DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Academic Figure Studies

Ali, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The term “figure study” seems calculated to evoke pedagogical sobriety absent any whiff of lasciviousness.  Even the word “figure” suggests cogitation rather than concupiscence.  Representational artists have long found contemplation and analysis of the human body to be both an invaluable skill-building practice and a source of inspiration, but in the imagination of the general public all artists are roués and their models are not simply “undraped” but downright nekkid.

Those who are actually familiar with the practice drawing from life know that a room full of artists focused on the model is often suffused with a meditative intensity more like the atmosphere of a monastery than that of a brothel.  For fifteen years I have served as the monitor (supervisor) of a three-hour weekly class at New York’s Spring Studio.  We do a set of quick poses to get the energy flowing for both model and artists, and then a single long pose for the rest of the session.  Minus the breaks, we have about two solid hours to study and draw a single pose.

I’ve featured many drawings from those sessions in various posts on this blog.  Sometimes I work on the portrait, other times I concern myself with the subtleties of color and light or the complexities of foreshortening.  In this post I’ll feature drawings from the Spring Studio long pose sessions that come as close as I ever come to the ideals of traditional academic figure drawing practice.

Betty, 2009, by Fred Hatt

The academic approach to figure drawing generally demands that the entire figure be scaled to fit the page.  Artists may use a variety of measuring aids, such as a plumb line or a viewing grid, and use special techniques to establish accurate relationships, often spending more time in measuring and mapping than they do in actually drawing.  Some artists who work this way attend the long pose classes at spring studio.  They usually use graphite sharpened to a needle-fine point and work very carefully.  They’ve often been schooled in the techniques taught by Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme, where students start their studies drawing from plaster casts of classical sculpture before graduating to the live figure.  Some of Bargue’s own drawings are particularly beautiful, and many other artists use these techniques to wonderful effect, although the danger always seems to be that the live model comes out in the drawings looking like a plaster cast.

Marilyn, 2009, by Fred Hatt

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll know that this traditional academic method is quite far from my way of working.  For me it would be painfully slow and timid.  I do some measuring when I’m drawing, but more for checking and correcting rather than initial construction.  As a self-taught artist, I prefer to work as quickly,  spontaneously, and boldly as possible.  It’s certainly not the appropriate way for everyone to draw, but for me it’s how I get the feeling of aliveness into the work.

James, 2010, by Fred Hatt

So these aren’t really “academic figure studies” at all.  They are, however, drawings in which I have striven to depict, as accurately as I can, the reality of the model on the posing stand.  This includes the individual characteristics of the models and the way their bodies rest on or around the various boxes and bits of furniture and fabric that make up the completely artificial environment in which they are placed for our observation.

Emma & Maria, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Two models posing together lets us see the body in relation to another body, with all its differences and similarities.  The models for the drawing above were a mother and daughter.

Jeremiah, 2010, by Fred Hatt

It is rare in the open drawing long pose sessions that we get to study the back.  The back is just as complex as the front of the torso, but its defining points are much more subtle and therefore more challenging to draw.

Claudia, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The drawing above is of Claudia, the great model-blogger behind Museworthy.

Elizabeth, 2010, by Fred Hatt

For the drawing above, I was sitting on one side of the model’s platform in Spring Studio’s horseshoe-shaped arrangement.  I’ve included a very rough representation of the other artists on the opposite side of the room.

Jiri, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Standing poses are often considered the simplest and most basic poses for drawing, because they generally lack foreshortening and tricky juxtapositions.  I find them challenging, though, first because the tall and narrow standing body doesn’t fit well within the moderate rectangle of the drawing paper.  I find it hard to make myself draw so small, and I have a tendency to make the head too big because it’s hard to get the needed detail in such a small area.

Jennie, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Seated and reclining poses come more naturally to me, but every pose presents its own special challenges.

Maria, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The boxes and fabrics and objects around the model become part of the composition, but they also create a set of geometrical relationships that can help the artist to analyze the scene and establish proportions.

Yisroel, 2011, by Fred Hatt

For me, the reason to understand the anatomical structure of the body is not to be able to alter the figure to more closely resemble an ideal, but to better appreciate the range of variations on every part of the form that makes each figure unique.

Jun, 2011, by Fred Hatt

On most of the drawings featured in this post I’ve remained fairly faithful to the actual background objects on the model’s platform, though I’ve often simplified them and altered the colors to please my own sense of composition and color harmony.

