crayon by Fred Hatt

Sometimes I do a rough sketch with a colored crayon to figure out the overall structure, then use white to capture where the light falls on the subject, and black to deepen the crevices and the darkest part of the shadowy areas.

Reclining Curves, 1997, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

I tend to prefer media like inks and crayons that don’t really blend, rather than ones like oil paint that blend easily.  The strokes of the pen or brush capture the energy of the process, and I don’t want those strokes to be lost in the smear of smoothness.  I try to make all the marks follow the three-dimensional contours as though they are moving over the surface of the subject.

Rudy, 1997, ink and gouache by Fred Hatt

It is light and shadow that make an image jump off the page.  The artist works out the structure of the image as it is projected onto a flat surface, but when light and shadow are added, the sketch is elevated to an illusion.

Head and Torso, 1998, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

I often use color for the structural analysis phase of the sketch, working loosely, feeling proportion by the rhythmic progression of curves and the angular relationships of masses.  Then light and shade are added to make it all look solid.

Analysis of Reclining Figure, 2001, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Light adds the third dimension to an image because it adds another directional aspect.  A line drawing of contours as seen from the observer’s angle is just shapes on a flat surface.  When we add light and shadow, we add another point of view.  The light illuminates certain surfaces and not others because it is coming from an angle different from the observer’s line of sight.  The paper plane, the sight line, and the light line are dimensions of pictorial seeing, just as the X, Y, and Z axis are the mathematical dimensions defining a three-dimensional space or form.

Erik Inverted, 2001, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

For me, the highlight areas usually reveal more form than the shadowy areas.  Sometimes I just dance all over the highlighted surfaces with white lines, staying very loose but always following the form.

Estella, 2001, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

I try to keep my hand movement as free as possible, but the observations guiding them as clear and precise as possible.

George, 2001, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

I am focused on light and shadow and form, but I want to let character and the quality of aliveness emerge from the process.

Arnold, 2002, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Hand on Thigh, 2002, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

The human form is a complex arrangement of tension and impulse, layers of hard and soft and wiry and fluid.  There will always be much more there than you can capture with your eye and hand, but if you really go at it like a mad scientist you might get some of the feel of it in your sketch.

Inverted Torso, 2002, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

While the highlights reveal more of the subtle shapes of the surfaces, the dark lines define the most salient edges, the deep grooves, the biometric landmarks.

Yisroel, 2002, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Sometimes I separate these aspects and repeat them, doing highlights or shadows now as lines, now as cloudy forms.

Studies of Robert, 2005, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Like color, the perception of values of light and dark is relativistic – every value is seen as lighter or darker in relation to its surroundings.  Starting with a gray ground allows us to draw relativistically, looking at every area in comparison to its surrounding average.  We let the gray ground be that local average, and use white and black to mark the local differences.

Andrew, 2006, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Much of my work is colorful, but if you ask me to name my favorite color, it will have to be gray.  Gray is the magical middle way, the point of balance, the axis, the mutable mean.  Holding the center maximizes freedom of movement.

Betty, 2010, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Light defines some aspects of a scene, and darkness defines other aspects.  Gray is the neutral ground, the zero that defines both positive and negative.

Model and Artist, 2010, aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

For many years I drew mostly with aquarelle crayons.  In the past year I’ve been experimenting more with gouache and watercolor paints, and sometimes combining these media with the crayons.  Rather than blending the paint, I tend to use fan brushes and cross-hatching techniques to add black to white, white to black, or either to gray.

Ben (detail), 2012, gouache by Fred Hatt

Above is a detail of the portrait that heads this post, a portrait drawn in about two hours in the session I supervise at Spring Studio.  Below is a larger-than-life scale portrait sketch made in a twenty minute pose in one of the figure drawing sessions at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn.  The technique is essentially the same, but the level of complexity is different.

Tinuola Profile, 2012, gouache by Fred Hatt

To translate light into line, I see light as a touch that strokes the figure, and I follow those strokes with my crayons and brushes.  White lines define the bright edges, and dark lines define the dark edges.  Scribbly strokes of white and black follow the subtler variations of tone.

Seated Back, 2012, gouache and aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Here’s an attempt at a portrait of Claudia, the Museworthy blogger, from a session this past week at Spring Studio.  Claudia writes about art and life with a strong, engaging voice, shares a wide variety of great work, and gives a perspective on figurative art from the other side of the easel.

