Anxiety and accordions

Last night I was waylaid by anxiety. You know the feeling: heart racing, mind jumping like a monkey shrieking at each imagined worse case scenario.

It felt something like this:

Colored markers on slick paper
Colored markers on slick paper

Well, I wasn’t actually feeling quite this armageddon-ish, despite world events cascading towards something scary in a most remarkable manner. Instead,  my anxiety was of a personal nature, stemming from the feeling of falling behind, of not painting enough, of not moving fast enough towards my goal, of being too lax, too lazy.

Part of this stems from late night reading of artist blogs, stories like Middle of Nowhere, about a toymaker in the UK, or Andrea Joseph’s sketch blog, that has lovely drawings in such a beautiful style. I admire these artists, and  they give me something to stretch for, to be sure, but also they make me feel so far behind.

So, since the bed was making me feel prickly and itchy, I got up at 1 a.m. and drew this fellow.

Accordion player number 1
Accordion player number 1

It’s my first pass at a painting I want to make of a Morris accordion player on May Day. However, this fellow looks too innocent. Too farmboy to play a diabolical instrument like the accordion.

This is better. I like his smirk. I like that he looks like a magician. The Morris dancers say they dance to keep the sun coming up on May Day. Some days I think it takes a magician to do that. I’ll start painting him this evening.

Accordion player number 2
Accordion player number 2

Drawing in three colors

Neck study  Charcoal, chalk, sanguine on toned paper
Neck study
Charcoal, chalk, sanguine on toned paper

At the Atelier  School of Classical Realism, we’ve graduated from using only charcoal and white chalk. We’ve added a third chalk: red-hued sanguine. Boy, what a difference! With charcoal, white chalk, sanguine, and the toned paper, we’re actually working with four colors, and it’s amazing how many variations in value and hue we can mix.

At the bottom left of the drawing above, you can see my value chart. Working out your values before you start adding tone is absolutely the way to go. It doesn’t pay to be lazy in this regard; you’ll end up either working harder in the end, or just giving up on the drawing.

This drawing was done in about 3.5 hours, and with this limited amount of time (we do lo-o-o-ng poses in this class. I’ve worked on drawings up to 15-20 hours, so 3.5 hours was brief for me) I chose to do a study of a neck because Rob had just given us a terrific lecture on how to stick the head on the torso (always an important thing!) and I wanted to try out his ideas.

The key to getting the head on right is placing the neck properly. And the key to placing the neck is to think of it as a column emerging from top of the torso.

Sounds simple, but it’s not.

Friday Harbor Irish Music Camp

Fiddlers at a session
Fiddlers at a session

What a way to ring in Saint Patrick’s Day. We spent a week at the Friday Harbor Irish Music Camp on San Juan Island. It was brilliant. These drawings were done one night during a session, in dim light, while the music was rocking along.

I didn’t get much drawing done at the camp. It was too exciting to draw; the music, wild and free, trapped me, and so I just played music, pretty solidly, for six days. Art took a fiddle class from Liz Kane, and a music theory class from Randal Bays. I took flute classes from Catherine McEvoy, one of my favorite flute players. I fell in love with my flute all over again.

Catherine McEvoy playing the flute. She looks demure, but her music is powerful.
Catherine McEvoy playing the flute. She looks demure, but her music is powerful and strong. Not ladylike at all.

For the last few years, I haven’t been playing music much,  concentrating instead on painting, and so I had fallen out of the groove of playing. But a week of music brought it back: how much I love the music, love playing my flute. Don’t know how I’m going to balance music with painting, and still go to my day job.

If you haven’t heard of Catherine McEvoy, check out this video. She’s amazing.

Prud’hon method

Self-portrait in charcoal and white chalk
Self-portrait in charcoal and white chalk

In the third year at the atelier, Rob started teaching us different techniques which will eventually lead to color temperature theory. Leaping into technique was a little daunting, as I was still (am still!) struggling to get an accurate rendition of the figure on my paper. Rob has an exacting eye, and with his help, I’m slowly learning to see where I go wrong in the initial stages of a drawing. These days, when I’m working on a drawing, I don’t just accept the first marks that go on my paper; instead, I try to use a more critical approach.  And measure, measure, measure.

After we started working on colored paper, Rob introduced the Prud’hon method. Prud’hon was a French Romantic painter who produced some amazing drawings using toned paper, charcoal, and white chalk. A brilliant Bay Area teacher, Rebecca Alzofon (who, unfortunately is no longer teaching) has a tutorial on the Prud’hon method. I rarely follow tutorials, but I did follow some of this, and found it helpful to build on what I’d learned in Rob’s class.)

There’s a lot of smudging going on with this method. Tone is put down by a series of hatch marks, which are then smudged and blended. Charcoal and chalk can be blended, or not. After you’ve built the volume and form, to accent areas, you use line—not contour line, which would go across the form, but rather, line that follows the direction of the form.

Gesture drawing

5 minute gesture drawing
5 minute gesture drawing

I like this gesture drawing because it’s a departure from my normal crabbed and tortured line work. I’ve been searching for a new vocabulary in drawing, something more free and graceful, something that could capture the whole pose in a few seconds. I began this drawing with a charcoal encrusted chamois. I held it loosely so that I could not possibly draw a thin line. I was looking for big, loose shapes. I think it helped.

I’ve been studying at the Atelier School of Classical Realism in Oakland, California for 2.5 years. When I first began, I loved to draw—I drew all the time—but I’d never had any kind of formal training, so my work always had something wrong with it, errors I couldn’t correct. Drawing a person took me so long and was such a disaster that I had difficulty finishing a drawing or a painting.

After the last few years studying with Rob Anderson (with guest appearances by David Hardy, owner of the Atelier), both exceptional artists, and wonderful teachers, I feel like I’m beginning to learn to speak the language of art. I’m by no means fluent, but I can peice together small sentences and make myself understood.