DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Nudes with Projections

Nox, 1996, by Fred Hatt

Some readers have expressed an interest in seeing more of my early figurative drawings, and more of my more “finished” work, so here’s a post drawn from the early years of my intensive practice of life drawing.

In 1996 I had been practicing life drawing regularly at New York’s Spring Studio for two years.  Minerva Durham, the artist and teacher who founded the studio, asked me to be the monitor (overseer, proctor, invigilator) of a regular once-a-week three hour long pose figure drawing class.  I had to show up every week at the same time, whether I felt like it or not, and take responsibility for the smooth operation of the session.  There was no pay, but I got to draw for free.

I had been developing a technique of color drawing with crayons on dark-toned paper, trying to get much of the richness of painting with the speed and spontaneity of drawing.  For me, three hours was a long time, and  my greatest challenge was to sustain the focus for such a protracted period.  (I can hear the oil painters laughing!  The egg tempera painters just sigh disdainfully.)

Creating a satisfying composition within three hours soon proved to provide plenty of diversion for my short attention span.  Of course the study of the human body and how to render its form and expression is the first task, but if you spend the whole time on that you end up with a figure floating in a void.  In reality, the body exists in an environment, with gravity and light and spatial relationships.  The actual setting of the model in the studio, though, is cluttered and distracting.

I really had no interest in placing my models into fake nature, mythological forests or imaginary harems.  A more abstract treatment of the background seemed the most promising approach.

I had been attracted to drawing more than to painting partly because I was interested in the direct expressiveness of the artist’s marks.  In a painting, these marks tend to get blended and obscured, whereas in a drawing they remain more visible.  Of course, now that I was developing my figures over several hours, striving towards an illusion of reality, as my drawings were becoming more polished, the process of the drawing was becoming more obscured.  So it struck me that I could use the background to reveal some of the process of abstract analysis that the artist goes through on the way to even the most photographic rendering.

Web, 1996, by Fred Hatt

I always figure out a pose partly by tracing angular relationships between different parts.  There’s a line from the knee to the shoulder, a line from the left nipple to the navel and another from the nipple to the notch of the collarbone, and on and on.  Every landmark of the figure has an angular relationship to every other landmark.  In the figure above the original markings that were made in constructing the figure were darkened and extended, creating a web of relationships in which the figure is suspended.

Pensée, 1997, by Fred Hatt

That approach proved fruitful.  What began as a study of internal relationships vanished from the drawing of the body as its light, shadow and color was developed, but then reappeared in the space surrounding the body.  The internal structure manifested in its spatial container.

Gem, 1997, by Fred Hatt

Sometimes the lines were more delicately indicated by their points of intersection.

Filament, 1998, by Fred Hatt

I tried to show the body itself as close as possible to what I actually saw, and to use the surrounding space to show its hidden geometry.

Throne, 1998, by Fred Hatt

At times the treatment could be more subtle, suggesting not so much hard geometrical structure, but a field of energy.

Space, 1998, by Fred Hatt

The pose below has a particularly clear simple triangular structure, so the projected lines show the sub-triangles that give it facets.

Pyramid, 1998, by Fred Hatt

The body can be projected in curves rather than straight lines.  Shadows, furniture and objects, and folds of fabric also create a linear environment in which the figure is embedded.

Rings, 1998, by Fred Hatt

Miha, 1998, by Fred Hatt

The figure below was perched symmetrically on a stool.  I didn’t bother to draw the stool, but instead traced a stack of horizontal markers that define the proportions of this pose:  ankles, knees, hipbones, breasts, shoulders, eyes and ears.

Pagoda, 1998, by Fred Hatt

The angles of the figure imply a crystalline structure that defines the person’s energetic being in geometrical terms.

Start, 1998, by Fred Hatt

Every being is an organic manifestation of a web of relationships.

Ombre, 1998, by Fred Hatt

Action is structure.

Bagua, 1998, by Fred Hatt

The engagement of a person with their environment is an organic flow, at least as complex as the internal flow that sustains the life of the individual.

Oeil, 1998, by Fred Hatt

All of these drawings are aquarelle on paper, around 18″ x 24″ or a bit bigger.  More selections of my work from this period can be seen at the portfolio I put online in 2000, as well as in several posts on this blog.



