Saturday, March 1, 2008

Spring Classes Begin

Well, the winter is over -- I imagine, that is -- and my drawing class is starting up again. I first took a drawing class many years ago when my oldest daughter wanted to take it, but she didn't want to go alone. I had to drive her to the class anyway, so I just signed on for it too, and we took it together. But then she went on to greater things -- becoming a major writer of history, for example, and inspiring younger women to follow her lead, and I sort of dropped out of the drawing business. I did generate all the artwork, however, for the quilting business that my wife and I had for about ten years, but that was more of a drafting effort than it was a drawing, so I don't count that period.

But then last fall my wife talked me into taking her drawing class with her. I knew the instructor, because she came out to the cabin a couple of years ago, along with several other ladies from the class, and I found her to be enchanting, interesting, and vibrant -- and, perfectly able to hold her own against my verbal jabs during dinner. Besides, as it turns out, she is a wonderful artist, working mostly in pastels, now, but having worked other media in the past.

So I went to class, taking Tuesdays off from work to do so. I was just going to take off a few hours, just for the class, but I found that somehow the whole day got taken up, what with the class, and then going to the art store, and lunch, and running errands -- by the time I was ready to go back to work, it was time to come home!

I took the beginner's curricula, and it was a good thing -- I was in poor shape as an artist.

But the rule is, after you have taken the beginner's curricula, you are no longer a beginner. However, I sort of moved only halfway out of the beginner's circle for the second term, working sometimes with the beginners and sometimes with the intermediate students. Astonishingly, to me, I found after a few weeks that my drawings actually had a distinct style to them, clearly recognizable as mine, and even looked rather like the still life models that she set up for us.

Drawing the still life was both interesting and instructive, but what I really wanted to be able to do was to draw people -- faces -- portraits. I find people so INTERESTING! I spend most of my time observing them. I study their psychology both individually and as revealed in group dynamics, but what I like best is observing faces.

We took a break from classes over the holidays because our instructor needed surgery on her foot and would be house-bound for awhile. During the break, I tried drawing a portrait. My first attempt clearly looked like A person, but not THE person I was using as a model (it was a print from a movie -- I had chosen it because the camera focused on the head, so that it filled the screen, the lighting was good for a portrait, and the emotion was clearly evident on the face).

On this first attempt I learned several things: My ability to place items on the paper to match their placement in the scene is rudimentary at best; my judgment about the relative length of lines needs improvement; my judgment of angles is poor. Still, my wife could recognize the drawing as the same person, so I was encouraged. I put that drawing aside and started over.

My second attempt was better, but still not what I wanted. I know, I know, every artist is his/her own worst critic. This is true in our class, too. We have one person who is really very good at portraits. It was from watching him work that I took heart and tried it myself. My second drawing had places where it was much better -- the nose was rendered both in the right place and the right size this time, and the shading was actually quite a bit better. But it still didn't LOOK right. The expression wasn't captured well, and, when I measured the original against my drawing, I could see that the chin was slightly too long. I put this drawing aside as well, and started over.

This time I measured very carefully, and drew little rectangular blocks where the eyes, nose, and mouth would go. I went more slowly and took my time. I discovered that previously I had drawn the lips too narrow. By comparison it seemed that this time I was putting lips all over the paper, but when I stood back and looked at it, they looked much better. This drawing really did look like my model -- it was clearly the person I intended it to be -- and the expression caught the sadness so apparent in the original. I was actually pleased with this one.

While my instructor was house-bound, my wife arranged to bring over dinner one day and then we had lunch on another day. On the day of the luncheon, I took my drawing over to show her what I had been doing over the holidays. She, of course, deflated me immediately by pointing out where I could improve. She was right, of course. No one can become a portrait artist after three tries. But then she began pointing out what I had done right, and loaned me her book that she used most for her own work. I felt so much better. I read the book while we were in Oregon for my father's funeral and it described exactly what I wanted to be able to do, so I ordered a copy for myself over the Internet so it would be waiting for me when I got home.

So then class started up again and the first day was spent on a still life that was very similar to one I had done in charcoal last fall, but this time it was to be done in pencil. When I was finished, I pulled out the charcoal version to compare it with and was surprised to see how good it was.

During the past week I have sifted through pictures of people to find one to work with. Actually I didn't sift through people -- I knew who I wanted to draw -- but I had to find a photograph that focused on the face, had appropriate lighting, and looked like something I could actually do. Yesterday I blocked it out.

Our class last Tuesday was to be a two-week effort, continued next Tuesday, but I finished my drawing of that still life during the first class, so I can do what I want next time. I plan to take my blocked-out plan and begin to fill it in.

I am having so much fun doing this! I am inordinately pleased when after a few hours work, I have a drawing that actually looks like the subject. I am doing so much better than I expected to. I hope I can learn to make faces appear -- faces that actually look like the subject -- out of blank paper, like photographs appear out of blank paper when it is placed in the developer. There is something magic about facing a blank sheet of paper and watching it slowly turn into a picture of a real 3-dimensional scene.


tona said...

Dad I hope you'll post some of the ones you like best, and I'm glad you're getting back into it. I have such good memories from those art classes we took together. It's more fun when you're taking it with someone you know. Enjoy! And thanks for those nice things you said. What's the title of your teacher's book?

Geary said...

I don't know about posting pictures -- if you come down here I will show them to you. The Artist's Complete Guide to Drawing the Head by William Maughan is the name of the book.

Maren said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. I thought I would never be able to draw anything well until I was required to take several drawing classes as part of my design coursework. It's amazing how helpful instructions and rules can be. I can't wait to see what you both are doing in class!