Still Life

We’re now about half way through 2019 and although my creative drive has subsided quite a bit since the start of the year I am still regularly drawing and occasionally painting (and even doing random things like soap carving).

The two mainstays of my drawing at the moment are a self-imposed project to try and do at least one sketch of a hand each day (more about that, probably, when I get to the end of my designated hand sketch book and most likely bring that particular project to a close – not many pages left now so it’s set to be within the next few weeks) and my weekly life drawing classes.

Since I started attending the life class in January (the second week of the month, when it restarted after the Christmas break), there has been one week when the session was cancelled (annoyingly, that was the week I’d already postponed a dentist’s appointment to avoid missing the session!) but I have been able to attend at least some, and usually pretty much all, of the session every week that it has been on.

That makes for a total of 24 sessions or around 50 hours of drawing (we get in a bit more than 2 hours of drawing in a typical 3 hour session, but I’ve had to miss a few chunks of sessions, so I may only have done about 40 hours of figure drawing from live models so far this year), with 9 different models (6 female, 3 male). I’ve also done quite a bit of drawing from Croquis Café resources and other photo / video references, as well as some bits of figurative (or semi-abstract) work based on my sketches from the life classes, so it’s fair to say that this has accounted for a substantial chunk of my artistic activity this year.

It seems quite appropriate that the 6 month mark corresponds with the point at which I’ve reached a total of more than 300 photos of my life drawings posted to my Flickr album. These are all either things I’ve drawn or painted at the life classes themselves or, in a few cases, things I’ve drawn, painted or carved at home based on sketches from the life class. There’s not an exact one-to-one correspondence between the photos and individual drawings and I haven’t kept a careful account, but I probably have done around 300 sketches (ranging from a few seconds to about half an hour each) in the life classes so far, and perhaps about a dozen other pieces of work directly based on them. The skills developed in the process have doubtless had a significant effect on my other drawings and paintings (and perhaps beyond) too but that’s even harder to quantify.

On the whole I’d say my drawing skills are gradually improving, although the quality of my sketches can vary quite a bit from one session to the next and often from one pose to the next. Perhaps most importantly, it has been a great deal of fun.

I’m looking forward to continuing with the life classes for as long as possible. And it’s only just over a month now until the Oxford Summer School, where I’ll be doing a 3 day course on “Drawing from dance”.

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Figuary is finished (for now)

Figuary 2019 is now over.

As I have mentioned once or twice in recent posts, Figuary is a daily life drawing challenge set by the Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing YouTube channels, running through the month of February. Serendipitously, I discovered these channels (or more strictly speaking, I restarted drawing after a long gap, joined a weekly life drawing class that happens to take place in the building where I work, blogged about it mostly because I accidentally came up with a too-cool-to-ignore title for a post on the subject and was subsequently directed to the channels by my brother Wulf — I don’t know how or when he first came across them but I’m very grateful for the pointer) just before the first ever Figuary took place.

I have very much enjoyed watching the daily instructional videos from LoveLifeDrawing and trying to put the lessons into practice with the daily pose videos from Croquis Café. My results were quite variable from day to day, but I think there was a definite improvement in my drawing skills over the course of the month. I managed to keep up with all the daily videos and draw all the poses from each one (as well as a couple of extras on a day when I got fed up with the model moving too much and ended up pausing the video!). Having switched from a single page to two pages of my (A3) Figuary sketchbook each day from about the middle of the month (when they tackled the subject of drawing on a larger scale – I’d already given myself an extra page on the second Sunday to allow for the extra poses in the longer session that day) I ended up filling 43 pages of my sketchbook, as well as half a dozen A5 sheets on the first day (when I didn’t have my sketchbook ready — I did another set of drawings from the same video the next day), doing a total of 192 sketches specifically for Figuary, not counting all the ones I did in my life class or from the back-catalogue of Croquis Café videos or other sources). As well as putting copies of all of them in my general Croquis Café album on Flickr, I have now set up an album specifically for my Figuary 2019 drawings (I have another one for my life drawings done at my actual life class and one for miscellaneous figure drawings based on other sources)

