DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


A Trio of Birthdays

Still from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”, 1968, directed by Stanley Kubrick

1. This week, on March 15, Drawing Life turns three years old.

2. Minerva Durham’s Spring Studio, New York’s busy basement of figure drawing and one of the forges of my creative life, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this month.

3. On the 12th, my brother Frank Hatt is celebrating another one of those decade birthdays.

Please indulge me as I share a few images and video clips to trumpet this triumvirate of things that matter to me.  (Note to email subscribers: embedded video and audio clips don’t work on the email versions of posts, so you’ll need to click the links or visit the blog on the web to see the things I’m talking about.)

Honestly, each of these three anniversaries merits its own post.  I’ll blame my jamming them together on cosmic conjunction.

Let’s start with Frank.  Long-time readers of Drawing Life may recall seeing some videos I made that featured Frank: “Subway Sax“, “The Silo“, and “Glossolalia + Katharsis“, all from twenty or more years ago.  Well, Frank’s still around, and still plays a sweet alto saxophone.  In January of this year, we filmed some of his improvisations on an animal farm/petting zoo in the Catskills – thanks to my great friend Alex for taking us to this beautiful place.

“Sax Stream” – saxophone solo by Frank Hatt, video by Fred Hatt

Frank has long been fascinated with “extended vocal techniques” such as overtone singing and vocalizing on the inbreath, both of which you’ll see in the clip below, as well as toy instruments and noisemakers.  Frank’s approach is playful, often frenetic, sometimes downright wacky.  Here his voice blends with those of chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, and emus.

“Down on the Farm” – vocals and noisemakers by Frank Hatt, video by Fred Hatt

Maybe the best moment we got where Frank really seems to be vocally interacting with the birds is this brief improvisation on sax mouthpiece, without the rest of the instrument.  This one is presented as an audio-only file, as the visuals didn’t add much.


In the 1990’s I was mostly known for body painting, and Minerva thought body painting would be an effective way to demonstrate anatomy, so I shared a few pointers on materials and techniques, and Minerva took off with it.  Here she is painting the muscular system on the renowned dancer, model, and choreographer Arthur Aviles, a former dancer in the Bill T. Jones company and one of the founders of the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD).

Minerva Durham paints muscles on Arthur Aviles at Spring Studio, 1998, photo by Fred Hatt

Spring Studio also hosts art exhibitions, and I had a show there in 1998.  At the opening I did a couple of body art performances, including a blacklight body painting performance with Sue Doe, with whom I’d developed a nightclub act that we were then presenting regularly at the Blue Angel Cabaret.  Here’s a condensed version of that performance.

Art Underground from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

This month, the walls of Spring Studio are filled with hundreds of drawings and paintings made in the studio by the many artists that pursue their practice there.  I love Spring Studio’s annual anniversary exhibitions, which reveal the incredible diversity of styles and approaches that flourish in such an environment.  The work of seasoned professional artists is hung cheek-by-jowl with the work of beginners, and somehow the juxtaposition makes both look better!  This kind of show also highlights the talents of Spring Studio’s great models, especially when you notice multiple artists’ interpretations of the same pose.

Next Sunday, March 18, starting at 6:30, Spring Studio will host an anniversary party with performances.  Here are the details:

Andrew Bolotowsky, flute,  and Mary Hurlbut, voice, Leon Axel’s compositions for flute and voice, 6:30 pm

We will paint muscles on Arthur Aviles, 7:00 with a backdrop of Andrew Bolotowsky’s flute, then Aviles will dance.

Dance, 8:00 pm: Kuan, Leticia and Esteban, Jason Durivou, Linda Diamond, Raj Kapoor, Nepali folk tune with Sherry Onna, and Anna Schrage painting a canvas to music played by Godfrey Daniel. Open MikeElizabeth Hellman, Flo Reines,  Nina Kovolenko, George Spencer, Susie Amato, Trevor Todd, Others. 

I’ll note that Kuan’s dance will be based on some of the poses she’s developed for modeling at Spring Studio, and that she’s using my drawings of her as choreographic source material, so I’m excited to see that.  You’ll notice too that Minerva is still painting on Arthur, and Arthur’s an incredible performer, not to be missed.  So if you’re in NYC next weekend, it would be a pretty interesting time to check out the studio!

