The Art Tree of Knowledge

Hi all — The bad thing about not writing a blog for a long time is that I have a ton of images to share and things bottles up you want to say. The good thing is that I have a ton of images to share!

This has been a hard few months for many of my fellow students and for myself. A few didn’t make it and left the program. That always makes me so sad. I know the feeling because I left the program once but within a few months came back. I think there comes a point where we question the pay off. “It” seems impossible, impossible to make a “good” drawing while struggling with technique and learning to see. Also there is the way that the pursuit of classical realism seems to rain on your happy-art-making parade. I compare it to eating from the tree of knowledge. Once you see what you do not see you can never go back to not seeing it again. Once you realize the level you ‘could’ create at – you have a hard time settling for the level you once created at.

So you are left in this very uncomfortable middle ground of not being able to create at the level you want to create at, and not being able to go back to before you got bitten by the realist bug. It is a painful place to be and the place most people quit at – especially perfectionists, the easily fatigued and those who ride themselves the hardest.

For me, art was once a place where I could excel without really trying to hard. The creative process was always just a joyful, good feeling place to be. After I was out of that ‘making’ space and looking at my work I was always, always dissatisfied. On some level I knew I was capable of better, of being able to create the pictures my mind saw and not just settle for the pictures my ability allowed. When I discovered classical realism and my atelier I understood that there was a way, there were tools to kick up my ability to the level I wanted. I did not realize at first that learning those tools and techniques would be so difficult, and that results would be so slow. I was impatient and in pain actually. I quit. What I discovered was that I could not go back to my old way of making art. I was even more acutely aware that I needed to learn how to see better and to be able to translate what it was I was seeing. I needed to learn the techniques… I needed to give myself time. Most importantly I needed to learn to be gentle on myself in the process.

I believe I will get to where I want to be. I have seen periods of incredible growth followed by what seems to be periods of no growth at all. Weeks of drawing where my ends result looks even more pained than the first week and my paper is shredded under all of the effort.

In the drawing below I compare my last long pose drawing week one with week five. When I first finished I saw nothing better about week five than the first weeks block in. I put the drawing away on frustration and disgust. Taking it out again and looking back, it’s true – the progress was very slow, my technique not refined which resulted in butchered paper… but –now I see the second figure has some much more effective observations than the first. The first is nice and loose, attractive in a generalized, modern way. The second however, is full of hard won observations that create the faint emergence of a form really turning in space. Subtlety to the movements of the muscles moving into each other. It looks more like the real model. I was able to just being to work the inside of the form and outline shadow shapes and that occurred naturally as I worked more and more subtly on the block in. I am slow, it takes me forever to get the block in to where I am ready to move into the shadow shapes, I over work the outline terribly – but I am learning and I see the difference and building on one experience after another. The skill we learn in the learning of classical realism is quantitative and the real necessary tool is patience.

compare_feb-apr

Anyway, I had a lot to say today so for the rest of the post I am going to just post some pictures of the current status of my work. You can scroll down for comparison. Because I am a part time student at the Atelier I am moving slowly through the work. I know that if I could focus full time like they do at the Florence Academy where my teachers are from that I would move forward comparably to the students there. I accept the slow process because I accept my limitations. In fact, accepting yourself is the biggest secret ingredient to being able to sustain study in classical realism. Accepting where you are at when you are struggling as well as really accepting your successes.

Two hour live figure block in:

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Cast Drawing week three – just really starting working with the values.

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My Holbein Master’s Copy – moving to more subtle movements in the block in.

holbein6

My Angel Master’s copy – just now moving into the shadow shapes.

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There was an incredible painting workshop with our painting teacher Matthew Riggs a couple weeks ago and I am going to share some of that work in a separate blog post.

Finally once again my favorite quote about the study of classical realism from Atelier Founder and Art Educator Sadie Valerie: “…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.”

The study of classical realism really takes courage and patience. Give yourself a break and be proud of every effort you make. I’ll hang in there if you will!

