I was at the daytime long pose session at George Vanier Cultural Centre, which is always a nice opportunity. It’s one hour longer than a standard life drawing workshop. Which is just fine by me. I like to get at least two watercolors out of a long pose – so that extra hour to warm up feels like a luxury.
I was happily sketching way – trying to to focus on a few things:
- Draw directly with the brush (dropping my pencil drawing safety net),
- Establish a silhouette with the first few strokes,
- Work color variation into the shapes while wet, (charging in).
- Don’t neglect the background tone. I’m often making figures on blank whiteness.
That was going well enough. But in the break our model called me out.
“I look like a 9 year old girl!” she says.
Rightly so. That was a weird mistake. Not sure how it happened. Her head had definitely gotten large and child like.
In the second half, I pushed to get a real likeness. I’ve been giving myself a free pass on likeness for so long (I mean, you have to start somewhere, and getting a nice figure is hard enough, I just say “Don’t worry if it doesn’t even look like them. After the model is gone, who’s going to know?’). But the time has come that I have to be able to get both a painting and a portrait, hey? If I’m going to do this work professionally :)
I’ve only done a few commissioned portraits – and each and every one of them has been sweating bullets. Until this year. Magically – that practice stuff is starting to pay off.
I’m pretty happy with this one. In particular, the shape of her hair and cast shadows on the forehead. At the time her hair was throwing me off my stride – I only realized it after the fact – it’s because Afro-textured hair doesn’t reveal the shape of the skull like I’m used to in a Caucasian. Funny – It’s one of my own bon mots that a portrait is just a ‘Head Shape / Hair Shape’. Yet it took me a few tries to get it right on her.
I’m glad Sarah called me out. I needed that push. That right there is a hidden reason to work from life. You don’t get that collaboration from photo reference.
Brush-wise: In the future I have to focus on a few more things:
- Make the shadow shapes melt a bit more into the light,
- Same with the background – more lost edges – less cut out shapes,
- Wet-on-dry gives you plenty of control – but it errs on the side of sharp edges,
- I’m going to experiment with painting the figure in reverse silhouette next time – to allow better melting into the background.
[Figure drawing workshop, various 10, 15 and 20 minute poses, watercolor, working wet-on-dry]
The model for this session was an older gentleman, in great shape for a person of any age. In his youth, he must have been a handsome beast.
I always give models a little code name in my head. This guy was ‘the weary gladiator’.
I don’t know if he’s been a life-long art model – but he clearly knows how to set a pose. One of the best I’ve seen in Montreal. You occasionally see models use a wooden pole for supporting a raised arm. But not many models use posing blocks. Simple cubes of wood that let you raise a hand or foot, or brace a neck. It’s an old-school technique that really helps shape the body. In traditional ateliers you might even find block and tackle to allow hanging a model from the ceiling.
This was at UQAM at the Sunday afternoon quick pose session. It’s a good work environment, (tables, easels, benches), always with good models. If 5-20’s are your thing, I recommend checking it out. I will say, the spots by the door are back lit by the skylights at this time of year – so head to the back of the room unless you like silhouette shapes as much as I do.
I recently came home to the latest issue of The Artist’s Magazine waiting on my doorstep, which means I can finally show this sketch.
I have this background project – each year around October I’ll do a portrait of Edgar Allen Poe. This year I did it early, on request from the magazine, so it might come out in the October issue.
This is the second Mr. Poe watercolor. I’d done a few before in pencil. Perhaps next year I’ll be ready to do one in oil. I hope this will be a way of checking in with myself. To measure how my approach to painting is evolving.
Here’s 2013’s PoeTrait.
Attentive readers will know, around this time last year I was working more deliberately. Starting with a pencil drawing below the watercolor. Using the line as a guide, mapping out what was light, and what was shadow. I often found myself telling people “it’s like drawing yourself a coloring-book”. But I was never very comfortable with that analogy. It certainly works – and I still recommend it for beginners. But can you imagine trying to explain that to Mr. Sargent when you show up in artist heaven? The whole “coloring book” thing was always something I’ve been embarrassed about. Even while I was using it to make some of my personal favorite pieces.
The point is – these days I’m just going straight in. Simply drawing shapes with the brush on a blank white page without any planning beyond *looking*.
I’m really not sure if this is a great idea. It’s certainly the high risk approach. Perhaps I’m just an adrenaline junky.
You can see that in the first few minutes the portrait is already there. Bing Bang Boom, a few planes of the head, a few dark eyebrows, and it’s Mr. Poe. If the likeness had not worked out in the first few strokes, I’d have had to tear it up and start again.
I feel like I got lucky with this one. I got away with a reckless charge that might have left me muttering about wasting good paper. But these days, it’s the ones like this that get me excited.
We’re over the mid point of the watercolor night class I’m teaching at Syn Studio - so that means we’re doing the fun stuff now! We started with fruit and still-life, did some work with a gesture model, so now we’ll start some larger, more challenging subjects.
The other week we did some ‘speed drills’ painting heads from photo reference, and then last night applied what we’d practiced to a three hour pose with a costumed model. It’s a lot of fun to see the students getting more confident with the water media.
Here’s my in-class demos: