Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Life/Figure Drawing

I can't figure out life drawing before hence I got enrolled at East Sydney Technical College for some advance lifedrawing courses. It was non-certificate and the teacher Noel, a very good artist was kind enough to accomodate me thru Cel Dasilva, a workmate who also modelled in the class. I was barely new in Australia and the experience was an eye-opener. Naked eye focused on naked figure while i rub naked charcoal sticks on cheap student paper courtesy of denuded forests. I guess it doesn't matter what size of paper one draws on but the class prefers big. Reasons? Freer movement of the arm and allowing the body to follow the rhythm of the drawing hand. But then it's so tiring to draw on A1 size paper.

There's a trend in Sydney to go big. Archibald Prize winners for years have been awarded to artists with gargantuan canvasses. Oh they start young I thought.. starting with big, student art paper, using the shoulder joints as fulcrum to draw arcs reminiscent of Da Vinci's human anatomical configuration.

I love cartooning and caricatures but it's only logical to ask "How can one distort (to caricature) reality if one is not familiar with reality?" Thus an art student needs to learn first the virtues of lifedrawing, to practise good draftsmanship, to get less intimidated by foreshortening and develop a sharp eye for good judgment of ratio and proportions-- before going about to distorting reality into caricatures.

"Just draw what's in front of you!" nicely said by Noel as he hovered behind life drawing
students. He never criticized my work and I got worried until he gave an aside "Nice work Edd, a bit overworked in that area tho' but looking good; and not to worry too much about the face, it's figure drawing, remember?" Later I didn't hear any more remarks from him. He became a good friend and often asked Cel and I to attend his solo exhibitions. Oh if I only had some photos of his works, you'll be amazed. He used wax pastels so cleverly to portray life-size, full-figure portraits of his colleagues and the background was textured by rubbing wax pastels on the paper held against the old sandstone walls of the college.

Lifedrawing became an obsession for me after the passing away of my wife, Virginia. I embraced her til her last breath at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital; and when she was finally at peace I looked out the window with tears I tried to wipe off with ball of my palm which held a now damp charcoal stick..bowed my head, stared at the gray hospital wall and scrawled "chemotherapy sucks!" I was bitter. She was only 35.

I then embraced lifedrawing like crazy, bringing all sorts of medium to class and experimenting on everything but without much pushing. It was therapeutic.

I discovered limitations of the medium yet accepted solemnly the quality and character of each.I settled comfortably with watercolour. It gave my drawings a sort of surprising fluidity. Downside is it took time for watercolour to dry so wet-on-wet technique was obvious.
However pastel sticks are best to use in lifedrawing sessions. It's convenient to work dry and it's quick to cover large areas just by smudging colours with your fingers. Best to spray the drawings with clear spray fixative later at home.

Oh how I love MSG! No, it's not the dreaded food seasoning. Manila-Sydney Group was the first Filipino-Australian lifedrawing saturday group we set up. There were Eric David, Ding Roces, Tony Ablen and Conrad Velasco and some Australian, French and Brazilian friends, too. I sort of conducted the session using a stop watch. I invited models from ESTC while Eric brought model friends once in awhile. Saturday sessions were often held at Kirribilli and North Sydney Community Centers. After sometime we had the opportunity to show our works and held group life drawing exhibits at Dorian Gray gallery in Paddington, Sydney. (photo)

During those years (late 80's) I organised lifedrawing sessions for the Australian Black & White Artists. It became popular and went on for a few years.
It's quite tricky to organise lifedrawing sessions. I would prefer getting a model for myself if I could afford it. However lifedrawing is more fun as a group, especially if there's four or five of you chipping in for the model's fee. Standard hourly fee based on college lifedrawing class at that time was fifty dollars.

Some people may still be turned off by nude drawings despite the fact that most treasured paintings today, even from the Rennaisance Period are portrayals of nude men and women.

If by definition art is the appreciation of the beauty of nature (including us human beings) then there's nothing wrong with that. The intent of art is good by default. If art is misused then the intent deviates and the outcome often caters to base and self-gratifying purposes. I guess if the intent is without malice the drawing shall evoke beauty even if rendered by a beginner. It's all in the mind they say.
One need not draw vivid, clinical drawings of genitalia. What for? The intent is to interpret the beauty of the human form; that's all. If the intent is sexual then that should be expressed privately somewhere else. Definitely not in the drawing classroom!

Some artists bring their cameras hoping to photograph models for latter studio work to develop their session drawings. "Edd, can I photograph the model?" My quick retort would be " I'll ask her first, if she agrees then it's okay."

There are rules we usually follow. Wikipedia couldn't have said it much better:"-Most schools have standards of conduct for figure drawing sessions, intended to mitigate the potential for sexual harassment. For example:
Some prohibit students from socializing with models before, during, and after class.
-Models rarely undress in front of the class, except to remove their robes when beginning a pose.
-The instructor might be the only person permitted to speak directly with the model.
-Most institutions have rules against anyone touching the model.
-Some prohibit students from modelling at the same institution they attend to avoid awkward/inappropriate interactions when students and models encounter each other outside the classroom.
-Only students enrolled in the class are allowed to enter during a modelling session. "

So far rules are rarely talked about in the group. It seemed common knowledge.

Inside an artistic state of mind we feel protected by laws of correct human behaviour. In college I often get surprised when Noel would announce that the model couldn't make it. He would just look around and with a meaningful glance and a nod the girl beside me would stand up, leave her blank art paper and disrobe before us. Class then breathes en masse a sigh of relief.

Sometimes there would be two models at the same time. Ropes and rags strewn all over the floor to provide interesting backdrops and props for the model. There's even a grill heater for our winter classes. It was the age of INXS and Billy Idol so we get some punk-haired models, too. What a delight to draw those colourful and spiky crops.

There's a civilising effect in lifedrawing. The group is solely intent in interpreting the human figure without malice at all. (In otherwords one can't perv and focus on drawing at the same time;-)

The ambience is like that of a church or a gallery where everything is quiet except for the usual scribbling noise and my intermittent announcement of "Time! Give us a series of 3 minute poses please, just to warm us up, ta."

I'll never give up lifedrawing. Claude Monet, the great impressionist practised it until his death. I might sound biblical if I say "Know thyself, from bones to flesh to spirit."

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At Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 2:54:00 PM GMT+10 , Blogger Jim said...

Nakakainggit ka Edd. One of my big frustrations is drawing. My wife and kids can draw great. That's how I landed in photography, and nudes are my favorite subjects.

Great works!!

At Sunday, February 17, 2008 at 10:35:00 AM GMT+11 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Edd,
I have started facilitaing a life drawing group in a small town in California. I had not drawn from models in 30 years! I am putting together thoughts on respect for models (actually our group has been marvelous--meeting for ove 6 months--the only over the top behavior was an older guy who wouldn't clean up his pastel mess on the floor!)
You comments are helpful. Your artwork is very good--I'm toying with the idea of a blog myself. Best wishes. J in YV

At Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:44:00 AM GMT+11 , Blogger jdsair said...

your work on the nudes is great i love the depth that created with your medium, but im wondering what medium your using? im an artist of sorts and the work youve shown is great keep it up...:)

At Monday, December 8, 2008 at 5:55:00 PM GMT+11 , Blogger Sandra T said...

A very beautifully written article together with beautiful drawings. I'm a member of group meeting for lifedrawing about a year and a half now - meeting over a long time gives me the chance to experiment with a variety of media and approaches but dry media is most convenient.

At Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 1:50:00 AM GMT+11 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Edd, Thanks for your stories of life drawing culture and rules. I have just started attended life drawing classes at the local TAFE. In the beginning I was intimidated and shocked about drawing a nude person that was so un-shy about their bodies. But i have grown to love the human form and the models. I have found love in life drawing that I thought I would hate when I was asked about attending the classes. Thanks again for your tales. Regards Mark


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