One is to work smaller. I could do a drawing at a comfortable size (apparent size) from anywhere in the room. Go back to the easel, copying my own drawing (that I just made) make the actual pastel at the easel location, enlarging the drawing to whatever size I want, inventing color based on whatever view of the model I have at the easel (even though it’d be a different view). Down side is having to move back and forth between the two locations (which would be distracting for other participants). Up side: you’d have to rely heavily on memory and invention, good skills to develop.
Another option is working on smaller versions through the whole session, having less investment in a specific image. (No more larger than life size.) Spread out the risk, less stress. If one drawing turns out to be particularly good, you could enlarge it at home. You could, after you’ve done all you can in the pastel, also gather more information using another drawing that you make with pen in a notebook. Advantage is that you stay put.
Another option is that you can be all que sera about it. If you get the back of the model’s head, draw the back of the model’s head. Let Fate decide. Stay with the larger format, do everything you were doing before, accept whatever you see from your easel’s location. Fully accept the challenge of the uncertainty.
Or you could stand holding a notebook (no easel) and work in spaces between other participants’ easels using oil pastel (less messy than dry pastel). Down side: how much space is there, really, between easels?
Invest in one drawing — biggish, though maybe not larger than life size — or not very much larger. You could spend a lot of the time on the drawing as a whole. Working in vine charcoal to get the form right; then do pastel from that point forward. Would be a way of thinking about the large lines of the drawing (like certain Matisse drawings), using erasure as an effect. I’m sort of leaning toward this choice. Thinking of Diebenkorn’s riff on Ingres. However, this option assumes you have a good pose.
Also, giving more attention to drawing (at the outset) means being less spontaneous than what I was being before. The recklessness prompted me to make bolder use of pastel as a medium, but maybe it’s time to move toward getting a core for the motif. Less about color, more about line.
(Paintings from life classes long ago.)
What to do, what to do ….
UPDATE: just saw this on twitter and am thinking now that if I put my own background behind the model (imaginatively) it matters less what the pose is. So there’s another possibility.
once a week drawing heads larger than life size using bright invented colors. Each week the drawings seem radically different from ones I made in the class before, from which I conclude that I succeed in their being “experimental.” But I had more motive than just trying something new. I had a specific idea that prompted the whole thing. It was an idea about a color.
Remembering what prompted me to attempt this experiment, I realize that I haven’t used that color yet. I haven’t actually done what I thought would be the good thing to do.
It began because I was looking at someone else’s drawing, a drawing made in a life class, it was larger than life size and was conceived tonally. The lighting of the model was strongly directional and each student’s drawing had a cast shadow that fell from the model’s chin. A row of these drawings was visible from where I stood, each with the same cast shadow. Looking at one of the drawings, the thought popped into my head, “what if instead of a dark shadow, there was a shape that was a beautiful brilliant light violet color.” I’ve written about my project before HERE.
I know I’ve been affected by my fondness for works by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Richard Diebenkorn and by the late works of Edgar Degas. In front of the actual model, one feels a tug toward realism — a kind of demand that you get the drawing right, obtain a likeness. I’ve been very free with color, but I feel this conflict about drawing and am never sure what I really want from the session. The artists I’m emulating were in each of their different ways, though, very free about the image. The most notable would be Matisse’s La Raie Verte.
The colors are completely invented. The drawing is very sparse and bold. And yet one gets the feeling that the identity of the sitter is present. I don’t want to paint my drawings in pastel like Matisse, but I am striving to get at a similar freedom. And it’s not that I want to paint in a fauvist way, but merely that I want to see where something leads. I want to understand this impulse from the inside.
When Richard Diebenkorn experimented with a similar idea (above and below), he did so quite literally, using the bold lines, summary drawing, exaggeration of drawing and exaggeration of color just as Matisse had used before him.
The arbitrariness or expressiveness doesn’t just arise from “modern art,” however. Degas used color, light, and paint texture very expressively in fairly early works. It’s a trend that always ran like a current in his art, sometimes classicist, but sometimes romantic.
