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