hanging out with Paul Cezanne

after Cezanne 2

I went visiting yesterday to see my old friend Cezanne at the National Gallery of Art where an exhibit of his portraits is on display through July 1st.  I took my Caran d’Ache neopastels and made a couple drawings in front of portraits of his wife Hortense.

What an education!  How I could stand there all day and gaze at the delicate colors of his paintings.  Or, how I aspire to standing all day admiring his art.  Standing with the box of pastels tucked under my drawing tablet makes one a bit weary, but I must build up my stamina because the pictures are absolutely glorious.

Below is the wikipedia reproduction of one of the paintings I saw yesterday.

 

my old haunt

rodin after NGA sculpture feb 18

Been busy this week cleaning and organizing my studio — and getting ready for an even bigger cleaning event — the BIG SPRING CLEAN!  So not so much painting in the last few days.

However I did go to the National Gallery of Art yesterday for a few hours and while I was there I made this drawing after a Rodin sculpture.

Spent some time looking at still lifes too in anticipation of my switch from landscape to still life which is coming, coming — soon!  Every time I am out where cut flowers are for sale I am thinking also about still life.  Soon, soon!

Here’s what I was looking at:

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Intense

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!

Teaching drawing at MPA soon!

MPA refers to the McLean Project for the Arts in McLean, Virginia, and I’ll be teaching drawing there during the winter session.  Here’s some of the things that class participants can look forward to doing.

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Continuing Drawing
For both beginning and continuing students seeking to improve their skills. Hone your drawing and observational skills in this dynamic class as you draw from life and subjects of your choice. Gesture, line, proportion, mass, volume, value, tone, perspective, and shading will be covered. This class will provide a strong foundation for any level. Optional prerequisite: I’ve Never Held a Pencil: Drawing for Beginners.
Instructor: Aletha Kuschan
9 lessons @ 2 hrs, $260/235 MCC district residents
6607.317         Tu, 1/17-3/14              4:30 – 6:30 p.m.
The class features a systematic and fun introduction to many, varied ways of making drawings.  We’ll draw things from life.  We’ll draw things from memory and imagination.  We’ll make quick adventurous, exploratory sketches and we’ll do sustained and probing drawings of things.  We’ll create tableaus of objects to discover the theatrical side of art.  We’ll look for ways to reduce inhibitions about trying new things, and we’ll talk about how artists get new ideas for their art — both technically and narratively.  This class is the big buffet table of drawing, and I guarantee it will be a lot of fun.  Beginning artists will dive into a ton of interesting things to explore and experienced artists can find ways to advance their own goals by a careful reassessment of the foundational skills.
Some features of the class are outlined in more detail at this post, including what materials artists need to will need to have.
https://fantabulouskoi.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/everything-about-continuing-drawing-at-mpa-this-winter/
Here’s a link to MPA’s website.  Class registration opens on December 12!
https://mpaart.z2systems.com/np/clients/mpaart/event.jsp?event=279

yesterday’s prep for today’s class

Went better.

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I began making some small oil pastels for practice, using photographic sources. I make them late at night and “some times the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t” as said the old Indian in an old movie I saw ages ago.

I also began making a copy of the head of a painting that I only learned about yesterday via Twitter. Wonderful thing about the internet is that you discover bits of art history that you never knew.  The painting is by Albert Herter.  What I post here will be just a detail from his painting. My oil pastel copy in the works appears immediately below, and his original below that.

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PS – in the “learn something new everyday category,” while I was looking for a link to Herter’s painting, having just learned about him yesterday, I misspelled his name. Well, it turns out that there’s an Albert Hertel who was a painter also.  You can learn about him here.

talkin’ to myself

Notes to myself, some things to consider

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after Matisse

 

for the next life class.

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.

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after Ingres

 

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.

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after Degas

 

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.

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after Ingres, imitating Diebenkorn

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.

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Albert Herter “Woman with Red Hair,” 1894 detail

 

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.

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Revisiting my idea

I’ve been doing an experiment in a life class

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memory of my original impulse illustrated

 

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.

la raie verte Matisse
La Raie Verte, Henri Matisse

 

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.

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Richard Diebenkorn portrait face

 

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.

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Diebenkorn, page from a notebook

 

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.

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Edgas Degas

 

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.

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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.

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Aletha Kuschan, self-portrait using a mirror c 1987

 

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.

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one of yesterday’s drawings in pastel

 

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.

Bonnard three women
unfinished Bonnard painting

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.

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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.