In Degas’s late works the treatment of the figure both in terms of drawing and color becomes very rough and exaggerated. I particularly love his late pastels for their rugged beauty.
In the life class, I feel a tension also because the other people drawing are for the most part seeking realism. I’m the outlier. I’ve done realist drawing.
Yesterday however my drawing was very far from realist. I was not attempting to make it exaggerated in form, and the challenges of the particular pose were considerable: I draw the face much larger than life size so I am making decisions about proportion continually. The model is not always easy for me to see, and during several poses I’m having to look up at the model so that the pose is foreshortened. Sometimes I can’t get back from my drawing and with my nose to the paper I’m actually looking at my drawing from a foreshortened view, having to look up to see the top and down to see the bottom. Yesterday’s drawing was definitely not what I wanted. But there’s no experiment if you’re unwilling to make something that you didn’t exactly intend. The experiment lies in the not knowing the outcome, when deliberation and happenstance meet.
It’s strange that the exaggeration that I love in the works of my heroes makes me a little uncomfortable in my own painting. I’m not sure what the discomfort means.
Do I want a greater simplicity such as one finds in Bonnard (left) and Diebenkorn (right)? Bonnard’s works evidently sometimes had very chaotic beginnings and we know also that they had quite amorphous and complicated conclusions.
I have been mulling over my experiences in the life class trying to figure out what’s the best way to go forward during the remaining sessions. I have collected some images from the internet of things to draw at home to “practice” and am thinking about doing my next in class session by drawing the model at a smaller scale and then perhaps making the larger than life size pastel from my initial drawing (enlarging it) rather than directly from the model — or letting the first drawing be a quick rehearsal for the pose.
I just don’t know what I’ll do, what I “should” do, or even quite what it is that I seek as yet because it’s all part of this experiment. As chance would have it, however, I did not use a violet shadow in any of the drawings I’ve made so far. The color violet was the idea that prompted the entire project. I’m thinking that at the very least I should obtain a stick of the violet color I need and have it on hand next time to carry through that part of the idea.
Richard Diebenkorn, were he still living, would be about my mom’s age. So he was a grown up painter when I was this size. He’s like an art Dad to me. (Matisse and Bonnard are my grandparents.) I wanted to paint something that was thoroughly my own, yet Diebenkorn-like. A wonderful large Diebenkorn of a Seated Figure Wearing a Hat was on display at the National Gallery of Art around the time I made my picture. The textures are very different — his and mine — but something of the brushy Diebenkorn surfaces comes to life in its own way in my picture too.
My painting is a self portrait. It depicts a larger than life-size, two year old me, clinging to her doll which “me” is afraid of losing to some other children. To get this image, I used a little square format, black and white photo dating from Post-Cambrian times. It’s a striking picture (if I’m allowed to say so myself). It’s a very modern sort of thing to shake up just the right kind of bright decor.
And I need to find it a home. It’s kind of an orphan! [Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 56 inches, by Aletha Kuschan]
Got a hero? I do. Lots of them. Richard Diebenkorn, the great 20th century American painter of life and abstraction, is one of them. I went through a whole phase of studying Diebenkorn’s painting about eight years ago. I poured over every book I could find and visited as many Diebenkorn paintings in collections as possible. Thanks to new motherhood, I had missed a huge Diebenkorn show in Washington. That’s okay. I’m happy with the kid. But perhaps to make up for the missed opportunity, I studied him in this other, vicarious way.
While my baby daughter was asleep, on a few nights when I was not, I rolled out large sheets of paper on the floor and made my own big abstractions using kids’ tempera paints! I was just like Richard Dreyfuss with the mashed potatoes (mentioned a few posts back)! What a lovely obsession it was to feel this thrill of the pure beauty of paint itself and the aching search for forms that are untied from things and thingness.
The painting above, however, comes from Diebenkorn’s figurative phase in the 1950s and early 60s. It shows a limp girl who seems to be feeling somewhat like I felt (after a night of tempera painting while baby slept).
[Designers take note: I make copies! Commission me to copy a Diebenkorn. I’d love it. Just like Rubens, I still make copies.]