Aime-Jules Dalou

drawing after Rodin's head of Aime-Jules Dalou oct 29 nga

I was drawing at the National Gallery of Art yesterday — practicing figurative drawing for the regular life class I attend — and made this drawing after Jules Dalou’s portrait of Alphonse Legros.  I suppose they had an idea about hair — as an expressive feature — that really gets exploited in 19th century art.  In Alphonse Legros’s own self-portrait (see below) he seems to have somewhat less dramatic hair than that with which Dalou portrays him.


While I was drawing the sculpture, I got very caught up in the features of Legros’s magnificent, fictional, lionesque mane.  My drawing is inside a 9 1/2 by 6 1/4 inch Stillman and Birn notebook.  I also made a slightly larger drawing on Strathmore drawing paper (not pictured).  And I’m eager to get back to the museum soon and make some more drawings after the sculpture — because — the hair!

Here’s a photo of the sculpture on NGA’s website — different angle — but it’s a link to an image that you can zoom into if you’re so inclined ….

At first I thought the bust was by Rodin because the room is full of Rodin sculptures of various sorts and sizes.  I had never heard of Dalou before, but now I learn that he was an amazing sculptor with a quite expansive, varied oeuvre.

And while looking for information about the National Gallery’s Rodins, I happened upon a fabulous Rodin drawing that NGA owns.  The link below also has a zoom feature.  So, I’m thinking about this kind of drawing too as inspiration for life class.  How freely Rodin approached the figure, but of course his freedom is built on tons of knowledge.  Here’s the link to the drawing:

So many things to see, so many things to draw, ain’t life grand?!


oct life class drawing

For the last three weeks I’ve been attending a life class that meets at the historic Arts Club.  As I get back into the habit of drawing from a model, I’m thinking about different ways to focus the experience.  Last session, though, I had no particular plan and I ended up drawing very fast, and it was a wonderful session.  The model was lit by a bright studio light in the front and by cool outdoor light in the back.  The outdoor light brightened as the session lengthened and I had the opportunity to observe some fabulous color effects.

I’ve approached each session so far a bit differently.  And that makes sense given the differences in the models and the set up.  But I think I’m developing a plan for what I want to achieve from life drawing.  So next session might be a little more structured — for me — in terms of what I draw, what materials I use, and so on.

New thing.  Always got to keep shaking loose the ideas.  Drawing the figure is utterly different from what I’m pursuing in my regular work, so the class offers a chance to change gears.

But last session was intense.  I just drew.  Not much thinking about it.  Indeed, for some reason I felt that I had to draw as fast as I can.  So it was a bit of a race.  And when it was over I was suitably tired!  That’s a great feeling.  I could tell that the model was getting tired as well.  When he was most tired, he got a fierce look on his face that was marvelous to behold which I tried to capture.  I think he was striving to hold still as his muscles were getting fatigued from the stillness.  And that strife in his face …!

Well, you can’t tire someone out on purpose so just take the images that the moment gives you and draw them as well as you can!

art diary

I was away


from my blog for a long time, and now that I’ve returned to writing fairly regularly, I am sometimes at a loss as to what my blog is supposed to be. Whatever intentions I had in the past, those are loose threads now. So I’ve decided that the blog might as well serve as a diary. It can remind a future me what things I was working on, and in roughly what order. It’s worth doing as an experiment. As it is public, it’s a spectator diary. Or a virtual studio where visitors drop by from time to time.

The last life class met on Tuesday. The model adopted the same pose as the session previous, though I changed my position slightly. The model had the most extraordinary cheekbones. I tried to capture their elusive subtlety but never quite managed. I am pleased overall, but still one owes Nature her due. Human beings are by their Creator marvelously fashioned.

101_8743 I drew relatively small (9 x 12 and 14 x 17 inch notebooks) using oil pastel.  Made a few preliminary drawings in pencil and charcoal pencil to get acquainted with the pose and his features.


I have already posted the main drawing from the previous session, but here it is again.

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yesterday’s life class

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It finally stopped raining.  We’ve had more rain in the last month here in the Washington area than I remember from EVER. The first rain is surpassingly lovely.  The 17th day of rain, on the other hand, can be a tad disappointing.

But the rain has stopped. Hurray! Nonetheless I do not find myself bounding with energy.  I decided to adopt a more laid back approach in the life class.  I am not abandoning larger than life sized, fauvist colored portrait heads forever but I might be finished with them for now.  I’m not sure.  In yesterday’s class, I made a smaller drawing.  It still involved having to draw the head larger than I see it, but the enlargement was much less dramatic and thus easier on the brain.  I also used local colors. I decided to phone it in.

