Anatomy of a Workshop

Five solid days of intense concentration on the drawing and painting of the human figure left me dazed throughout the following weekend. Only today do I begin to feel that I have returned to earth. The image above is the last piece that I worked on, and , I believe, represents my best work for the week, which is a Good Thing as it means I profited from the processes that preceded it.

The workshop was superbly taught by Sean Beavers at the NH Institute of Art. Sean was a terrific resource, imparting a prodigious amount of information about methodology, tools, techniques. The workshop was structured around two models, Levy and Margaret. Dark-skinned Levy took a standing pose, under a spotlight, and held that pose, with breaks of course, for the three hours of each morning. Ivory-skinned Margaret held her seated pose for the three afternoon hours, lit only by the light from the north-facing windows. Those of us on the south side of the room had trouble seeing what we were working on, so Sean arranged small spotlights to hit the wall behind us, which cast reflected light onto our easels.

Fifteen hours for one pose was an unheard-of luxury for most of us, I’m sure. Some members of the class moved around the room during the week in order to get a different perspective on a pose, while others worked a single piece for the entire fifteen hours of a pose. I produced two final pieces for each pose, but chose to work from a single spot for all four images.

Our process was something totally new to me: first we had to produce a drawing on cheap paper that was perfect enough to warrant transfer, then transfer by tracing through graphite paper onto the final paper or canvas. This process allows the artist to crop the image and alter its placement on the canvas. Here are my first two drawings:

I used a magenta pencil to trace each drawing onto the graphite paper so that I could see where I had already traced and where I still needed to trace. That treatment kind of ruins the drawing as a completed work on its own–it becomes only a way station to the final masterpiece.

I ran into trouble with the size of my drawing of Levy. When drawing, I like to fill the sheet with my subject. But my drawing pad was 24 inches high, while all of my canvas panels were 20×16. I could not accept the idea of cropping off his head or his feet, so I managed to squeeze him onto the panel with millimeters to spare. He’s about to step right out of the frame. Here are 2 images of the painting, one intermediate and one final:

The principal, perhaps only, difference between the two is the warmth in the shadow areas. For the final version, I “blued” the shadows on his body and the cast shadow behind him. Note that I placed him well to the right of the panel, giving plenty of room for his shadow, and plenty of space for him to be gazing into. I’m really pleased about that, and his toeing the edge of the picture is kind of growing on me too.

After declaring that painting finished, I decided to do a portrait of Levy. Originally, I hoped to turn it into a painting. Then I thought perhaps a charcoal drawing would be fun. In the end, I simply worked the drawing to death on my pad. Here is my start and my finish:

My first work featuring Margaret took me three days. The second one took only two days. Here is the first:

From drawing to canvas panel did not require much repositioning. I had plenty of room to keep all her toes and fingers intact.

The second pose started out with thoughts of portrait, but somehow grew beyond portrait to a half figure (I think that’s what it’s called). Here is the drawing, then my first blocking in of the painting:

And here, for your convenience and, I hope, enjoyment, is an image of the final painting again:

I love how her skin shimmers against the antique background light and shadow. Funny thing–now for the first time I notice the tan lines running up her shoulders, which somehow got automatically transferred from my eyes to the canvas without passing through my brain.

Calling up a phrase from the sixties (fifties?), that was the week that was. I wish I could live all my days being exhausted and used up like that. If you are interesting in examining these images a little closer up, you can do so on the Newest Additions page.

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