Now that Figuary is over, I may not do life drawing every day, but I certainly intend to keep up my daily drawing habit. As for the figure drawing, I’m planning at least to keep going to my weekly life class for as long as possible (as drawing from life beats drawing from videos hands down in almost every respect) and to keep up with the new figure drawing resource videos appearing weekly at the Croquis Café. I’m also due to be attending the Oxford Summer School this year (at the end of July) to have 3 days of instruction on drawing from dance, so I’m hoping that the life drawing (and general drawing) practice I have done and will have done by then will give me a good foundation for that.

I gather they are planning to run another Figuary next year (presumably sometime between the months of January and March!) and I very much hope they do. If so, I fully intend to participate again. And since it’s due to be a leap year, I guess we may even get 29 days of drawing instead of just 28.

Getting there

As I mentioned the other day, I have been working through Figuary, a daily series of life drawing videos provided by Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing during the month of February, with a view to encouraging daily drawing practice.

One of the recent videos included a quote I rather liked, and which is applicable not just to life drawing but to a wide range of other subjects:

Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.

This quote originated with Arthur Ashe, an American tennis player (described in the video where the quote was mentioned as a “tennis legend”, though I must confess that I’d never heard of him). I’m guessing he’s more likely to have had tennis than drawing in mind when he said it.

It occurred to me that if you wanted to be slightly obscure you could paraphrase this quote as:

Getting there is more important than getting there

Deja Vu

I said a couple of weeks ago that I wouldn’t blog about my life drawing sessions again unless anything particularly noteworthy happened.

Well it did (near enough for me, anyway) today.

Last week we had a new model (new to our session, not new to modelling). This week we had her again. This was somewhat unexpected as we had been told that we would be having the model with whom we started the year (and my very first session), but she cancelled and fortunately last week’s model was available instead.

The end result is pretty much the same from my point of view in any case — a second opportunity to draw a model I have previously drawn. I’ve already had that experience with some of the Croquis Café videos but this was the first time in my 21st century experience of actual life classes. Actually, I was quite looking forward to redrawing the first week’s model, since I think my drawing has improved quite a bit since then and the progress is less noticeable since last week (in fact, I think I got better sketches then than today!). Not to worry, as it’s very likely we’ll be seeing both models again before too long (as well as the others I’ve drawn so far, and doubtless several I haven’t).

Speaking of Croquis Café, I have a cunning plan which will be much easier to do with the videos than it would with a real live model. In a few months’ time (or perhaps sooner, though I don’t want to make it too soon) I intend to revisit some of the videos I started with, and then compare my first and second sets of drawings of the same scenes. I’d expect to see  significant improvement from one set to the other. With live models, it may be possible to get more or less the same pose (and in fact, one of our poses today turned out to be quite similar to one from last week, though I was viewing it from a different angle) but it would be relatively hard to get a complete set and to ensure that they were drawn for the same duration and from the same position, with the same lighting conditions in both cases, while the videos are infinitely repeatable.

Also on the subject of Croquis Café I wanted to put in a brief plug for Figuary. This is a month long initiative put together by Croquis Café and LoveLifeDrawing, with the aim of providing daily life drawing instruction and practice for the 28 days of February (check out this earlier post or just google them if you want links). Each day, there is a short (roughly 3 or 4 minute) instructional video from LoveLifeDrawing and a pose video from Croquis Café to provide practice opportunities for the techniques discussed in the other video. The pose videos have a different model each day; I’m not sure if we’ll be getting 28 different models, but most of the ones we’ve so far had are familiar to me from the regular CC figure drawing resource videos I’ve been working through. Most days the videos are a bit shorter than the regular CC videos  (about 18 minutes), with 6 poses each day (three 1 minute ones, two 2 minute ones and a single 5 minute one to finish) but the Sunday videos are the same format as the regular ones (24 minutes, 10 poses, with 5, 4 and 1 each of the three durations respectively) — in fact, the Sunday videos are the regular videos but have just been rebranded for Figuary.

