I was late and arrived while the model was in the midst of her second of quick two-minute poses. The room was full of standing and sitting easels in front of which were those, who after long hours in classes or day jobs, like me, sacrificed evening relaxation to cultivate drawing the human figure. Once I got situated, my first goal was to see again – it was like getting back on a bicycle after not riding for a long while.
Like balancing on two wheels, I aimed to find a middle ground between accuracy and loose gesture. During my last stint of regular figure drawing, I learned not to focus on any one part during quick poses. Instead, I focused on the whole movement and direction of the body. After the first quick poses, there was a series of five-minute poses, when, in addition to the gesture, I tried to capture the main shapes. When the model arrived at the ten-minute poses, I was able to add smaller shapes within the larger ones. During the twenty-minute poses, I tried to integrate all three and apply greater attention to light and shadow.
In the same way that hearing, practicing musical scales, and proficiency with one’s instrument are basics of music, seeing and drawing is the foundation of visual art. The human body is commonly considered the most difficult subject, although to me, the same principles apply to all drawing, whether landscape, still life, or the human figure.
Some may have the impression that drawing is a relaxing activity. And it can be. But, for me, short-pose gesture drawing is training in speed and accuracy because when time is up, the pose is gone – no going back. Three hours of it takes a great deal of physical and psychic energy. During a break, I commented, “A workout at the gym would be easier.” My easel neighbor nodded knowingly. During poses, there was absolute silence in the room. During short breaks, along with everyone else, I stood back from the effort, walked away from the easel for perspective, yawned in weariness, stretched, bent over, and twisted the tension from my spine. When the model was posing, there was complete concentration - no sounds except pencils dancing on paper trying to capture the gesture, the shapes, the proportions of the female model.
Drawing entails the perception of both positive and negative shapes, while visually comparing their angles’ sizes and directions – the goal being to reproduce that which my eye sees. The real challenge is to subdue my mind’s habitual interpretations so that my actual visual perception is allowed to lead. At first, it takes a degree of concentration that can be taxing, but, at some point, the eye takes over and the hand follows. The mind is completely and solely engaged in translating visual information with the hand. No other thoughts accompany this process.
Drawing from live-model short poses is wonderful exercise in seeing. I love the complexity of the human body - the angles, the curves, the play of light on the surface. When I first started to attend live-model figure drawing on a regular basis, I thought that if I were any good, I might come away with a few pieces that were “good”. Although I am pleased when satisfying results are achieved, that is no longer my goal. Instead, I’ve come to believe that in order to enjoy the possibility of this pleasure, each time I show up at the paper, pencil in hand, I must relinquish the desire for “a perfect result”. Instead, moment-to-moment, I must become as humbly and fully engaged in translating the visual world as is a court reporter in transcribing the verbal world of the courtroom.
But how does such objectivity dance with the subjectivity of the heart. Ah, that is the magic. Everyone’s results are as different as our signatures. In drawing, I find there is no need to concern with conveying emotion. The heart naturally expresses itself in every slow mark or flourish. My emotional being in that moment, my subconscious relationship with that which the subject represents in my life is as inherent as the breath and beat of the heart. In the same way that a dream reflects the subconscious, the hand inevitably conveys the heart.