Sept.22 Live Figure & Bargue

“…art is the kind of hard work that brings you to the bleeding edge of your ability and makes you stare hard at your limitations.” Sadie Jernigan Valeri

That quote about sums up my last week – smack up against ability and limitations both. This is really hard stuff, drawing in the classical tradition. I honestly sometimes want to quit, but I don’t. My eyes hurt, I struggle with my glasses, I get blurry eyed, my feet hurt, I make slow progress and any illusions about being one of the naturally gifted students fly out the window as I learn more humility… struggle with my own self expectations and make a study of determination.

It was a rough week in my personal life. I OD’d on looking at the best current figureative artists out there today. I felt small. I put away my brush and pastel for a while just to focus on the drawing. Classical study is a task master. That task master seems to like to join up with my inner critic for a beat-fest that lately has been taking the joy out of the work for me. I was self-taught and I was happy within my own little world – I played with pastel and colored paint, making up pictures and selling some – but I always knew I could be better, that I was mediocre. I wanted to learn the classics, to learn to really draw so I would have a language to rise above that mediocrity, if I could. I wanted to do that AND stay safe within my little art bubble. Well I got my little bubble burst. I see now that the classical study, for me… is a way of life that is changing up fundamentally how I approach being an artist. But sometimes… I want to go back into the bubble. Impatience works against me, but determination drives me forward. The honest truth to “why do I do this, why do I do something that I struggle with so much?” The truth is I do it because there is no other honest way for me to be, I do it because I must. I have met no one that understands these feelings, and the feeling of being small. I would have thought that many artists struggle with this stuff – but I talk about it and I get looked at like I am an alien. Ah well, it might be the poet in me as well. It is not an easy path to be both poet and artist.

Technically this week I ventured into identifying shadow shapes in both the live model and the Bargue.  Jonathan Chorn critiqued us. He had me go back and delineate the shadow shapes in the Barge more clearly than I had done. In the figure drawing class he helped me with my on-going struggle to sight-size; to fit the model into the “box”. This is the hardest challenge for me. I spend a good hour in the three hour class just looking for the fit. Once I got it, Jonathan helped me to do some measurements to better capture the pose and showed me how to start marking in the shadow shapes.

All in all I was not disappointed in my work this week… the struggle was more personal and about myself as an artist. Next week with the hope of a new season will flow better…

The Leg and Irene

I was only able to go to one of my three classes this week because I was not well. This bummed me out because I missed one week out of a five week pose that I was just getting a handle on the block in. Not to worry, I’m ok and will be rolling again next week on the figure.

I did get ALOT done on the Bargue leg done in class and at home. As per the way of things, the more you do the more there is to do. I am especially happy that I am finally learning how to begin laying in a shadow shape. This caused me a little anxiety because I felt lost looking at the shadows. Just like last time I was pretty frozen when I got into class and Lisa gave me some instruction on shadow shapes and the quality of line to use when laying these things in but more than that she was like – just put something on the page. You gotta put something there so I have something to help you with. Then we got into looking at the smaller movements and some manageable adjustments I could work on if I was indeed overwhelmed. Last time she told me to put something on the page I blocked in the entire foot including the shadow shapes, this time was not much different. I found myself blocking in the entire knee and tackling the long shadow shapes of the calf.


I like to make a teacher happy. She says I should do something, then by George I will get that thing done. I respond very well to clear direction and I think that is part of what really appeals to me about the classical way to study art. It is very clear, very direct and disciplined. Passion and imagination have their place. I am constantly using my imagination to better understand how to see, to distinguish negative space, to assign meaning to the process and activity. Passion drives me to do the work, and to work at home and to always improve. The passions and the imaginations are contained within the walls of good practice and discipline. For myself this is helping me to progress at a much brisker pace than when I was at an unstructured University program.

This week I am also including a drawing I am working on of a friend’s Mother at a young age. It is from a reference photo. I enlarged the photo in the scanner and then used the same techniques that I use doing the Bargues employing the plumb line, level and my eye to draw the image. It has more interpretation in the atmosphere and mood than the work I do strictly for school. I am actually going to push the drawing a lot further using subtractive marks and some abstraction in the atmosphere to convey mood. We’ll see… gotta play somewhere.

It is EXCITING to see how much I have grown in just three months in this program. I would NOT have been able to do this drawing three months ago. Just no way.

Trusting my eye – This week’s Bargue and Figure Drawing.