Kuan, 2011, by Fred Hatt

I’ll close with another dual-model pose.  These men are not related as were the mother and daughter seen in the other two-model drawing here, but they had a great rapport.  Both of them look like they belong in the 19th century!  The younger model is the same James seen in the fourth image in this post.

James & Tram, 2011, by Fred Hatt

All of these drawings are 18″ x 24″ or close to that size, aquarelle crayon on paper.  All were drawn at Spring Studio’s Monday morning long pose sessions.


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.


Movement Multiples

Space Between (Anna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In the late 1990’s, an important focus of my drawing practice was capturing the energy of moving figures through expressive line.  This week’s post is a selection of drawings from 1997 through 1999.  All of these feature multiple renderings of the same pose in different positions.  It was my attempt to introduce the dimension of time into the two-dimensional world of the sketch.

Nested (Ignacio), c.1998, by Fred Hatt

In the drawing above, the transition of the figure from upright to fetal forms a natural nested composition, with different colored lines used to keep the phases of the movement separate.  The drawing below is more like a stroboscopic sequence moving across the frame, reminiscent of this kind of photograph I remembered seeing as a kid.

Stage Cross (Arthur), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here’s a beautifully simple study of the movement of the spine:

Spinal Movement (Francisca), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In drawing from a model in motion, it is often impossible to capture the entire figure.  The composition below arises from the bony contours of ribs and arms, shoulderblades and collarbones:

Bony (Francisco), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

A model who is an expressive dancer can convey feeling even in quick movement sketches:

Emotion (Anna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here are two figures, with two phases each:

Turns (Heather), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here, the arm of the forward bending figure becomes the leg of the standing figure:

Unfolding (Caitlin), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Ink drawing with a brush has the spontaneity of dance:

Motion 4, c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here, the soft colors seem to be separating from the hard colors:

Stepping Out of Oneself (Miha), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

There are five fragmentary figures here, two drawn softly, in white, using the edge of the crayon, and three drawn crisply, in dark blue, using the point.  The differing techniques make the white and the blue drawings appear to be on different planes:

Circularity (Corinna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

The cool softness above is contrasted by the hot energy below:

Lunge (Claudia), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

At times, the overlapping lines of the figures cease being figures and become abstract patterns:

Grass (Anna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In drawing from moving models, I often focused on one part of the body.  Here, it is the movement of the legs:

Legwork (Joe), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

The simplicity of the ink drawing below makes it possible to see many forms, not just figures, suggested in the flowing brushstrokes.

Motion 3, c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

When the models movements suggest power and vigor, those qualities come through in the drawing:

Explode (Toby), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

A softer style of movement makes a softer drawing:

Shimmy (Nyonnoweh), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

The model for the next two drawings was a dancer whose movements all seemed to flow from a supple spine:

Spinal Flexure (Donna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Leap & Turn (Donna), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

In the one below, the model must have been holding the poses for at least a minute, as there are relatively complete figures, kept mostly separated on the page:

Angst (Joe), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Here two phases of the model’s changing states find expression in the drawing.  The face, like a placid moon, looks down upon the thrusting figures below it:

Serene Vigor (Julie), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

I believe the drawing below arose from a model moving very slowly.  As the upper body gradually changed position, I kept sketching the contours.  In this case slow movement produced a sketch with a lot of energy:

Twist and Reach (Lea), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

Many of these drawings look like they should be painted on the walls of a cave.  They have the roughness and vitality of stone age painting.

Stone (Claudia), c. 1998, by Fred Hatt

All of these drawings were done between the years, 1997 and 1999, mostly at the movement drawing sessions I used to run at Spring Studio in New York.  The color drawings are done with aquarelle crayons and sometimes ink, and are about 18″ x 24″.  Some of the ink drawings here may be as small as 10″ x 10″.  The digital images used in this post were made in the same era as the drawings, by photographing the drawings on 35mm film and scanning the prints, so they’re not quite up to the artwork photography standards I try to maintain today.

Note:  The “Claudia” that is credited as the model in two of the drawings in this post is not the same Claudia that many of my readers know as the blogger of Museworthy.

My portfolio site from this era is still online, and features a selection of movement drawings.

This week I’ll be teaching workshops and doing body painting and other fun things at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY.  I won’t have access to a computer, so forgive me if I don’t reply to your comments right away, or if the next post takes a little more than a week to appear here.