[Late addition to this post, now that Spring Studio’s 20th Anniversary Party is past – a video I shot of Kuan’s dance based on her poses from Spring Studio:]

All right, so now I’ve gone on and on and bombarded you with pictures and videos and information about Frank Hatt and Spring Studio, and this post is also serving as Drawing Life‘s anniversary post.  In the first and second year anniversary posts, I highlighted the top articles, the ones that got the most page views.  This time, I’d like to thank my most regular commenters.  I know from the site stats that quite a few people alight upon these pages every day, but most probably don’t read much of what I write.  I’m sure there are some who read these posts regularly, but don’t comment.  There are also those who comment only by email or on Facebook.  I appreciate all of that, but I have a special affection for those who follow Drawing Life and join in the conversation with thoughtful responses, right here on the site.  Thank you, star commenters!

Jennifer, from the UK, a devoted student of figurative art

Andrew, author of the highly recommended “Art Model’s Handbook”

Jim in Alaska, always has great observations or reminiscences

Claudia (Museworthy blogger and star model)

Daniel Maidman (fellow blogger and master painter)

David Finkelstein (experimental filmmaker and performer)

I love you all, and the less frequent commenters as well.  Feedback is good, and when my writing threatens to dissolve into pompous monologue, you save it by making it a conversation!


Liquid Light

Filed under: Body Art,My Past Events — Tags: , , — fred @ 23:06

Flowcoat, 1997, with Sue Doe, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

In the ’90’s I was known for a blacklight body painting act I developed with a dancer and performance artist called Sue Doe.  It was a sort of Pollockian erotic ritual of pouring, smearing, hurling, and squirting fluorescent paints.  Glowing colors would drip over contrasting hues in an ever-changing visual explosion, choreographed to music.  Our performance was featured on HBO’s magazine show “Real Sex“, as part of a segment about the neo-burlesque Blue Angel Cabaret of New York.  Occasionally I still run into people who remember seeing us on TV.  Click here to see excerpts from a version of this performance we did at one of my art openings.

So we got a bit of low-level fame out of our act, but it was a little too wild and messy for the mainstream stage and we never made much money from it.  Eventually Sue moved out of town.  For several years I was known as the blacklight body paint guy and got gigs at parties, nightclubs, and promotional events, painting models or painting on the people attending the party, before I too tired of the nightclub life – dealing with drunks and taking the Subway home at 3:00 in the morning deafened and crusted in paint.  This post is a look back at some of the photos that survive from that episode of my career.  Some of the painting was done in challenging conditions, but I’ve refrained from retouching the pictures to make the painting look slicker than it did in reality.  In no particular order, here we go:

Vortex, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Not all my blacklight body art was of the splash and smear variety.  Often my painting was inspired by my intuitive sense of energy patterns within the body.  In this approach, I have no preconceived design, but just let the brush follow the form and the feel.  The result is a spontaneous image of the body electric.


Mamma, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

A blacklight is a light source that emits mostly wavelengths too short for the human eye to see.  It’s like a visual dog whistle – the frequency is outside our range.  You might see a dull violet glow, but otherwise it’s pretty dark.  Fluorescent pigments, the kind used in blacklight paints, are made from naturally occurring minerals that have a special property: when stimulated by light of any wavelength, they emit light of their own characteristic wavelength.  Returning to our audio metaphor, imagine the dog whistle causing a string to vibrate a note lower down on the scale.

Fluorescent blacklight-activated pigments are also commonly known as DayGlo colors (actually a brand name), since even in daylight they glow in their own hues more brightly than any ordinary reflective material could.  Under powerful blacklights, the paint is as bright as neon.

Poesia, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Blacklights and Dayglo paints became very popular in the psychedelic ’60’s, and the effects tend to evoke memories of acid-rock discotheques, scary carnival rides, and vintage science fiction.

Brain, 2010, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Priestess of Horus, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The paints behave quite differently than regular paints.  The range of colors is limited, and there’s no white.  Whatever doesn’t fluoresce, including bare skin, becomes a dark background for the paint.

The image below, and two others later in this post, are from an event with performance artist Amy Shapiro, from Neke Carson’s performance series in the back room at the Gershwin Hotel.

