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A friend recently asked me about drawing, and specifically drawing the nude. What was it like? Where did the models come from? Were they college girls trying to make money? Housewives? What?
That got me thinking about my development as an artist.
I went off to the University of Washington in Seattle with the intention of becoming a chemical engineer. After six weeks of school I could not imagine being a Chemical Engineer. It just was not me. So I decided to change my major and I wanted my new major to be as far from engineering as possible. Art Major!, I thought. That’s what I will be. I always liked art. And so I became an art student. My parents were so pleased.
The first assignment in my drawing class was to draw an apple. I didn’t do too well. In class we spent our time drawing still life for the most part: plaster casts, bottles, plants, things like that. My skills as a draftsman improved but I was really interested in drawing people. As I recall, Life Drawing, as working with the nude is called, was not offered until the third year. However, there was a woman posing for the sculpture class and the instructor gave me permission to come and draw.
This was my first session drawing the nude! I was nervous. I hoped I wouldn’t do something embarrassing. The woman entered the studio from the dressing room wearing a robe. The studio had a row of transom like windows that ran the length of the room just below the ceiling. The instructor pulled the drape over each window. I guess he worried someone in an airplane might see our nude. The woman climbed onto an elevated stand and dropped her robe. Nude!
That was a good life lesson. It was about as titillating as looking at a sack of apples. Nude is not that exciting. It is the anticipation and the process of becoming nude that is exciting.
Somewhere I still have the drawing. It is not very good.
When I think of this period I realize how provincial the thinking was in Seattle. Women could pose nude, but not men. Men had to wear an athletic supporter. The closing of the drapes was part of this concern. I don’t imagine that thinking still prevails in Seattle. It is a very art oriented community today.
In my junior year I transferred down to the University of California at Berkeley and it was different. The windows in the art studios were floor to ceiling glass with no drapes. Women posed nude. Men posed nude, and sometimes men and women posed together. For the most part the women were working college students. I think the rule was that they could not be enrolled at the university. They attended other schools in the area.
One of the more awkward sessions I remember involved a girl who lost a bet with her boyfriend and the payoff was to pose nude before the art class. I give her credit. She did pose. But she was so stiff and uncomfortable that her energy effected the whole class. We were all uncomfortable. We just wanted her to go away.
At Berkeley the focus was the development of an overall composition, as opposed to the careful rendering of the figure. This is an example.
The figure is only a shape completing part of the drawing.
Here is another example.
Normally a class would begin with a series of short poses, lasting one or two minutes. We would attempt to catch the essence of the pose in the short time allotted. This is an example.
After the warm up we would graduate to longer poses for more developed drawings. The poses usually lasted 30 minutes, sometimes an hour and on a rare occasion longer.
Later, I studied at Arizona State University. There the focus was on rendering the figure. Here are two examples. You can see there was more emphasis on the figure than the composition.
There are many different mediums that can be used in creating a drawing. I prefer charcoal, pen and ink, ink wash or pencil. Here are some examples done with different mediums.
This drawing was done using ink wash which creates a painterly effect. Here again you can see the focus was on a unified composition as opposed to a figure study.
This next drawing was done with vine charcoal which has a nice grainy feel and a richness to the blacks.
And there is pencil of course. I prefer line drawing to built up renderings. It is the control of the line that gives the unity to the drawing.
These works are not technically drawings.
They were done in a group drawing session and the pose was only 20 minutes long. I decided to move beyond drawing and into watercolor to see if I could complete a painting in that short period of time. I’m rather happy with them.
Most of my more recent figure drawings have been studies for art works that are executed in some other medium. Here are two examples of drawings that were the study for completed monotypes.
So there you have it. Sort of an overview of my work with the unclothed figure. It is not tittilating; it is work. But it is more interesting than still life.
More to come
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