Figures under water

After reading Sue Smith’s blog at Ancient Artists about pushing your art to the next level, I felt I needed to challenge myself. So, watercolor backpack in hand, and a stack of failed paintings (the backs of the paper still pristine, ready for work) under my arm, I headed to a local life drawing session to try my hand at sketching with water and paint.

I was in a kerfuffle from the first moments, adrift without the guiding compass of charcoal pencils and kneaded eraser.  And painting at the session was completely different from painting at home. Normally I stand at my easel and work on a vertical surface; at the session, I sat at a table, paper propped on my backpack.

1-minute watercolor war zone

Right away, my body rebelled against sitting. My neck and back ached, my hands stung, and my butt fell into a pins-and-needle coma. The process of painting like that was awful.

I floundered during the first 20-minute set of 1-minute poses, completely rudderless and out of control. I thrashed about with brush, paper, paint, water, making a mess.

The quick gesture paintings looked like a war zone. Body parts were disconnected. Chaotic limbs and runny torsos bled across the page. The figures turned into misshapen blobs of color.

During the break in poses, I screwed up my courage and asked if it would bother anyone if I stood. Talking to people! Asking for something! That was a breakthrough in itself, overcoming my  little mouse-self that doesn’t like to make a fuss in public.

You know what? Nobody cared. So I stood.

That helped. The next set of 2-minute poses made me much happier. I began to make friends again with my paintbrush, and like any good friend, my trusty Kolinsky sable helped me to see in a new way. It taught me to look for the large shapes, forms, and shadow patterns.

2-minute watercolor sketches

The 5-minute poses came along a bit better . The one below is my favorite. The horns on her helmet-hair were accidental, but I love them. Watercolor warrior woman!

5-minute watercolor sketch

At 10-minutes I thought that I could give myself a few graphite guidelines to help me control where I put the paint. And that is where I lost the energy of the previous paintings.

10-minute watercolor sketch

Below you can see the final 20-minute pose. Except for the extraordinarily long arm, it’s a pretty correct representation of the model’s position. But that’s about it.  It has lost some of the wonderful freedom of the quick sketches.

20-minute watercolor sketch

Somewhere  between loss of control and total control there are pictures to be made. The challenge is to navigate to that tricky space.

2 thoughts on “Figures under water

    1. Oh yes, Chris, I know that feeling too. I just don’t sit very well in any situation, unless I’m reading a book.

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