Claudia, 2012, gouache and aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Sometimes I try to simplify lit areas into simple brush gestures with white paint.  The dark lines tend to define simpler, more straightforward contours anyway.  Reducing highlighted areas to white gestures brings dark and light into beautiful equilibrium.

Strength at Rest, 2012, gouache and aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Part of the artistic prestige of sculpture and of traditional black-and-white silver halide photography comes from how discarding color can reveal the formal essence of an image.  This is Fly, an art model and artist of the “Peops” series of biographical portraits.

Fly, 2012, gouache and aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

Simplicity and formal clarity, and a highly efficient approach to observing and rendering.  White and black on gray.

Right Triangles, 2012, gouache and aquarelle crayon by Fred Hatt

All of the original drawings pictured in this post are in the range of 18″ x 24″ (46 x 61 cm) to 20″ x 28″ (50 x 70 cm).


Back in Gray

Leaning Ahead, 2012, by Fred Hatt

For any artist, I think, regularity of work is essential.  For an artist like me who does other work to make a living, it can be very difficult to keep the creative practice vital and central.  I hold my life drawing practice as a constant.  Sometimes in my life I’m working on special creative projects, and sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes I’m spending huge amounts of time doing jobs to pay the bills, or dealing with family responsibilities, or whatever.  No matter what, I get to my life drawing sessions faithfully.  There are two three-hour classes I attend nearly every week, one a long pose class and another one featuring shorter poses.  I may miss the occasional session due to work schedule, travel, or other unavoidable disruptions, but I will not miss a session because I’m tired or not in the mood or not feeling confident.  The structure of the session solves all my potential “blocks”.  The model gives me a focus that takes me out of my own head.  The model is an active stimulus to which I can respond, without having to come up with any ideas.  The timed poses give me a sense of urgency – there is never quite enough time, so I have to get right into it, no dithering.  The critical eye can only be indulged fleetingly – it can’t be allowed to take over from the direct action of drawing.

I don’t allow the practice to become just a hobby, doing the same things over and over again because they please me.  It must be a constant struggle, a quest to see more, understand more, capture more.  There is no end to the study.  There is always something new I can understand about the structure or the expressiveness of the body, something new I can learn about light or about how eye and mind interact, some new bit of technique or material I can explore, some new challenge of spontaneity or carefulness that I can undertake as I draw.

Last year I had begun to feel that I was getting a bit too comfortable in my technique of drawing with aquarelle crayons on gray or black paper, and I decided to start working with watercolors at my life drawing sessions.  If you have been following Drawing Life over the last several months you’ve seen my struggles with the unforgiving medium.  In recent weeks I’ve been trying different papers, including gray paper, and returning sometimes to crayons or using the crayons in conjunction with the paints.  In this post I’ll share some of that work.  All of these pieces were made in the past month.  If you’re not a painter the discussion may be a bit technical, so feel free to just enjoy the pictures.

Knee L, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The wet brush makes more expressive strokes than dry media.  In part this is because it is less controllable, or to be more precise it is controlled more by physics and less by the artist’s hand.  An oil painter may use as much underdrawing and overpainting as necessary to master the painted image, but watercolors are transparent, so all the work shows through.  The unruly nature of the brush is understood in East Asian calligraphy as a virtue.  To make a spontaneous stroke that conveys energy, movement and feeling, using a big floppy wet brush, is a taoist exercise par excellence – going with the flow, dancing on the wind, trusting the chaos of nature to impart its ineffable beauty to your human gesture.

Iridescence of Skin, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The sketches above and below are done with the aquarelle crayons I’ve used for so much of my work over the years.  The crayons have several special qualities.  They can easily be used either sideways, to smear out areas of color, or on point, to make lines.  Hues can be blended by layering on the paper, without mixing and muddying the pigments, perfect for an additive approach to color.  On dark paper, the lighter crayons have a special luminosity, effectively rendering subtle effects of light.  I like to draw by looking at light before anything else, and usually this means drawing highlights before shadows and edges of things – an approach that is impossible when using transparent paints on a white ground.

Touch of Light, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Recently I’ve been using white gouache (opaque watercolor) combined with transparent colors on gray paper, trying for those glowing highlights.  At this point I’m not good enough with the paint to get anything like the color complexity I can get with the crayons.  The crayon drawing above and the gouache/watercolor sketch below are both twenty-minute studies.  With paint, it takes longer to get the light and dark, so there’s less time for color, and since the white gouache is the only paint lighter than the gray background, color in the highlights is a two-stage process, not a one-stage process as with the crayons.

