Life drawing: freedom within structure

This is one of my favorite drawings from last week—a series of 2-minute poses—simply because I was able to control placement of the figures on the page. I was able to do it in a somewhat organized and pleasing fashion. And I was able to do get this information down fast. 2 minutes a sketch.

I could not have done this four years ago. In fact, a year ago I could not have controlled my drawing this much. Over the last year I’ve taken another leap in abilities.

I’ve been studying life drawing at the atelier for nearly four years. I’ve been focusing very hard on proportions, angles, measurements, and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to exert some kind of discipline over my errant and mindless drawing arm. (Sometimes I wonder, does this left hand even belong to me? My brain tells it to do something and like a spoiled puppy, my hand widdles charcoal all over the drawing even while my brain is chasing after it with a rolled up newspaper yelling NO! NO! NO!)

In open drawing classes (not at the atelier, because there we strive for proportion) I see a lot of people who just draw as they feel. It’s an experiential gig for them; they’re drawing to feel good, because, let’s face it, drawing feels good.

I’ve noticed that some folks have the kind of brain that allows them to see the model clearly and they are able to naturally get the information down on paper in proportion. But others struggle to see and don’t know what they are doing wrong. They often quit drawing in frustration. I was like that four years ago. My drawings were floundering attempts at something I could barely visualize, let alone realize. So I found the atelier and have been working hard ever since.

Rïce Freeman-Zachary, at Notes from the Voodoo Café has an interesting but maddening post (although with Rïce it could more correctly be called a rant) on being the thing you want to be. Among other things, she says:

“If you want to be it, you do it. And if you want to do it—if you really love it, and it’s what you want to do with your one single life—then you do it the best you can. You study, and you practice.

And, I want to add, practice with a purpose. Because here’s the thing. After four years of obsessively measuring angles, proportions, and anatomy, these days, when I do let myself go and draw as I feel, the feelings have some way to be expressed. I’ve got a vocabulary now, and my drawings can shout or whisper, laugh or cry. The errant drawing arm is beginning to behave like a well-trained appendage. My brain is happy.

The practice of music and art

Pastel pencil on colored paper
Pastel pencil on colored paper

This is a small drawing I made of my friend Cyndy. It’s from a photo taken as she was sitting around a campfire, playing tunes with a group of musicians.

I know Cyndy’s present teacher. He’s told me that she’s the kind of student a teacher loves to have. She really thinks about the music she plays, and she makes him think about it too. And she practices!

She’s passionate about her fiddle in the way most of us are passionate about a new romantic partner. But, come to think about it, I know a lot of musicians who are married to their instrument, and playing music is simply part of their everyday experience. I also know artists who feel the same way about their art. (I’m torn between the two. Do I play tunes, or do I draw? Tough question, that.)

Sometimes playing music or making art becomes a stale thing, or a stressful thing, fraught with needs and cravings that block the joy of our passions. But if we really think about what we’re doing, and lose ourselves in the process, suddenly the work becomes play, and we amaze ourselves at our success.

Shannon Heaton, one of my favorite Irish flute players, has a terrific blog at Whistle and Drum called The Inner Game of Irish Music about practicing the music. She’s talking about Irish music, but she could be talking about drawing, painting, old time music, classical music, dancing, or even just plain-old, everyday work.