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.

Charcoal drawing…for fun!

I’ve been struggling to control my charcoal pencils. I keep making scratchy liney-lines, when what I want is a soft, rich, even tone. So I got out a piece of smooth newsprint and just doodled, trying to gain some control.

I’m not used to this technique. The pencil is whittled (I use a box cutter), stripping away the outer layer of wood, and leaving a slender charcoal twig about an inch and a half long. Then one side of that fragile stick of charcoal is flattened on a sanding block. This gives it a wide surface to make soft tone or expressive line.

But you have to have the right touch, and be in tune with your pencil. I keep losing the flattened edge on my charcoal. Then I have to scruff around in the margins of the paper until I can find that sweet spot again.

I need to do many of these kinds of sheets. Just play with the pencil and exercise my arm and eye.

Gesture drawings


Gesture2Just a few quick gesture drawings from last Saturday’s class at the Atelier. These were 5 minute drawings. Yes, I’m slow to get anything down on paper. I’ve been trying to control my habit of making scratchy little lines in order to find the form. I try to look closely at the figure, then draw just the lines that I need.  And try to draw accurately, in proportion, with correct foreshortening and all. Not easy.

I feel like I’m improving. I’m moving in the right direction, compared to as recently as December. Wait! Has it been nearly 6 months!