Dancing the charcoal fantastique

A few years ago I studied briefly with a life-drawing teacher who made me stand arm length from the paper, take up a hand-size piece of charcoal, and dance while I drew.

“Keep your arm straight, he directed. “Draw from the shoulder, not the wrist. Move your body!”

He turned on some jazzy music, and insisted that I dance throughout the whole 20-minute set of short poses.

“You already know how to find proportions,” the teacher said. “You know how to draw the parts of the body. You’ve got a good eye. Now you have to find some life, some joy in your drawings.”

You must understand. I’m not a cheeky, dancing-on-the-table party-girl kind of person; I’m a focused, earnest, git-r-done kind of person. Generally, I don’t dance; I plod.

And I was deadly serious about learning to draw. I had been studying with Rob Anderson for a couple of years, and was used to doing slow, careful, accurate work. I was strict with myself.

Doing a dance step and shaking my hips while trying to capture on paper the motion of a model? It was a little weird. Okay, so it was a lot weird. And I was afraid I’d let go of the drafting skills I’d worked so hard to gain. I was afraid the outcome would be terrible.

But you know what? The dancing didn’t destroy my hard-won knowledge of proportions, comparative drawing, and anatomy. All the practice I’d done previously was lodged in my subconscious, and when the music started and I started moving, the knowledge and skill bubbled up and gave form to my dancing.

I wasn’t just head banging in a papery mosh pit; I was floating around gracefully on a dance floor sprung with newsprint and chalk. And the drawings were something entirely different from anything I’d done before.

All that dancing had helped set me free from precious scratchy little marks and awkward figures. Those dance-infused drawings marked a huge leap of progress for me.

I normally work in a silent studio, but these days, when my drawings start to seize up into crabbed little wads of chalk-snot, I put on my headphones, spin my Ipod dial to music, and do a little shimmy at the easel.

7 thoughts on “Dancing the charcoal fantastique

  1. Wow, I really love this post. And Pink Martini! Love them, too. :).

    While I’ve only taken two drawing classes, including one life drawing class, I have found that with each class taken, I gained little tidbits from the instructor’s lessons and the guest teachers demonstrations, and continue to use them in my art practice, although I do mixed media art more now than drawing.

    Music is a huge inspiration, influence, and part
    of the creative process for me. Probably because I grew up around music and it was always playing in the house — while I was painting or reading or coloring or something. I live by the freeway and in close proximity to other houses, so headphones and a good album or playlist are usually a must for concentration (and emotional/spiritual movement), as I don’t have a separate studio yet.

    I love to dance and grew up taking classes, which has helped immensely with developing a
    focus in the art process and being patient and regular and disciplined, or rather constant and persistent (showing up and not giving up).

    Very inspiring post – thanks for sharing your experience! 🙂

    1. Thank you Shanta. Your words mean so much to me.
      How lucky you were to grow up in a house full of music and study dance. It gives you a great base to grow an art practice!

  2. Yes! You let your left brain (the one that wants to methodically “plod” through) relax while freeing your right brain through dancing. . . and the results are magical.

    I, too, am grateful for your sharing. . .

Comments are closed.