It’s a life class so the poses are not really set up for portrait anyway, which made all my previous drawings that much more of a challenge. There’s challenge too, though, in the simple, straight-forward drawing, so my new approach to the model for probably the duration of the class will be more laid back. Draw whatever is there.  No straining for a certain viewpoint (I sat on the floor in one class session).  Just open my eyes, be grateful, draw.  That’s the plan.

More drawings of faces

I draw faces with a pen.101_8650 (2).jpg

It helps me get ready for the life class. I like scribbling and trying to create the face evocatively, pulling it out of the darks. I love making the dark areas using hatching lines. I love the deep blue of the bic cristal pen’s ink and the way that you can smudge it subtly with a paper towel.

Then there’s oil pastel. Drawing with oil pastel helps me even more directly, helps me think about how I’ll use color in the life class.  Copying the Victorian photos using fauvist colors provides practice thinking about color as a form of invention. And it’s nearer to what I  do in the life class where I’m using dry pastel as my tool. The pen drawing above and the oil pastels below are more inventions based on Julia Margaret Cameron’s Pre-Raphaelite photographs.


101_8652 (3)These oil pastels are small drawings, on Canson mi-teinte pages measuring 9 x 12 inches.


beginning of an idea

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The idea to draw larger than life size heads in pastel began with a drawing from memory in my notebook. I was impressed by a group of charcoal drawings made by students in a workshop and wondered to myself what it would be like to have color function in a pastel drawing the way that tonality was functioning in their charcoal drawings. I made a sketch from memory of their model based on someone’s drawing and kept the idea tucked away for the proverbial rainy day. Now I’m attending a life class once a week that I devote to my experiment.

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The parallel lines are the rules in a writing journal.  Thus the drawing above is very small. What’s visible above measures about 3 x 5 inches proving that you never know where some small thing will lead.


Today’s drawing from the model

model april 14 (3)

I’ve begun attending a life class for the first time in a long time.  I made two drawings, both larger than life size heads in fauvist colors on Canson mi-teintes. The drawing above was my second drawing of the day.  The only pastels I used were Rembrandt 30 count half sticks.

Here’s a close-up of the head.

model close up

Life Class

     In life class you have a model sitting there, someone who is alive!  It can be very personal.  You talk to fill in awkward silences.  Then as you draw, rather haltingly at first, strange event: you notice a soul.  In the ineluctable silence that reasserts itself, you watch someone’s self as it registers in the face, the hands, the posture, in a thousand small disguises.  Personality is a powerful thing.  It projects itself quietly but relentlessly.  You begin to notice, also, evidences of your own life passing quietly and slowly before you — like a movie playing in slow motion, this latter motion, this empathy needles and prods you and makes you squirm.  Watching someone, who is not doing anything at all, because you specifically ask her not to do anything at all, is most discomforting.

You feel scruples about the model’s comfort.  Is she getting tired?  Is this session too long?  Do we need a break?  And all this, only moments into the model’s pose.  Such scruples arise from the keen observation that feels like an assault on someone’s privacy.  And maybe it’s your own, the artist’s privacy, for which you fear!

Models are really wonderful people to put up with having you stare at them.   Doing a life class is the opposite of working from imagination, copying history’s motifs, or creating something from a photograph.  Drawing from life, you are allowed the most direct experience of portraying other people, unmediated by anything except your perception and skill, and your quickness at emotionally uncoiling and unsquirming.

But doesn’t the name conjure up other associations as well?  What would be the curriculum in a class on “life”?  What should we learn first?  With what insights will we graduate?  It seems to me that the artist’s occupation brings one very close to the discovery of life’s curriculum.  You can paint any subject.  You strive to discover and to reveal meaning.

What are some of the topics?  In the floral bouquet: botany.  In the nude: anatomy, psychology, passion.  In landscape: geology and topography.  In history painting: human drama and fate.  In the interior — in the scene that takes place in a room: the private life and decor. 

Animal pictures, cabinets of curiosity, insects, inanimate objects of still life, dress, fashion … the list is endless.  We can study the ant at our feet or the stars over our heads.  Or we can study the quiet self that sits placidly before our eyes, that makes an artist uneasy by the fact of her wonderful aliveness!

[Top of the post: Woman in white by Aletha Kuschan, oil on canvas]