Face Plus Body

Filed under: Figure Drawing: Portraits — Tags: , , , , , — fred @ 20:32

Betty, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The portrait and the nude are generally considered distinct and separate genres within pictorial art.  The nude is rarely a depiction of a particular person; rather, it is usually generalized or idealized, used to depict eroticism or heroism, struggle or abjection, joy or disgust as universal phenomena.  The portrait is about conveying the essential character of an individual.  Historically, the line separating these subjects was rarely breached, except in the occasional portrait of a mistress. Alice Neel and Lucian Freud both made highly individualized depictions of nudes, but they’re outliers.  In contemporary art, the body is still nearly always de-individualized and even depersonalized, used as a symbol or provocation.

Piera, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The realistically observed portrait has been a staple of art since the Greeks and Romans, but of all the classic genres it has been the most challenged by the rise of photography and the most marginalized by the conceptual turn of contemporary art.  To me portraiture remains a compelling pursuit.  I believe a drawing or painting captures a subjective reality that photographs often miss, and the essence of a person is a rich and complex subject to tackle.

Jeremiah, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The nude portrait became one of my own primary genres simply because, many years ago, I was asked to be the monitor, or session supervisor, for a weekly three-hour nude pose at Spring Studio.  This isn’t the class I would have chosen to run, as I was more interested in quick poses and movement than in long poses and academic rendering.  Nevertheless, learning to sustain my focus and to develop drawings through a longer process was a great learning experience.

Aimi, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Minerva Durham, the proprietor of Spring Studio, favors models who have unique character, and that surely helps keep it interesting for the more advanced artists.  When you draw from life as a regular practice for years, after a time you struggle more with boredom and the rut than you do with form and proportion.  Drawing endless generic nudes could get a bit dry, but if you try to perceive and capture the specialness of each model, it remains much more interesting.

Sue, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The face and the body both show us something about the person’s character and life experience.  The face is the window to the soul but also the public mask of self-presentation.  In the body we see how the energy flows and rests.  The body also conveys a great deal about the subject’s attitude and way of relating to the world.

Kate, 2010, by Fred Hatt

Nude portraits are nearly impossible to sell in a gallery show.  People love these pictures, but no casual collector wants a recognizable picture of a nude individual hanging in their home – even if it is themselves.  People have often commissioned me to do nude portraits of them, and they love the resulting pictures but have difficulty deciding where – or if – they should hang them!  But since I have always supported myself by other work in order to keep my art free from the dictates of the marketplace, I don’t mind that the work is unsellable.

Christophe, 2010, by Fred Hatt

The division separating the nude from the portrait may exist because of market realities, rather than because of any deeper reason.  But the combination, the nude portrait, represents to me a reunification of the primal split in the human soul, our loss of connection with our physicality and our earthly nature.  Technology has allowed us to separate ourselves more and more from Nature, which is our origin and on which we are utterly dependent whether we realize it or not.  Only our own bodies can reassert this primal symbiosis.  A portrayal of face and body as one is a small statement of the unity of spirit and matter.

Amalia, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt

There”s a section on nude portraits, as well as one on head-only portraits, on my portfolio site.  Also, many of my previous blog posts have featured nude portraits.

Julio, 2010, by Fred Hatt

All portraits in this post were made in the last six months during the Monday morning long pose session I monitor at Spring Studio.  All are aquarelle crayon on paper.  Sizes range from 18″ x 24″ to 20″ x 28″.



Blacklight body art at a party at Collective Unconscious, NYC, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

I’m involved with several events over the next few days.  Click on “Calendar” for details.

Sunday the 14th:  Opening for Spring Studio 18th Anniversary Show, featuring hundreds of artists.  Spring Studio, NYC, starts 6:30.

Sunday the 14th:  Blacklight Body Painting Dance Party at St. George Healing Arts, Staten Island, 6 pm on, donation suggested.

Tuesday the 16th:  KAMI, live music by Gregory Reynolds and butoh dance by Mariko Endo with video and light by Fred Hatt, part of a multi-media program also featuring Ben Miller and Orin Buck, at the Gershwin Hotel, NYC, 8 pm, $10.

Monday the 22nd:  New choreography by Jung Woong Kim, featuring special light effects by Fred Hatt, at Movement Research at Judson Church, NYC, 8 pm, free.

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