Filed under: Figure Drawing: Process — Tags: , , , , , , — fred @ 00:23
Soft Angles 1 (detail), 2009, by Fred Hatt

Soft Angles 1 (detail), 2009, by Fred Hatt

Readers have told me they like posts that show my process, even though this means posting drawings I’d never exhibit.  I remember as a child seeing an art book that had a series of black-and-white photographs showing multiple stages of Henri Matisse’s reworking of a painting of a seated woman in a long dress.  This revealing of painting as a process had a lasting impact on my way of understanding art.  I wasn’t able to find this image sequence on the web, but if anyone knows where it is, leave a comment and I’ll insert the link here.

I’m the monitor (non-instructing artist in charge) of a long-pose figure drawing session every Monday morning at Minerva Durham’s legendary Spring Studio in New York.  We start with a set of ten two-minute quick poses to warm up, then the model takes a long pose for the rest of the session, twenty minutes at a time with breaks.  We have time for five and a half of these sets of the same pose.

I work quickly, so if I get off to a good start I can do a pretty developed piece during one of these sessions, like this example.  But sometimes my less-finished drawings are more lively and interesting, and I’m sure I’ve lost some good preliminary drawings by overworking them.  So sometimes I’ll do more than one drawing during the session.  I could try more than one viewing angle, or a portrait and a full figure, or I could vary the technique or the scale.  And sometimes I keep starting over because I’m having trouble getting it.  I have found that once you’ve gone too far down the wrong road it’s better to start fresh than to try to fix it.

The subject of the highly finished example linked in the paragraph above is Claudia, professional artist’s model and the blogger behind Museworthy.  She was our model Monday morning at Spring Studio last week, and so, between her blog and mine you’ll be able to see multiple aspects of that single drawing session.  My sketches from that session’s two-minute warm-up poses are on Museworthy here, and in another Museworthy post you can see  Jean Marcellino‘s lovely refined pencil drawing from the session.

I decided to do multiple drawings at this session, always from the same angle.  Claudia gave us a pose with a lot of interesting angles.  Here’s my sketch from the first twenty-minute set:

Soft Angles 1, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Soft Angles 1, 2009, by Fred Hatt

This sketch shows how I start out analyzing the pose and composing it on the paper.  I first sketched very loosely and lightly in white crayon.  You can see it was too far to the left to look balanced on the page, so I redrew the pose a bit further right.  I was figuring out the three triangular negative spaces (in orange), the bounding shape (in jade green), the convex forms and highlights (ovals and curves in white and yellow), the creases and deep shadows (blue), and the flow of muscle and bone forms.

After having studied all the visual aspects of the pose in the first set, I started again in the second set.  I scaled up a bit for a tighter composition and was able to depict the pose in cleaner, more economical lines:

Soft Angles 2, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Soft Angles 2, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Here there’s just a rough sketch in orange, with dark edges and the outlines of shadows done in dark blue, and bright edges and highlight centers in white.  This is the type of composition I generally prefer, with the body extending past the edges of the paper on all four sides.  This sketch would be a perfect basis for a highly finished full-color drawing, but perhaps this simpler stage of the work is more interesting as it is.

For the third twenty minute set, starting again, I scaled up even more, to larger-than-life, focusing on Claudia’s face:

Soft Angles 3, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Soft Angles 3, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Here I’m working out the three-dimensional structure of the face, looking at light and shadow to separate it into curved surfaces.  In this rough twenty minute form, it’s a bit exaggerated, like a caricature.  It looks slightly too angular, and makes her look older than she does in reality.  If I had worked further on this as a portrait it would have become softer and warmer, the expression less angry and more pensive.

After the third twenty minute set, we had a longer break, and then returned for two and a half more sets.  I started again, scaling back down to the full figure, and worked on the next one for two sets, or forty minutes:

Soft Angles 4, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Soft Angles 4, 2009, by Fred Hatt

I’ve returned to the analytical mode as at the beginning, extending the lines of the form to see how they intersect.  But here I’m developing the roundedness of the form and its relation to its background.  But is the head too big?  The legs too short?  The face is definitely not quite right.  It looks sad and angry, which is not really the feeling I’m getting.  At the last break I decide to start over once again, even though the final set will only be twelve minutes.  I’ve spent all this time looking at planes and angles, light and shadow, but so far I’ve failed to capture the feeling.  Maybe I’m finally warmed up.

