Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wayne, 40 Minute Drawing

I recently made a vow to myself to dedicate more time to my art. Having three kids and a husband with a chronic illness makes it hard to find time to draw. For years, the only chance I've had to even be around art is when I teach, and if I'm not actively walking around assisting my students, then I'm taking care of administrative stuff.

But as pretty much any full time mother can tell you, not having something to call your own - to remind yourself of who you were before having a family - can make you feel crazy. My littlest is now 1, and I've spent the bulk of the last nine years focused on parenting. Obviously, I have many more years to go before my kids are off on their own, but I'm trying to find that balance of being a present and engaged parent, and being an artist.

So there's a fantastic group of artists that meets weekly here in Hampton Roads to draw or paint the nude figure. It's a well-established group with a range of talented artists that keep me inspired. I've attended sporadically over the past 5 years - very rarely - and my skills have suffered. It's disheartening to watch everyone else's skills grow by leaps and bounds while my own were stagnant. People ask if I draw my kids and the answer is hardly ever because kids don't sit still. Yes, I could work from reference photos, but it's not the same as working from life. Anyway...the format for most nights is as follows:

  • Warm up with ten 1-minute poses (usually just enough for me to get a fancy stick figure down)
  • Two 5-minute poses (some form and shading established)
  • 20-minute pose
  • 40-minute pose
  • 20-minute pose

Last night was the third consecutive week I've been able to attend. Week 1 was okay but going through the motions of drawing from life felt so awkward and foreign I honestly felt like I'd never held a pencil in my life. I slogged through the 2.5 hour session and came away with a couple of decent drawings but nothing I loved. Week 2 was even harder because I already had so many things on my mind it was hard to clear it and focus on what I was doing. When I finally did try to focus, I didn't have a goal for that evening and tried to do too many things: try new charcoal, work small (9x12"), not use my easel, work on my gesture lines, experiment with a different style of shading, etc. In the end I threw all shading out the window in favor of simple contour drawings that turned out well.

Week 3, last night, I walked in with a plan already in hand: I was going to work in a larger format on toned paper in charcoal and white conte with my easel. I was going to make sure I kept my arm loose for my gesture drawings, and I was going to blend with my fingertips when I shaded. I was going to use at least one sitting for a portrait study. This definitely helped. It really is like riding a bike; I could feel the familiarity of the motions coming back to me, and I was able to honor the process and work through any issues.

Take a look at my drawing of Wayne 20 minutes (halfway) into my portrait study:

Wayne, 20 minutes. ©2016 RFFinn
Wayne, portrait study, 40 minutes. ©2016 RFFinn

I worked on gray toned paper with a Nitram HB charcoal stick. I began by quickly shading over a large portion where his head would be. I erased the highlights with my kneaded eraser and drew in guidelines to establish size, shape, and major features like where his eyes and nose would be. I didn't get a photo of it, but ten minutes in, I was so frustrated I wanted to tear it up and start again, but I took a deep breath and paused.

Looking critically at my start, I decided it was worth pursuing. I don't usually block in a large shaded area to begin with so that was already throwing me off, but I reminded myself charcoal is so easy to alter and it wasn't as bad a start as it felt. Once my twenty minutes were up and it was time for a break, I had at least gotten a respectable likeness.  I knew I could take this and keep working it until I was happy with the result, and luckily I was able to reach that result in the 20 minutes I had left once we reconvened. You can see there was extensive reshaping of the lower half of his face. Yay for flexible charcoal!

I'm also happy with my results because I am normally a slow artist. If I had worked in graphite there's no way I'd have gotten so much done, and charcoal can be tricky for getting details as it's such a soft medium, but I do love it.