Ahhh Thursday nights always feel great – six hours of drawing time. I can only imagine what it would feel like to do six hours a day, every day, five days a week like at a full time Atelier program… or how fast one would grow. I go to a total of nine hours of class a week plus add another seven for drawing at home, that’s about 16 hours a drawing a week. (I also paint but I am not including that.) I am growing so fast even at two days a week that even though I feel down and frustrated at times, I can not help but notice my growth.

The bargues this week were amazing. I started a new one, the leg. I had my block in done in three hours (!) – a full, correct, solid block in. I was not rushing, or going for time – I know this Bargue is easily going to me 30-40 hours. It just flowed like water from my eye to the paper. It happened before I could even think about how it was happening.

I have done some nice art in the past, some paintings, some pastels. When I get it right I always have this feeling of “ya but, can I do it again” or “how on earth did I do that?”. It always felt ‘lucky’ when I hit it, and most of the time I did not hit it. In this case, I had a successful drawing session and know exactly how I did it and that luck had little to do with it. This is a revelation. This is why I am stydying classical drawing. What really excites me is that it will just get better and better.


The live figure drawing is always more of a challenge for me and this week was no different. However, this week something subtle happened that I think will be key in my progress as I move forward. I trusted my eye. The Bargues are teaching me that I can make correct marks. The tools support my eye and my eye is not enslaved to the tools. Find your place (measure), look hard, think and make your mark. Check it… adjust. What is amazing to me is how often when I check it I am right on. I used some of that ‘style’ today as I slowly worked my block in. I would trust my eye, use my eye THEN go back to the tools to validate my judgements. I progressed much faster this way and had more on the paper for the teacher to work with at the critique. Again, it’s only going to get better.

This is my third block in and is part of a five week pose taht I really want to do a good job on because the pose and the model are really beautiful. There is a movement in the pose up the figure that inspires me in this one.


September here we are!

Wow, August was a busy month! Our school has a really great article written about it in the local “big” paper, the Sentinel. Click on the image to check out the article. This is a picture of Artist/Instructor Lisa Silas in action.


I finished my first Bargue figure drawing! At first I thought that I would be finished with this in a week… that is in a week as in six hours, two classes and add some extra time for homework. Call it two weeks even.  36 hours later Lisa finally said I could move on to another. That is 30 hours more than I expected.

36 hours later and I understand a little more now. I get that I am not drawing something ‘like’ something else or something that is open to interpretation. I am striving for an exact duplicate and in the process I am learning the reason for each line, the many “movements” hidden in the seemingly simple curve of a muscle, reaching for the right mark as my eye struggles to see more and more detail, developing my own spirit as I grapple with issues of patience, self criticism and even hope.  As we learn to draw we learn things about ourselves on many levels. The deeper we commit to its pursuit, the more we change fundamentally.

In the figure drawing arena I did a partial block-in on a one night pose with a wonderful female model and began the block-in for a longer five week pose with a male model. Both block-ins were wrought with frustration.

Drawing the live figure is such a task master to me. I have some physical limitations that are constantly pushing me out of the “zone” such as glasses issues and an ankle/back that aches after the first hour. Then I have the struggles of a beginner. Like the way your head sits on your own neck. I am not kidding. I spend most of my time in the drawing room squinting, adjusting my feet and head and I am lucky to get a mark on the paper before the figure somehow auto-magically grows a head size bigger than its set space. This is where I struggle the most. But just when I start feeling comfortable, like I can see into the next line… I am reminded that I am not holding the pencil correctly when making my marks. Lisa has had me move to the side of my drawing many times to just make lines.  Just make lines.

A couple weeks ago, when I couldn’t even make a mark right I wanted to walk out so bad I was almost tearing up. I looked at my peers and there were actual figures on the paper and I had only “make marks” scribbles and some measurement lines. Lisa looked at me and could see it in my face and gently reminded me that it wasn’t easy but that I could do it, that I was doing it and that it would become different.  My fellow students were so helpful, and I could tell that most had faced the same feelings along the way.

Meanwhile in grisaille land, the work is paying dividends already as I was able to begin to translate the “cloth” in my painting. I have spend most of my time so far on the cloth and I have a lot of work still to go. I am learning so much working ion grisaille and letting go of color for a little while is freeing me up to really explore shape and value.  Mmmmm…. value!


Final thought: It is very humbling and enlightening to let yourself be an absolute beginner at something.