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Catching Up on Things

I haven’t posted in a while because I just haven’t had any words. Lots of thoughts, lots of learning, just no words and that is not really a good quality in a blogger! So instead of just letting this poor blog sit unattended until I rediscover my words I thought I could at least post some progress shots of what I have been working on at the school.

These have been hard times for me in my studies. I got completely lost on a 8 week pose figure drawing and basically just drew the block in over and over moving with the models movements and barely getting into the interior of the figure. I was really disappointed but I learned so much and I know the next pose will go better. You can see the progress shots and my final guy looks worse for wear.

My cast drawing is just now starting to gel for me as I am understanding the concept of keying and seeing values. The main thing is that I am still fighting with the charcoal a little and wondering when, if ever, it will become my friend. I have a long way to go but it is starting to get some dimension.

I received some great critiques from Matthew on my Bargue (Speed, actually) and Holbein copy and am making slow progress as I move through those. Such a slow process for me. I think I learn the most about seeing from the copies though.

In Progress - April 2
In Progress – April 2
In Progress - April 6
In Progress – April 6

Finally, Here is a pastel I did that brings together much of what I am learning at the atelier. It is not a class assignment but something I do on the side. It is from a live still life and later a photo reference. Pastel on prepared paper. I would have never, ever been able to do this without the lessons that I am learning in drawing and seeing. Seeing is key. Seeing is the most important tool in the toolbox and it is what we are really learning to do at the atelier.

The Pitcher | Hard and Soft pastel On Prepared Paper | 11" x 15"
The Pitcher | Hard and Soft pastel On Prepared Paper | 11″ x 15″

At times, when a student looks at the rough figure drawings they keep putting out there and the slow moving Bargues and cast drawings you wonder if you are really getting anything from your studies. My advice would be at that point where you doubt the most… do something on your own, do something that you might have done before your journey began. I can guarantee you will see a million more flaws in it than you would have seen when you first began, but your work will also be miles better and you will see that, and you will see why.

My studies at the atelier have changed me forever as an artist and they have introduced something so special into my life that I will never be the same. I have found a home in the classical study of art.

Lesson of the week: The conversation happens in the light. Mass the shadows. That has changed the game for me.

This week… sometimes

… sometimes really, the very best you can do is to just show up (and make some marks). That was pretty much the story of this week, and last. I will just keep doing my best and hope next week my best makes me a little bit more satisfied than the last few weeks…

It’s not all magic and Zen. My first week cast drawing…

I think every painter has moments where they feel like they are really tapped in, they are on the path – they will achieve their goals and vision. I think that we couldn’t last as painters if we didn’t have those times where we feel for a moment some form of the capacity for greatness. The brush flows, the lines appear effortlessly on the paper.  It is all magic and Zen. And then there are weeks like this:

Feb4
This was one of those weeks where you just do the work. You don’t do great work; magic doesn’t happen, and for the uninitiated it would appear that you have regressed back to the stage of scribbles. In fact 80% (or more) of the work of an artist I am beginning to believe is just this – doing not so great WORK.  No great results, no watershed moments, no rapid progress… another week of drawing and pressing yourself to see even more, even better, even deeper into the thing you are rendering.

My week started with the figure (as seen above). It was the first day of an eight week pose, so I think there is still hope for this one.  I can’t wait to post progress of it in a better shape than this shot finds it. I am however not here to say “hey I make really great drawings.” I am here to offer camaraderie to others on this same journey and maybe in my honesty provide encouragement when you meet with hard times or a challenging drawing.  So back to the figure, I had a really hard time initiating the block in… I struggled keeping the model in the box. I was really intimidated by the beauty of the pose. You simply cannot fake this stuff. You can’t go into the studio on a down day and fake a good drawing.  Truth shows. I am slowly getting to the point though, where I am proud of everything I do in the studio, even if it does not “shine” because it reflects something so important.  It reflects in my opinion a sacred struggle to grow and a commitment to what I am most made of. What’s not to be proud of.