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt

By this time I know the pose intimately.  Perhaps I can simplify my drawing, getting the essence, letting all the complexity fall away.  I stay away from the overpowering white crayons, using a cool blue and yellow-green for the highlights, and two reds for the dark edges.  Time’s up!  This experiment is concluded.



Filed under: Color,Figure Drawing: Process — Tags: , , , , , , — fred @ 23:36
Paul, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Paul, 2008, by Fred Hatt

“Grisaille” is one of the classic “old master” painting techniques.  Essentially, this means painting in black and white.  Color can then be added by using layers of transparent color washes over the monochrome underpainting.  The idea is that the white paint, reflecting through veils of color, gives a luminous effect that cannot be achieved by mixing opaque colored pigments.  It also frees the artist to focus on form and light and shadow and to perfect these aspects of the image before turning to color.

I’ve often worked as a projectionist.  Once I was showing a VHS videotape on a large screen through a video projector, and noticed that the image appeared to be a fairly sharp black and white picture overlaid with very loose veils of color.  A person’s face would have all the important details but the color was a sort of pink smudge that blurred beyond the boundaries of the head.  Technically, because color television technology evolved from and needed to remain compatible with black and white television, the video signal is a black and white (luminance) signal with a separate channel of color information (chroma).  Particularly in a consumer format like VHS, the resolution level of the color information is very low, so the color distinctions are literally soft and blurry, but the sharp luminance signal makes it look fine, at least on a small screen.  Enlargement via projection revealed the trick.

Color drawing is obviously different from oil painting or video technology, but understanding these things informed my color drawing technique.  I saw the power of white to project light and black to define form, and I saw that if the brightness values of the image are well defined, the application of color can be extremely loose without damaging that definition.  In fact, a loose hand with color seemed to have an invigorating effect on the drawings.

I see both values and color as perceptually relative phenomena.  By that I mean that what matters is not the correspondence of the colors or values to some objective scale, but how much brighter or darker, warmer or cooler an area is in relation to its surroundings.  Josef Albers’ classic Interaction of Color is the most thorough exploration of this relativity from an artist’s point of view.

The drawing above is essentially a grisaille sketch, using black and white crayons on gray paper, to which I have begun to add loose color, using only an orange and a blue to push different areas towards relative warmth or coolness.   This could be further refined by adding layers of loose color, which would work like transparent washes, to tint the grays.  Here the warm tones around the cheeks and nose and the cooler tones under the eyes may indicate variances in blood flow, but the warm tones above the eyes were probably seen because the major light source in those shadowy areas is reflection from the cheeks.

Here’s this process carried further, with multiple goings-over with scribblings of quite a few different colored crayons, and “washes” of overall color:

Keryn, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Keryn, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Shadows are always filled with complex reflected light.  Some of it is bouncing off another part of the body, some of it is coming from secondary light sources or reflecting off floors, walls, or other surfaces in the area.  It’s incredibly subtle, but again here the relativistic conception of value and color is helpful.

Leticia, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Leticia, 2008, by Fred Hatt

A more abstract approach to the technique, exaggerating the differences by leaving the colors more separated and “pure”, and virtually eliminating the overall wash effect, is perhaps even more effective.  Viewed from a distance, the coloration looks strikingly realistic, considering that no conventional “flesh tones” have been used in the drawing above.

These portrait examples are from three hour sessions, so there’s ample time to play with color, but sometimes I apply the same principles to quicker figure sketches.

Colin standing back, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Colin standing back, 2009, by Fred Hatt

On the one above the background colors are also a very loose indication of the model’s environment, as he was standing on a warm-toned wooden floor in a room with cool-toned windowlight illuminating the walls.

The next example essentially ignores the surface colors of the body and uses intensified hues to depict the variations in the light illuminating the form.  There is white windowlight from above and behind the body, cool fill in the upper shadows, and warm reflections from the floor beneath her.

Reclining Izaskun, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Reclining Izaskun, 2009, by Fred Hatt

All the drawings shown in this post are made with Caran d’Ache aquarelle crayons on gray Fabriano paper, 70cm x 50 cm.



Filed under: Figure Drawing: Process — Tags: , , , , , , — fred @ 20:37

Welcome to my new blog.  As an artist who works in diverse forms, I think this is the medium I’ve always needed.  Here I can mix drawings, photographs, video clips and writings, in a venue that’s expansive and broadly available.  I have over twenty years of archives to draw on.  Much of my work has been seen by a few people at an underground exhibit or performance somewhere, but I think some of it deserves a chance to be seen again.  And there’s a constant stream of new work from my persistent habits of drawing and photography.  If you like something you see here, bookmark this space and I promise there will be fresh material regularly.  And please help me build an audience by sharing what you see here with anyone who may appreciate it.

