After taking a break from plein air painting this winter, the watercolors and easel are back out! Here are my first two watercolor sketches for the spring - urban park scenes. They both depict how man-made things and growing things (as in, plants) combine to create beauty in the city. I like to think of the city as a big garden instead of a wasteland. In places, it is.
Lincoln Park, Jersey City, NJ, 5"x7" Watercolor & Colored Pencil
Madison Square Park, Manhattan, 5"x7" Watercolor & Colored Pencil
Every trimester, students at the Florence Academy complete two long pose figure drawings. This means that a model comes in every day for three hours and holds the same pose over a period of five weeks for each drawing. These figure drawings are essentially "game time" for students. The copying exercises, the 2-hour pencil figure drawings, the anatomy classes all prepare us for the model room long pose.
This is my second long pose for the trimester. My first pose for the trimester, Susannah, a pose seen from the back, involved depicting the form through the shape of a large shadow and the way that shadow interacted with a thin sliver of light seen on the edge. This pose was seen in full light. This means that the form is communicated more through the shape of the contour and how the contour relates to small variations in value along the planes of the body as they face in different directions.
The third and final Bargue Drawing for students at the Florence Academy is one of two different views of the Belvedere Torso. A well known fragment of an unidentified sculpture from antiquity, the Belvedere torso copying exercise is infamous in its own right at the Florence Academy. Completing the torso requires mastery of a variety of conceptual and technical tools used in drawing. Observe, for instance, the variety of shadows involved in the torso: cast shadow, form turning away from the light, planes in a variety of relationships to the light source, reflections within larger shadow shapes, and combinations of all of the above. Each type of shadow requires a different kind of description and different types of charcoal handling. So, here's to this rite of passage! Now I get to move on to cast drawings... coming up soon.
18"x26" Charcoal on Roma Paper, Copy from Original Cast Drawing by Charles Bargue
Here is the latest 5-week pose from figure drawing class at the Florence Academy of Art.
When we begin a pose, there is a pecking order for choosing easel positions. Since I am one of the newer students, I got stuck with a back view. It turned out to be a good thing, though. The way the light falls on the model, I ended up with a composition that focuses on the strip of light sandwhiched between the shadow of the back and the shadow of the background. It made for a seemingly simple design but with a lot of complexity in the light shape. I enjoyed it very much.
Charcoal is my life. There is black dust everywhere. "Drawing and painting" program evokes thoughts of color. But, my life is all in black and white. I'm not complaining, though. The more limited the means of expression, the more opportunity for the mind to focus on different aspects of expression.
Here is a picture of my most recent Bargue drawing. Charcoal on paper.
This post does not recount a particular incident in my life at the Florence Academy but represents the fruit of a lot of different experiences. So, while it does not reference school, it relates.
Awhile ago, I had a particular heartache. What that thing was does not matter, but in the midst of this thing, I was sitting on a train, and I remembered a trip to Costa Rica from a few years ago, and I remembered the hills there, on the coast, green in the sun and lush like nothing in the northern lands. And as I gazed on this with the eyes of my soul, there was something inside of me that melted and mended and I was made whole again. It was all very straightforward and rather shocking to me. I was in pain. I saw a vision of beauty remembered. The beauty was balm to my wounds. "So," I said to myself, "beauty heals."
Yes, yes it does. Since then, I had noticed this phenomenon a lot. My morning walk to school, for instance.. It is (thanks to daylight savings time) always as the sun is rising. Even the pigeons, in flocks, silhouetted against the pale, pink sky make my heart rise. And, whatever is on my mind or weighing me down, it lifts, and something inside of me rises to meet the morning.
I need beauty. It is not just a perk. Without it, life would be a lot worse than just boring. I think this is true for everyone. Maybe everyone does not realize it, but I think this a universal need. (I won't back that up with any argument. This post would get way too long.)
But, everyone perceives beauty differently. What moves me may not speak to you. Then again, there may be a handful of people in the world who see what I see and draw life from it. So, then, to those handful of people, I, as an artist, have a responsibility. Because, artists, as I think I have written before, help people to see.
So, to the people who need the beauty I have to give, whoever you are, I am working on it. Sometimes I get discouraged because what inspires me is so far above anything I can make, and sometimes I wonder if I am even seeing the right thing or digging deep enough to see, but I am working on it.
On that note, I will leave you with one of my favorite T.S. Eliot quotes. This is from the Four Quartets, Stanza V of East Coker:
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid of the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the the trying. The rest is not our business.
And, here are my two landscapes from this week, searching for beauty in the city:
Water Tower over Green and Prince, Watercolor, 5"x7"
The Watchers (Quick Nighttime Sketch), Watercolor, 5"x7"
Students spend 3 hours in the model room every day of class. The model room is a large space with concrete floors, neutral colored walls, and natural light from north-facing windows. We work in silence with breaks every 20 minutes for the model.
Each of the images below represent the work of one day. These drawings were preparatory drawings for a long (5 week) drawing in charcoal.
Day 1: Day 2: Day 3:
These drawings show the development of visual understanding of the pose. The first drawing is stiffer and more general in comparison with the third which is more expressive and specific. Each day of drawing is a kind of visual exploration.
I enjoy this kind of work because it helps me to see more, and that process of seeing more is by nature contemplative. By contemplative, I mean receptive of what is present. Period. In one sense, art is about making things - transforming existing materials into new things. It is an active activity. In another sense, art is about receiving what is present without trying to change it. It is about going deeper, going beneath the surface of things, or going beyond the first impression.
Most people have two arms and two legs, a head, and a torso. These are ordinary, horribly ordinary things. But, I once heard a teacher refer to the "drama" of a particular intersection in the body, and when she said it, I could see it. Light and dark and tension and resolution and harmony and unity - all the things that make up drama. And this, all this, is usually hidden under our clothes. Seriously, what a metaphor! If we could see for real all the time, it would blow our minds.