Torso, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The long-pose class gives a longer time to work at subtleties of color and tone.  It’s a three-hour class, and when the warm-up poses and the breaks are subtracted, there’s about two solid hours of studying a single pose.

Akimbo, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The long pose studies above and below are painted in watercolor on white bristol vellum, with some white gouache used for highlight detailing and corrections.  The white gouache never cleanly covers anything.  Any color that is underneath bleeds into it, and it can quickly become dull and dirty-looking.  I’m still trying to use my additive color approach, not mixing paints on the palette, but using straight colors in proximity to each other, so they mix in the eye to give the impression of smooth transitions.  It’s very hard to get this to work as well as it does with the crayons.  The crayons can be applied lightly on the side, introducing a subtle tone to an area.  My best approximation of that with the paint is to use a fan brush with a rather dry load of paint to put down some thin subtle lines of color.  Wherever the white paper shows through, though, it dominates, as it is obviously the brightest and strongest color of them all.

Inward Look, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I finally found a kind of gray paper that takes the watercolor and gouache paints well, without too much friction and without sucking all the water out of the brush or puckering at the wetness.  As you can see in the long-pose example below, this allows me to use white as a highlight, so I can work with paint both lighter and darker than the ground, but it doesn’t do much to make the color mixing easier.  In the background of this one, I’ve used crayons on edge to get soft area coloration, but the colors in the figure are all paint.

Reader of Proust, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Below is a crayon drawing on black paper, 20-minute pose.  Working on black paper offers its own special challenges – as with white paper, I can only go in one direction with the values.  But I think in twenty minutes with crayons I’ve been able to get as much color variance as I was able to do in six times the time in those long pose studies with paint.

Side and Back, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The next three pictures are all 20-minute foreshortened reclining poses.  The first one is done with watercolor and gouache, on a medium gray paper that works well with the crayons.  With the paint, it’s resistant.  The paint doesn’t flow smoothly on this paper, and you may be able to see the scratchy quality of the brushstrokes.  But the middle gray is perfect for bringing out the bold contrast between the black and white paint, and the vividness of the colors against the neutral ground.

Head End Reclining Figure, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Below is a similar pose, painted on the lighter gray paper that handles the wet media more smoothly.  Here I was able to abstract the strokes in a more deliberate way, especially in the face.

Dune, 2012, by Fred Hatt

I used the same paper for the one below.  I used a red crayon to sketch out the figure, then used white gouache and black watercolor to render highlights, edges, and shadows in a relatively realistic style.  The odd angle nevertheless gives this figure a mildly cubist aspect.

Sleeping Weightlifter, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Portraits are the most challenging mode of all, and I’ll conclude this post with four paintings of faces.  The first one is a quick watercolor sketch on bristol vellum, with rough, brushy color.

Knee Kiss, 2012, by Fred Hatt

This one’s on the brush-resistant medium gray paper.  I love the way the gouache-painted highlights look on this darker ground.  The paint becomes light itself.

Heavenward, 2012, by Fred Hatt

These last two are both painted on the lighter gray paper (though the photographs make the background color look quite different.  It’s a little too warm in the first one and definitely too cool in the second one).  I have to say I’ve always loved working on gray paper.  I can paint the highlights and the shadows, and let the paper provide the tones in between.

Mike in Profile, 2012, by Fred Hatt

The neutrality of the gray ground also has the effect of calming the mind.  For the purposes of drawing, it is a perfect nothingness.  White shines all over and all you can do is try to knock it down a bit.  Black always stays in the background, making anything that  is lighter than itself glow, but its main quality is to suck up and extinguish as much light as it can.  Gray is the synthesis of black and white.  It is serene and unassertive.  It glows, but gently.  It absorbs, but just a bit.  Gray contains all the colors, dark and light, somber and wild, in balance.  Put a red next to it, and you will see the coolness of the gray.  Put a blue next to it, and evoke gray’s warmth.  Gray possesses the underappreciated magic of moderation!

Alley, 2012, 2012, by Fred Hatt

Sizes of the works shown in this post are as follows:

On white paper:  19″ x 24″ (48.3 x 61 cm)

On black paper:  27.5″ x 19.75″ (50 x 70 cm)

On medium gray paper:  18.5″ x 24.5″ (47 x 62 cm)

On light gray paper:  18″ x 24″ (46 x 60 cm)


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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