For my first post, a few new figure drawings.  I practice drawing from direct observation of live models as an ongoing regular practice.  It’s a meditation, an exploration, and a workout for eyes and hands.  These two back studies were made in a private session by commission in my studio a few weeks ago, with a model who wishes to remain anonymous.

Back Study #1: Convex

Back Study #1: Convex, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Back Study #2: Concave

Back Study #2: Concave, 2009, by Fred Hatt

They’re both drawn using my usual Caran d’Ache aquarelle crayons on black paper, 76 cm x 51 cm.  Both are straight-on studies of the back in symmetrical poses, using the same color palette.  Yet they’re strikingly different.  Convex uses shading and exaggeration of actual observed differences in the colors of light and shadow to depict the wonderfully complex and subtle structure of the human back.  Concave simplifies the depiction by just outlining the areas that light reveals in the model’s back.  It’s a technique often used in drawing quick gestural poses, when there’s no time to do shading.  The dividing line between light and shadow is treated as another contour, a simple line.  It’s a kind of indefinite anatomy, yet the sureness and clarity of the lines makes it something definite.  The different colors separate the resulting shapes, and like clouds or Rorschach blots, these outlined shapes  may evoke different images in the mind.

The idea my model and I were working with in the studio was to look at the difference between a rounded, closed pose, and an angular, open one.  There’s  a difference in mood, too, with Convex having, for me, a feeling of sadness, while Concave feels strong and confident.  The change in technique was an intuitive choice in the moment, responding to the differences in what I saw with a change of drawing technique.

Here’s another look at varying the technique in figure drawing.  I’m the monitor responsible for overseeing a weekly three-hour long-pose session at Minerva Durham’s legendary Spring Studio in New York.  It’s an open session where a mix of students and seasoned artists come to practice drawing from nude models.  In this particular session, we do one set of quick warmup poses, and then the model takes a single pose (with breaks every 20 minutes) for the remainder of the class.  I draw very quickly, and sometimes a long class has its pitfalls.  A drawing that starts out simple and strong can get lost in overdevelopment.  So last monday I made four different drawings during the session, all from the same model, in the same pose, and drawn from the same observational position.  Our model was the wonderful Betty.  All of these are 70 cm x 50 cm, aquarelle crayons on paper.  My first attempt was drawn mostly with the side of the crayons:

Betty 1a

Betty 1a, 2009, by Fred Hatt

This one captures an interesting combination of softness and strength, with perhaps a hint of sadness but also pride and confidence.  One of the other artists in the class said I shouldn’t do much more on this one, and I agreed, so I flipped it over and did another one on the back:

Betty 1b

Betty 1b, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Here I focused in close on the face, using only a combination of contour lines and cross-contour hatching.  This kind of drawing is like carving – it feels like cutting planes and angles into space.  This one was my favorite of the day, and I knew it would suffer from being worked any further, so I got another sheet of paper and started again:

Betty 2a

Betty 2a, 2009, by Fred Hatt

When I started this third one I fully intended to work it into a nice, finished full-color rendering.  The body was off to a good start, but the head was disproportionally large.  It’s very easy for that to happen, since the face has a lot more intricate details close together than other parts of the body and it’s hard to get them down in a small space.  I tried to fix it – you can see I used a gray crayon close to the paper color to cover over the top of the head and overdrew the upper part of the face smaller and lower than its original position.  But I can’t get away with that much correcting without ruining the clarity of the drawing, so I flipped this one over and started again.  By now the remaining class time was too short to do something really polished:

Betty 2b

Betty 2b, 2009, by Fred Hatt

So here I tried to expand the sculptural approach of the second try to a fuller head and torso view.

When I looked at these later, it struck me that they’re more interesting as a series than they are as individual pieces.  Because they’re not too finished they reveal a lot about how I analyze what I see, and the differences among them bring out the rough strengths of each.  It’s analagous to what a composer might do in a theme and variations, taking what may seem a simple melodic motif and turning it every which way and inside and out to reveal its glorious complexity.

If this stirs any response in you, please leave a comment!  Thanks.

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