Probably the most frustrating part of my studies this week was starting a cast drawing of Michelangelo’s eye in charcoal, in sight size. This meant for me learning to see far away from the easel. You stand way back from your drawing and look… then look at your drawing and project where you want to make a mark. Memorize it… then walk to the easel and make your mark. Walk back and check your mark. So that is new for me. On top of that there is the ongoing charcoal learning curve. I am using vine charcoal for this and I like it much better than the Nitram I am using for the Bargue. It is softer and does not grit and jump.

This will be the first drawing that I start over since I began my studies here. Partly, well mostly it is because the only paper I had to draw on that day was a bit beat up. But it is also because in all my learning and erasing I created “unsightly ghost lines”. So I am going to let this one go and start fresh on Wednesday.  Ghost lines… that is the topic for a while other blog post!

cast_feb4
I worked on my Bargue angel at home – though did not get a critique on it. I will be getting critique next week so expect a lot of change on it in my next post. The Holbein didn’t come out to play this week at all.  I am hoping to spend some time with her a little this week.

angel_feb4
There is so much that goes on in every drawing for the student. I assume for the professional or accomplished artist as well – but the nature of the struggle is different. I think the most important thing I got out of the week was some advice from my new painting/cast drawing teacher Matthew Riggs – “Don’t fight it, don’t make it fight between you and the drawing. “ He also instructed some about capturing the expression of the  form a little earlier in the block in process as opposed to just connected well measured dots of a grid. In the end you might have something that looks like the thing you are drawing but has no energy.

I was also told that I am going to be taught to draw like a painter. This made me giggle like a school girl!  Have a great week!

First week and off and rolling!

My First Charcoal Bargue:

While I am pleased with the progress of my new Bargue, I am struggling with both using the charcoal for the first time and with moving from the block in to the interior of the form. My biggest struggle with the charcoal right now is the fluidity of making a line. I keep running into some sort of grit in my charcoal that makes my line uneven or I have to push down too hard and imprint on the paper. I am use to the consistency of line I get with the graphite. I have tried both H and HB. The HB seemed to have less of an issue with it for me, but still! I am encouraged by my fellow students who say that you learn how to handle this distraction with practice.  Instructor, Jonathan Chorn gave me some pointers and a way to sharpen the charcoal that might help with this problem. You sharpen the charcoal into a very sharp chisel shape instead of the rounded point.  I like that shape more for a number of reasons. It gives you a sharp point longer and it gives you the option for different line expression.

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Regarding moving into the form from the block-in, I got some fantastic advice from my new teacher, Florence Academy Graduate Matthew Riggs. He will be teaching cast drawing starting next week, moving into Grisaille painting and his painting program – (SO excited!) He said that if I am hesitating to move into a next step or I am finding it difficult, then I am not finished with the previous step/area yet. The steps of the work evolve naturally leading one into the other as you progress. Don’t fight it or force yourself into things, just work on the adjusting the block in, fine tuning it until you naturally start moving inward. GREAT advice that can be applied to creative work across the board. He speaks my language which is so important for a student and teacher.

In the Drawing Room:

The last two sessions were each 3 hour block-ins. This has been really good warm up for me for the next session’s longer pose. I feel real progress with the live figure. The most important thing is that the sight-size “fight” to keep the figure between the head and foot lines (The box as I call it) has become considerably less. I do not really know what has changed but I am able to consistently come back to the form in the right size. This is a breakthrough as I spent many drawing sessions in deep frustration with the form changing size over and over as I tried to keep it constant, in the box. I still have trouble with my vision going from the distant model to the close up paper but it also was less of a fight. I am ordering progressive lens glasses this week that will make that struggle even less of a problem I hope. Overall, I am enjoying the figure room more and more as the fight become less and the focus shifts more to the drawing itself and less to the set-up.

Jan29

The school itself is really growing by leaps and bounds. With Jonathan, Matthew and Lisa all teaching now, and sometimes all present in the studio providing critique and feedback the level and quality of instruction just keeps getting more robust. There are many new students that add to a really special and charged atmosphere. it is a very, very good group right now and I am so happy to be active in the community there again.

