The question of perfection

Fluteplayer <br />  <br>© 2009 Margaret Sloan<br /> <i>Graphite </i>
Flute player © 2009 Margaret Sloan

I’ve been working on this painting for something like a month now, doing color roughs and composition studies. Of course, I don’t work on it every day (the day job, much as I love it, cuts considerably into time for painting and drawing), so I have some (lame) excuses for my slow pace.

This is the drawing for the for the final painting.  It’s given me quite a lot of trouble, because I have been picky about it. Teacher Steve has said, “you’re splitting hairs. I know that’s your working method, but you need to get on with painting!” I know he’s got a point: the piece can get too precious. But I know also that I need to get the base drawing right in order to convey what I have to say in this painting.

First of all, I needed to get the tilt of the flute player’s head as she bends forward to meet her flute. The head is down, the chin tilted to the left, and the body curls around the instrument. (This  flute posture is actually a position I’m trying to modify in my Alexander Technique classes, as playing the flute tends to give me terrible stiff necks and headaches.)

I struggled until I was ready to bite the pencil; the drawing kept looking like a profile, until Steve pointed out that when you look down on a persons face, there are certain cues that tell us the tilt of the head. The brow line curves down  and covers the top of the eye. You can see more of the inside of the bottom eye lid. And you can see more of the top of the head. Yeah, I know that already, but sometimes we’re blinded to the simplest mistakes while drawing. I made those changes, and—shazaam!—the tilt was there.

I also want to convey her age (young) which means her features are rounded, slightly blunt, and soft (I’ll use color also as a symbol of her age, when I do finally start painting). I had to measure the drawing carefully, because her chin and nose kept growing in the drawing, giving her that kind of solid jaw-bone look of grown ups.

But the most important thing I want to convey is the way she’s  listening hard to the tune in her head and reaching into her flute to pull out the music and send it into the world. That’s going to be the magical thing that makes this painting work.

This is to to be a larger size painting than I usually work in, on 12 x 16 Arches watercolor block—blocks being the easiest thing to schlepp back and forth to the Pacific Art League watercolor class, where I do most of my watercolor painting.