So far I’ve managed to work through all the Figuary videos on the appropriate day, and I’m just about to do the ones for today. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep that up for the rest of the month too, so my figure drawing (and my general drawing, for that matter) should continue to improve quite a bit over the coming weeks.

Incidentally, I’m putting photos of all my sketchbook pages from Figuary into the same Flickr folder as my other Croquis Café drawings but if you just want to see the Figuary ones you should be able to get them here.

Third time’s the charm

With this post, you could be forgiven for thinking that my blog is moving to a regular weekly publishing schedule and turning into a dedicated single-subject blog about life drawing, as this is the third consecutive weekly post on the subject (see also the first and second such posts).

However, I’ll endeavour to keep writing occasionally about other things, doubtless with my usual lack of regularity (although perhaps a slightly higher frequency than last year) and, although I’m intending to keep going to my weekly life drawing classes I probably won’t blog about them unless anything particularly noteworthy happens. I’m intending to keep posting the results of my labours in my life drawing album at Flickr (I haven’t posted today’s output yet, as by the time I’d finished drawing them it was a bit too dark to take successful photos, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow), therefore if you keep an eye on there you should stay more or less up to date with what I’m doing. I generally put at least some commentary along with most of my photos as well, so if you’re interested in more than just the visuals you can check that out too.

Anyway, back to the subject of today’s life class. This was, of course, my third (not counting the ones I went to 25 years ago – I think there were 3 of those too, though hopefully the current lot will continue for significantly longer). As mentioned above, I’ll be commenting on most of the individual drawings when I post them on Flickr, hopefully by tomorrow evening, so for now I’ll confine myself to a handful of general observations.

I think my drawing is already starting to show definite improvement since I started. Paradoxically, I think that in many ways I’m finding myself less satisfied with the results, but I think that’s largely because I’m beginning to look at my drawings more critically (as well as learning more about anatomy etc.) and am becoming more aware of their deficiencies. Fortunately I have no aspirations to become a professional artist so I can afford to enjoy the journey without worrying too much about the destination, or how long it takes to get there.

And I certainly have been enjoying the journey. In between the life classes I’ve been doing more or less daily figure drawing practice using resources such as Croquis Café, as well as a fair amount of other drawing and a bit of painting. All that is both enjoyable and useful, but nothing else quite compares to the sheer visceral thrill of drawing a real live person while in the company of other artists also making their own interpretations of the same model in the same pose (albeit from a slightly or radically different angle), and knowing that there is a definite (and often pretty short) time limit to the opportunity I’ll have to study the particular pose I’m working on, and that my work can be seen by all the other artists and potentially by the model herself (or himself).

Today, I managed to catch the very start of the session and I got so engrossed in the first few poses that I quite forgot to go back to the office after 20 minutes or so as I had intended. Since I’d been having a pretty quiet day in terms of phone calls and emails, with absolutely no visitors to the office up to that point, I decided to stay for most of the session and just nip back into the office a couple of times to check my email and the answering machine, and then stay on afterwards to catch up on the work I’d been intending to do in the afternoon. That seemed to work out pretty well (although I probably won’t try to do the same every week), and it was great to have a bit more time to draw more poses, including several relatively long ones. Perhaps largely due to this, though perhaps also just because some of the faces are becoming more familiar after a couple of weeks and I’m more able to overcome my natural shyness, I was able to have quite a nice chat to some of the other artists over our tea break and at the end of the session (we’re all far too busy drawing the rest of the time) and am beginning to feel more like part of the group rather than just someone who parachutes in briefly from time to time. I even had a quick chat with the model (Lauren), as we happened to reach the teapot at the same time, so she poured me a cup of tea and I reached the milk for her.

