One of the best ways – if not THE best way – to learn to draw is by doing it from life. I can hear my hapless workshop participants groaning right now, since I have so much fun getting out the cattle-prod and making everyone do gesture sketches from a constantly-moving cougar or raccoon kit or whatever.
If you ask my opinion (not that anyone did), a lack of drawing ability prohibits many artists from realizing their vision effectively and fully. Once you know how to draw, and know the anatomy of a given critter, you know what liberties you can take, and to what effect. Bob Kuhn said that he would tweak aspects of his subject to make it look like what we think it ought to look like.
Or consider Picasso. The work he painted in his teen years was beautifully represented; the man knew how to draw…and then spent the rest of his life going beyond just representing his subjects – he got inside of them, took them apart, twisted them around, to get at other aspects of them.
But back to our topic. This sketch is of my German Shepherd girl, Suka, sleeping on the couch next to me. When a critter is awake and moving, the best I can do is gesture sketches; repose offers a better chance to observe details and proportions. So I have a LOT of drawings of Suka sleeping. I once watched Bob Kuhn sketching a lynx from life; the cat was not moving much, but it certainly wasn’t holding still. Bob developed one particular pose, adding to it when he could as the cat moved about; meanwhile, I was scribbling away doing 40 zillion bits of gesture. Bob’s was a helluva lot nicer. Duh.
So this is everyone’s challenge in the next week: get a sketchbook, a charcoal, and a critter, and go to it. I’ll be flogging my summer workshop with the same thing. We’ll all suffer together.
, life drawing
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At my workshops (most recently my winter one, Feb 14 – 17), one of the exercises to which I subject my participants (along with various other forms of torture) is drawing from life. This is guaranteed to be mostly frustrating, since the animals are anything but cooperative models and haven’t the first idea about holding a pose; however, if anything at all gets onto the paper, the exercise can also be very rewarding. This page from my sketchbook came from the afternoon we spent in front of the nursery room for a young cougar – who spent the entire time rolling, leaping, and wrestling with her tug toy – and a large crate containing a small raccoon, who spent the entire time trying every clasp, wire, and other apparatus on the crate.
So why do this? why draw from life, when we’ve already taken hundreds of photographs of similar animals earlier in the day?
My workshops focus on drawing … which really means they focus on seeing. One of the things we discuss is the distortion that various camera lenses introduce; knowing an animal’s anatomy means we can compensate. We also talk about the characteristics of a species – the roundness of a wild cat’s head, the sinuous spine of a cougar, the triangle made by the mask and nose of a fox, how a snow leopard’s tail is as big around as a python. All of this understanding – all of this SEEING – informs an artist and frees her to focus on her own vision, while still ‘getting it right’ – capturing the key elements of cougarness or raccoonness.
And I have found that every artist who paints animals does so because he or she loves animals – loves their beauty, their behavior, their complete otherness. Even though the life drawing is very hard, I never have to persuade my group to spend an hour in silent, loving observation of the animal.
Tags: art workshop
, life drawing
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