Amazon, 2002, with Amy Shapiro, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Here’s an odd effect, below.  The sensor on this early digital camera was actually sensitive to light in the blacklight range, but the lens focused those wavelengths on a different plane than the visible light.  Thus the paint appears in focus, while the face underlying it appears out of focus.  I find that a beautiful accident.

Mask, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Tetrapod, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Authentic Person, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

For the slathering performances I used cheap poster paint.  It looks great but dries crusty.  Cosmetic body paint is a lot more comfortable to wear on the skin.  Even in the cosmetic paint, the fluorescent pigments tend to be a bit clumpy.  I tried to make the most of this peculiar texture in the painting.

Scarab, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Under mixed lighting, the paint still glows effectively as long as the visible light doesn’t completely overwhelm the blacklight, though the black background effect on the skin is lost.

Channel, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Orange is probably the most intense of all the fluorescent colors.  It looks positively fiery.

Flame Tree, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Below, an unpainted strip up the spine creates a dark shape.  The dancer’s sinuous moves turn this negative space into a snaky object moving against a bright background.

Governing Vessel, 2002, with Amy Shapiro, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Couple, 2003, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

A camera light meter is useless in figuring out the proper exposure for blacklight effects.  In the film photography era, you pretty much had to take a guess.  The photo below, taken during a performance, is a long enough exposure to give motion blur.

Gesture, 1998, bodypainting performance by Sue Doe and Fred Hatt, photographer unknown

The painting here almost obliterates the surface texture of the body.  It looks like a black velvet painting by a hypercaffeinated expresssionist.

Impasto, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Lightning Crouch, 1998, bodypainting performance by Sue Doe and Fred Hatt, photographer unknown

This one’s a good example of the neon sign effect.

Look Out, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Below, the shape of the lower back of a seated model becomes a kind of vase out of which a phoenix rises.

Phoenix Vessel, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Sometimes I imagine that if we could see hidden dimensions, bodies would look like this for real – bodies of light.

Power Plant, 2002, with Amy Shapiro, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt


The Patterned Body

Filed under: Body Art — Tags: , , — fred @ 23:23

Exoskeleton, 1997, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The human body is magnificent in its structure but fairly bland in coloration.  It comes in a range of tones that can be roughly approximated by various ratios of coffee to cream.  We admire the spots of the cheetah, the tiling of the giraffe, the patchwork of the calico cat, the bold colors of the mandrill, and the psychedelic riot of tropical birds, fish and lizards.  One thing you can say about human nature is that we can’t just leave things as they are.  We like colorful, so we shall have colorful.  Thus tattooing, body painting and other ways of adding pattern and color to the body are among the earliest and most universal of the arts.

For a long time I’ve been using body paint as a way of exploring the body, its structure and its energy.  This post features paintings that have the approach of patterning the body.  Sometimes, as in the picture above, I simply stylize the underlying anatomical structures.

One of the most basic characteristics of nearly all vertebrate body structures is bilateral symmetry, so the most basic division of the body is its center line.  Below, I’ve made the right half of the body red, and the left half blue.

Bicameral Body, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The painting below was made for a performance at Spring Studio by dancer Arthur Aviles.  The preparation time was limited, so I simply made a single black line that meandered around the whole body, then painted the area on one side of the body yellow and on the other side blue, with two smaller areas, one on at the heart and another on the head, outlined and filled in in red.  Combined with Arthur’s movement, this simple improvised patterning produced visual shapes in motion that were different from the body structures we’re used to seeing.

Earthman, 1997, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The four-color map theorem is a proven mathematical idea that “given any separation of a plane into contiguous regions, no more than four colors are required to color the regions so that no two adjacent regions have the same color”.  Patterning the body can be about dividing it into regions of differing colors, a “body map”.  The body map above is essentially just two regions, a yellow and a blue region, each of which has a single red island.  The body map below is divided into a symmetrical pattern of regions using three colors, orange, green, and blue.

Faceted, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

In the painting below, there are are shapes of four colors, red, yellow, blue, and white, against a green background or base color.

Ghost Shreds, 2003, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

This kind of basic patterning, by tracing a wandering path over the surface of the body, then dividing it into different color regions, can be elaborated with a few simple additional strokes into a full-fledged abstract composition.