Another factor that enhanced my enjoyment today (and perhaps gave me some slightly better drawings, though I’ll reevaluate that tomorrow when I look at them afresh) was that in addition to my A4 sketchbook and a bunch of pens and pencils, I managed to take a slightly larger sketchbook and some charcoal and conté crayons (sanguine, bistre, white and black), which are probably my favourite drawing media and enabled me to work on a slightly larger scale. I’m slightly limited by the size of my bike’s panniers, and I wouldn’t easily be able to carry A3 or larger paper to and from home, but my 12×9″ sketchbooks fit the pannier fairly comfortably, so I’ll probably be taking them fairly regularly.

At some point I may see if I can find somewhere in the office to tuck away an A3 or larger sketchbook so I could work even bigger. My next plan, however, is to try taking some watercolour paints along and have a go at line and wash drawings for some of the longer poses. I’ve tried a couple at home (the first week and this evening) from sketches I’d done earlier, but it would be better to work directly from the live model so I don’t have to guess quite so much about the shading.

 

 

Second Life

In case you’re wondering about the title, I’m not talking about the virtual world Second Life, although I do still visit there from time to time.

Rather, I am referring to my second visit to the life drawing class I wrote about last week.

After I blogged last week, my brother (also a keen artist) drew my attention to a couple of figure drawing resources available on YouTube. One is a series of lessons at Love Life Drawing. The other is Croquis Café, which has a number of different things available including several of their own tips videos (effectively short lessons) but, to my mind, the best of them is a whole set of virtual life drawing sessions (roughly 25 minute videos each featuring a model, or occasionally two, holding a series of short poses to give a slightly better approximation of a real life drawing session than just using photos).

I’ll probably write a bit more about the pros and cons of using videos such as those found at Croquis Café in another blog post soon. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve worked through several videos (mostly CC ones, but also about half the beginner lessons at LLD) in the past week, as well as doing quite a lot of more general drawing practice and reading a bit more on figure drawing and anatomy.

I think that preparation paid off as I felt a bit more confident at today’s life class, and I think my results were slightly better too, although it will take a lot more time and practice before I really get a handle on life drawing (and at least a lifetime to master the subject).

Rather than give a blow by blow account of today’s session here, I’ll just direct your attention to my album of life drawing pictures at Flickr, where you can see my sketches from today’s session, as well as last week and hopefully in future plenty more to come. I’ve used the description area of each photo’s page to provide a bit of a running commentary on the sketches. This particular album is reserved for my actual drawings from real life (although I’m including artwork I’ve based directly on such sketches as well), while I’ve got another album set up for drawings from Croquis Café resources.

Is this the real life?

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had restarted drawing and painting.

I didn’t state it explicitly in that post, but around the time I posted it I more or less set myself a goal to try and draw or paint at least one thing every day for as long as possible. So far, and I realise that 3 weeks isn’t an exceptionally long time by any reasonable standard, I have managed to do this. Some days it has pretty much been just one or two quick sketches and some days I’ve managed to spend several hours working at arty things and come up with several pictures that I’m quite pleased with.

Today I have taken another step that will, I hope, help me to keep this goal going for quite a bit longer, as well as to provide a significant boost to my drawing (and hence painting, and perhaps even at some point sculpture) skills and give me a great deal of pleasure along the way. I have joined a life drawing class.

Life drawing has traditionally been considered an extremely beneficial exercise for learning to draw, perhaps because the human body is an intrinsically complex (and fascinating) subject offering a wide variety of challenges. As traditional wisdom goes, I think that viewpoint has a lot to recommend it. I’m also of the school of thought that the figure (both draped and undraped) is a worthy subject in its own right as well as being an excellent stepping stone to mastery of drawing more generally.

I got an opportunity to attend a handful of life drawing sessions when I was studying for my GCSE art exam 25 years or so ago. I’m still not quite sure how I ended up doing that, as it was actually a course for A-Level students, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity as it was an excellent experience (and furnished several items towards my GCSE portfolio).

