Saturday, June 2, 2007

Stealing Time for Life Drawing

In March of 2004 I had the distinct pleasure of attending a figure drawing seminar taught by Glenn Vilppu. My participation was a bit surreptitious since I wasn't on the list of students invited to attend, but then asking for forgiveness instead of permission has worked well for me in the past, and it did so on this occasion as well. At the time I had finished my graduate studies and was working full-time in computer support while completing my MFA thesis. With all the technical responsibilities I was under pressure to meet every day, having a little creative time while learning from one of the best seemed like an opportunity that shouldn't be missed. "Feel the flow... feel the flow," was the catch phrase throughout the seminar.

I've been drawing the human figure from life off and on since the beginning of my undergraduate studies in 1983, and that's if you don't count the clothed figure drawing my high-school instructor had us do. So, I was feeling quite in my element during these drawing sessions, except for when it comes to that extra critical eye walking around the room. But then, that's why I sneaked into these drawings sessions in the first place. When he finally got around to me during one session Glenn noticed that I seemed to 'feel the flow' but that my drawings all 'lacked form'.

He then proceeded to demonstrate what he meant by this on a page of my sketch pad. The two examples above that appear as if they were drawn by an old master, were. These are demonstrating "form" on the left and measurement and rhythm on the right. Each drawing took only a few minutes and flowed out with amazing ease as his hand moves in what appeared to be a very graceful slow motion. I realized from that moment, no matter how comfortable I felt about my drawing abilities, that I needed to learn to draw all over again. Since that time its been a struggle to find time for developing my skills in this area but I manage to keep trudging forward. Below are some more resent examples of my effort.

Above are some 3-minute poses from the first sessions I had been to in almost a year and a half. Some flow but not much form. Still working on building the figure from the inside out. I seem to struggle a bit when the poses are long since I have time to think about what I am doing instead of just doing it. Below I took one 20-minute pose and broke it up into three drawings. Keeping the amount of time I spend on a drawing to minimum seems to help me stay focused, and repetition never hurts either. The last one on the bottom seems to be the strongest of the three.

Below I seem to have flow and a little form but my lines are stiff and laboured.

These next pair of 10-minute poses show that I'm still focusing a lot on the outside, but some hints of construction are beginning to appear.

Below are two 20-minute poses. Seems I didn't get lost in the details as much as usual.

Ah, form. Not as fluid as I would like but I'm still learning this approach after many years of old habits.

Below is a figure who provides a chance to learn more about form with rounded lines and an opportunity to describe weight. The 3-minute pose on the left started nicely if somewhat unevenly. On the right you seen in the 10-minute pose I started to forget my main objective... using the flow of the figure, and to describe her form. At least it isn't as lost as earlier examples from 10-minute poses.

Below are the latest pair of 20-minute poses.

There is some form and some weight described as well.

Usually, after a 10 or 11 hour day I find it a bit difficult to drag myself down-town to the Tuesday life drawing sessions, but every time I manage to do so is well worth the effort. This post could have been labeled under the category of "examining my work" but it seemed more appropriate to file as "learning from others". I am still learning from Glen Vilppu who has been teaching this subject to animators for decades. Also, I learn from the brave people who stand, absent clothing, in the middle of a room full of strangers who stare intently at naked human bodies.

There have been some nice posts about related subjects on various animation blogs I frequent. Spline Doctor Andrew Gordon talks about the importance of developing your eye, and PJ Leffleman posted some fabulous examples of eye movement in movies. Both of these discussions emphasise opening your eyes and learning through observation. For me, life drawing has been a primary source of developing my ability to see. What goes down on paper is only evidence of how well I spend my time observing. Having to steal every little minute to do so seems to focus the mind.

I strongly recommend the practice of life drawing to any visual artist, regardless of your particular creative focus.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most impressive and I'm envious. I have not taken a life drawing class in about 5 years!

I keep putting it off hoping one day to take them again. Maybe I will :)