Modern Jazz, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The shapes and strokes are always determined by the three dimensional contours of the body.  The brush hand is always sensitive to both the energy and the physical structure of the living body that is the ground of the painting.

Lower Extremities, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The underlying structures of energy and anatomy are so beautiful and so complex that any painting can only capture a very simplified response to this rich source material.

Ankh, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Serpentine, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The remaining patterned body paintings in this post are presented with two photos per painting, showing how different poses reveal different aspects of these paintings as body explorations.  This is part of the magic of body painting, that it is made in response to the living energy in the body and is then transformed and brought to life by the movement of that body.

Motley, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Motley, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The patterns in the painting below are created by placing a hand on the body and painting around the fingers, like how kids are taught to draw a turkey based on a tracing of the hand, but with a more abstract impulse.

Clawmarked, 2009, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Clawmarked, 2009, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

This painting has a red-orange serpentine shape as its center, with lava-lamp shapes around it in various colors.

Vermilion River Map, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Vermilion River Map, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

In the painting below, there’s a white outline form filled in in various soft iridescent tones.

Cloisonné, 2009, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Cloisonné, 2009, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

This one’s done with fluorescent paints and photographed under blacklight.  The pattern is dense and fragmented.

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Here’s another swirly patterning in green and blue against a white base, creating a feeling of energy coursing through the body.

Revelry, 2009, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Revelry, 2009, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

I did the painting and the photography on all the images in this post.  I’ve done no digital retouching to the painting – bodies sweat and move and rub against themselves, so body paint tends to smear, and where that’s happened I have not fixed it.

Previous body painting posts include “Textural Bodypaint“, and “Fire in the Belly“, “Personal Painting“, “Dorsal Emblems“, and portfolios here and here.


Blog Birthday

Filed under: Blogaversary Posts — Tags: , , , , , — fred @ 13:50

Two Candles, 1982, painting by Gerhard Richter

Today, March 15, 2011, marks the second anniversary of the launching of Drawing Life.  I’ll celebrate the occasion with the above image from the German painter Gerhard Richter, a fearless artist who sees no contradiction in pursuing both pure abstraction and photorealism, as well as some of the territory in between.

More fresh content is coming to this blog soon, I promise, but for today we’ll take a look back.

On the first anniversary a year ago I posted a Top Ten Countdown, featuring sample images and quotes from the most-read (or at least most-clicked-on – you can’t tell if people actually read them!) posts of the first year of Drawing Life.  This year’s countdown list, starting at #10 and ascending to first place, is as follows:

10: Body Electric:  Walt Whitman

Old man, seven photographs, c. 1885, photo by Thomas Eakins

9:  Textural Bodypaint

Marbled Belly, 1991, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

8:  Personal Painting

Green Moth, 2009, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

7:  Fire in the Belly

Bright Seed, 2000, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

6:  Reclining, Not Boring

Supine Arched (Madelyn), 2010, by Fred Hatt

5:  Pregnant Pose

SG and child pencil sketch 03, 2008, by Fred Hatt

4:  End-On:  Extreme Foreshortening

Strata, 2002, by Fred Hatt

3:  Womb of Art:  Paleolithic Masterpieces

Small paleolithic figurines, from left to right, vitreous rock from the Riviera, hematite from Moravia, mammoth ivory from Ukraine, and mammoth bone from Russia, figs. 121 thru 124 from The Way of the Animal Powers, by Joseph Campbell

2:  Drawing as Theater / Presence as Provocation:  Kentridge and Abramovic at MoMA

Drawing for II Sole 24 Ore (World Walking), 2007; Charcoal, gouache, pastel, and colored pencil on paper, Marian Goodman Gallery

William Kentridge, Drawing for II Sole 24 Ore (World Walking), 2007; Charcoal, gouache, pastel, and colored pencil on paper, Marian Goodman Gallery

1:  Rhythmic Line

Lounging Ryan, 2008, by Fred Hatt

(You’ll notice that two posts, “Pregnant Pose” and “Fire in the Belly” appear in both this year’s and last year’s lists.)

It’s clear that the main determinants of high placement are 1) links from external sites, and 2) correspondence with popular search terms.  Perhaps re-promoting the posts that already get lots of hits is kind of pointless, like policies that help make the rich richer, but I’ve already done it, so I’ll just supplement it with a little affirmative action – a list of neglected posts, way down near the bottom of the rankings, that I still think might be worthy of your attention.