Since then, even when I have been going through artistically productive phases, the closest I’ve got to life drawing is a handful of sketches from statues seen in museums or from photographic references, and perhaps a couple of times when I’ve attempted self-portraits beyond my usual head-and-shoulders approach. Personally, I think that both self-portaiture and life drawing have enough challenges individually that they are probably best kept largely separate!

A few months ago, a life drawing class started meeting on Wednesday afternoons at the community centre where I work. Since I wasn’t doing any drawing at the time, it didn’t cross my mind to consider joining them, and I just let them get on with their own thing while I carried on with my work in the office next door. However, once I picked up my pencils again it didn’t take too long for the idea to occur to me.

The group usually runs from 1 to 4pm on Wednesdays and while my working hours are fairly flexible I am supposed to keep the office open until 3pm. I figured that I might be able to catch the final hour of the session and perhaps sneak in a quick bit of sketching earlier on during my lunch break. I was quite busy with Christmas preparations for the final couple of weeks before the group broke up for the holiday, and they didn’t start meeting again until today, so this was the first opportunity I had to see whether this would be feasible.

My first life sketches for quite a long time The good news is that it is. Shortly after 1pm, nervously clutching my brand new A4 sketchbook (a comfortable compromise between the smaller ones I usually take out for sketching on location and the bigger ones that I prefer to use but can’t easily carry on my bike) and a tin of pencils, I made my way into the hall, where the group were already well under way, doing drawings or paintings in various media from short poses held by this week’s model. I think she was called Elen or Ella, but I didn’t catch the name clearly.

From entering the room I had about 30 seconds to make my first sketch before the pose came to an end. I can’t remember whether the next pose was held for 5 or 10 minutes but I managed to get four sketches out of it, before heading back to the office to actually eat my lunch and then carry on with my work. Here you should be able to see my first page of sketches.

A bit later in the afternoon, I came back through to grab a cup of tea and another quickish sketch. At this stage they were working on 20 minute poses and I caught the last 5 minutes of one. A fringe benefit of having joined the group is that I can now nip through the hall and get to the kitchen to make myself tea on Wednesday afternoons (normally I have to stay out of the hall when groups are in there).

I’d managed to get through today’s work load by the time the clock struck 3, so I hurried back in to catch almost the whole of the final hour of the session. They were still working on fairly short poses when I got in, but after a couple more of those we moved on to a 30 minute pose to finish the afternoon. I spent most of that time on one pen drawing and finished off with another quick pencil sketch.

It was certainly very exciting to be drawing from life again. Apart from anything else, there is the knowledge that you only have a very limited time in which to complete the drawing (which is not generally the case if you’re working from a photo or a sculpture), and at least with the shorter poses, this has the positive effect that it becomes much harder to overwork the drawing, which is something I’m quite prone to doing. Also, the slight movements that even the best models make while holding a pose help add to the dynamicism of the drawings, while there’s something about being in a room full of artists all working feverishly to produce their impressions of the model and all coming up with quite different results, even when looking from more or less the same angle, that adds a dimension to the creative experience that isn’t there when you’re working alone in your home studio.

Line & wash drawing based on first life sketchesI must admit, though, that I was feeling so inspired by my hour and a bit in the life class this afternoon that when I got home I spent another hour or so working up a few more drawings and paintings based on my earlier sketches. I mainly wanted to use the opportunity to try a few different media (e.g. charcoal, working on a slightly bigger scale) and to make use of the sketches while they were still backed up with fresh memories of observing the model.

I have taken photos of pretty much all of today’s output and put them up on Flickr, with a fairly extensive commentary. If you check out my Life Drawing album there, you should find them in more or less chronological order.

Having got off to a great start, I’m looking forward to more life drawing over the coming weeks. Doubtless at least some of my sketches from the life class and subsequent works based on them will be appearing in my Flickr photostream. There may even be one or two more blog posts to come.