Life drawing: freedom within structure

This is one of my favorite drawings from last week—a series of 2-minute poses—simply because I was able to control placement of the figures on the page. I was able to do it in a somewhat organized and pleasing fashion. And I was able to do get this information down fast. 2 minutes a sketch.

I could not have done this four years ago. In fact, a year ago I could not have controlled my drawing this much. Over the last year I’ve taken another leap in abilities.

I’ve been studying life drawing at the atelier for nearly four years. I’ve been focusing very hard on proportions, angles, measurements, and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to exert some kind of discipline over my errant and mindless drawing arm. (Sometimes I wonder, does this left hand even belong to me? My brain tells it to do something and like a spoiled puppy, my hand widdles charcoal all over the drawing even while my brain is chasing after it with a rolled up newspaper yelling NO! NO! NO!)

In open drawing classes (not at the atelier, because there we strive for proportion) I see a lot of people who just draw as they feel. It’s an experiential gig for them; they’re drawing to feel good, because, let’s face it, drawing feels good.

I’ve noticed that some folks have the kind of brain that allows them to see the model clearly and they are able to naturally get the information down on paper in proportion. But others struggle to see and don’t know what they are doing wrong. They often quit drawing in frustration. I was like that four years ago. My drawings were floundering attempts at something I could barely visualize, let alone realize. So I found the atelier and have been working hard ever since.

Rïce Freeman-Zachary, at Notes from the Voodoo Café has an interesting but maddening post (although with Rïce it could more correctly be called a rant) on being the thing you want to be. Among other things, she says:

“If you want to be it, you do it. And if you want to do it—if you really love it, and it’s what you want to do with your one single life—then you do it the best you can. You study, and you practice.

And, I want to add, practice with a purpose. Because here’s the thing. After four years of obsessively measuring angles, proportions, and anatomy, these days, when I do let myself go and draw as I feel, the feelings have some way to be expressed. I’ve got a vocabulary now, and my drawings can shout or whisper, laugh or cry. The errant drawing arm is beginning to behave like a well-trained appendage. My brain is happy.