13 Ways:  Wallace Stevens

My suite of paintings illustrating Wallace Stevens’ classic poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”.  I painted this series in 1982, as a young artist just beginning to try to find an adult style.

Blackbird XII, 1982, by Fred Hatt

Light and Stone

Experiments in lighting, using as a model a stone sculpture by Thomas W. Brown.  I learned about lighting as a film student, but an understanding of how light behaves and interacts with objects is a deep subject of study for any kind of visual artist.  This post doesn’t go into all the complexities of light, but it seeks to show how changing the angle of light transforms how we see an object.

Thomas W. Brown, Alabaster, 2004, photo by Fred Hatt, 2009, merge channels version

New Heads and Empathic Portraits

Two posts featuring my portrait work, including some of my favorite drawings.

Esteban, 2009, by Fred Hatt

Shadows and 3D or Not 3D

Two posts featuring my shadow-screen performance videos.  The key to my drawing and painting is its focus on energy and movement.  Here you’ll find me working directly with movement.

Still from "Convergence", 2010, video by Fred Hatt

I hope maybe these examples will persuade a few of my readers to go spelunking in the archives!  Happy birthday, Drawing Life – and readers, stay tuned for more images and ideas to come!  Thanks for reading, commenting, linking, sharing, “liking”, tweeting, and/or subscribing to the email feed.


Fan Brush

Fan Brushes, 2011, photo by Fred Hatt

These brushes, with their bristles splayed out in the shape of an unfurled hand fan, are used by both makeup artists and oil painters.  With makeup, they’re often used to blend powders and eyeshadows, or to gently remove fallen eye shadow from the cheeks.  Oil painters generally use them dry, flicking them crosswise across still-workable paint to obscure visible brush marks or to blend tonal transitions to perfect smoothness.  Some also use them to apply paint, especially to simulate textures like hair or grass.  Bob Ross, the happy host of the 1980’s “Joy of Painting” TV shows, was a fan-brush enthusiast, using it for many landscape effects such as trees and clouds.  I always hated his painting style, but Bob Ross probably provided my first exposure to this versatile tool.

I’m not an oil painter and am temperamentally opposed to blending.  I generally use fan brushes not to make things smoother or less brush-strokey, but to make them rougher and more brush-strokey.  I like using them with sumi ink, straight up.

Silvana Dance, 2000, by Fred Hatt

Changing the angle at which the brush contacts the paper makes a thinner or thicker mark.  Applying one edge to the paper gives a thin but bold line.  Turning the brush flat to the paper causes the bristles to spread out and lay down thin parallel strokes over the width of the brush.  These lines are particularly delicate when the brush is fairly dry.  I’ve done a lot of drawing from observations of moving dancers.  The fan brush gives a feeling of movement, and also can fill in shadow areas or create a feeling of the volume of a body with very simple, spontaneous strokes.

Des, 1999, by Fred Hatt

Ground, 2006, by Fred Hatt

Open and Coil, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Ceremony, 2006, by Fred Hatt

The fan brush works this way with any kind of ink, including colored inks.

Invoking, 2006, by Fred Hatt

It’s a very quick way to make cross-contours, giving volume to a line-drawn figure.

Crouch, 2009, by Fred Hatt

For more traditional observational drawing, the fan brush is not an easy tool to master, but I like to challenge myself sometimes.  It’s like trying to eat soup with a fork.  I’m pretty sure both of the sketches below were drawn using the fan brush only.  The edges are drawn with the corner of the brush, and the shading, hair, etc. are done with the flat.

Standing, 2008, by Fred Hatt

Ryan, 2008, by Fred Hatt

I like to use the fan brush with body paint, too.  It can quickly depict flowing textures such as flames or feathers.

Blue Heron, 2004, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

The swirly parallel strokes of the fan brush suggest the energy within the body.

Blue Raynn, 2004, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Fiery Back and Hand, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Fire Heart, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

That last one is a detail of the body painting featured at the top of the post “Fire in the Belly“.  Now that I’ve shown you what to look for, you’ll probably be able to spot the tell-tale stripes of the fan brush elsewhere among my body paintings and ink brush drawings, on this blog or at my portfolio site.

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