First Day Back and a New Six Month Goal

School is back from winter break and I got a warm up last Wednesday back in the studio with the live model. This was my first time back since end of October. What surprised me the most was that I thought I would be starting from ground zero again after so long away. I thought I had forgotten all I had learned. I approached setting up the sight size block in with the trepidation I was accustomed to.

It was amazing how smoothly everything went. I mean I was able to come back to my “spot” and fit the model in the box on the paper faster than I ever have before. That was my biggest struggle during my first six month drawing goal. When I say struggle I mean that I would sometimes spend the first hour and a half of drawing time just trying to keep the model in the box. I wanted to just walk away so many times. Happily, this time it happened almost naturally allowing me to move on to the next foundational struggle.

For the next six months I will be doing live model sight size drawing once a week, and cast drawings twice a week leading into the study of grisaille painting. In the beginning I will also be working with Lisa on a Bargue outside of class. I am also still working on the Holbein copy which is actually giving me a lot of joy even though it is going really slowly. I am also providing part time admin support to the school.

With that I start my new six month drawing goal. The new goal is to draw every day for at least one hour. This does not include my painting, or my pastel work but actual academic drawing study pushing my eyes and hand each session. That will be easy on school days where sometimes I easily log 6-8 hours.

That sounds all well and good but here it is, the real goal – simply to stay in school. No matter the day to day crisis, illness and other craziness of life – just show up for class one way or another. Life is intense, art training is very intense – and the two sometimes conspire to sap me of my life force making it hard to even show up. This has always been a struggle for me so this is the most important goal for me in the next six months. Learn balance as well as drawing. Learn stamina as well as seeing. I say this here as a way to be accountable the next time I think I cannot do it.

Six Months Reflection

One goal done, a new one begun.  Before I move too quickly into the next six month goal, it’s important to look back at where six months of drawing has taken me.  First I want to thank each of you for taking this ride with me for the last six months and invite you to stay on for another run in the atelier student adventure. I hope to make you proud!

When I started at the Neoteric Renaissance School or Art six months ago I did not “know” how to draw. I drew… I got lucky sometimes – but I could never draw what I was trying to draw to the level that I wanted to draw it. Now I am not talking being able to draw at the level of Leonardo, I just wanted to be able to have an idea and draw it out. Set up a still life and draw it so had some resemblance to the real thing instead of leaning on abstraction and impressionism to compensate for my lack of fundamental drawing skills.

I am not saying that the artists who create in those forms do not have skills. I am saying I hid behind modern technique because I had no other option. Expression is about having options in the way you want to say something. My wanting to learn to draw is very much like wanting to speak Italian having no basis for speaking the language except to say perhaps pizza and lasagna.

Now, I have spent six months learning drawing and the hard process of practice, incessant patience, correction and humbleness. I know a few more words in Italian and I can even form simple sentences. I am just starting verb conjugation. Apologies for the extended metaphor – but it says precisely what I mean to say.

People say the proof is in the pudding and I have some pudding to show you but I don’t think in art the proof necessarily lays in the pudding. There is so much that happens behind the scenes when a student is learning, so much that happens on the inside. Sometimes you can grow in huge steps, really important growth as an artist and not be able to show it yet in your output. That happens to me often. It takes a little while for my hands to catch up with my heart and mind.

In the last six months, probably the two most important things I have learned is that

1. I need community. I need those brothers and sisters in art to give me a compass for where I am at and where I am going.

2. “Just let yourself be a student.” Lisa said one afternoon outside the studio when I was exasperated with how I short I fall in my desires to express myself as an artist. This was priceless advice and some of the best advice I have ever gotten in my life in general.

Anyway, here is some pudding. You can see where I started and where I have gone. – And in it I can see a glimpse of where I am going and therein lays the hope.

PS. Best quote this six months:  “…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

Drawing When I Began:

Drawings Six Months later