A while ago, I wrote a long post that could be described as an extended justification of my aversion to the gestural sketch. And let me just say that by god, I was right.
But I was also wrong. And my being wrong in this instance demonstrates, to me at least, that it's important not only to always entertain the possibility of being wrong, but also to be actually wrong, as frequently as your schedule permits.
What happened was this. I was at Spring Street and Leah was modeling, and I decided to try and do the entire figure during the 1-minute and 2-minute poses. Usually, I select some extremely small part of the body and draw it in my usual finicky way for really short poses:
That's how I match my interest in detail with the time constraints. But during this one session with Leah, I felt like I should use the time the way normal people do:
And this was tremendously rewarding: models often take very interesting poses for the short ones - poses they couldn't hold for longer intervals. Ace model and blogger Claudia writes marvelously about it here. That's not all there was to it for me, though. I also had to do something that I don't usually do. Let me explain in terms of my favorite metaphor resource, calculus.
In calculus, the integral of a function is the area underneath the curve defined by the function. Let's look at it visually. You have a curve, that you call a function. The notation for this function is "f(x)." The use of "f" is arbitrary - it could be any letter:
graphic swiped from hereThe integral of this function from point a to point b on the x-axis is the area that's shaded green. The integral is represented using the notation printed in the green area in the graphic. A whole big part of intro calculus is figuring out the values of integrals. This is called integration, and there are standard formulae for how to integrate a variety of functions.
The reason integration is a whole big part of intro calculus is that it's hard as hell to do. Sometimes you have to use tricks. One such trick is called integration by parts. Integration by parts is a trick you use when you run into a function you just can't integrate. So you chew on the function for a while, and you realize that this function is actually a product of two simpler functions. If you can integrate those simpler functions, you can apply a special "integration by parts" formula, and integrate your more complicated original function.
You have to integrate f(x). But you can't. Then you notice that f(x) = g(x) x h(x). You can integrate g(x) and you can integrate h(x). Given that, you can use a formula that gives you the integral of f(x).
Life drawing, for me, is a process of integration by parts. I can't draw a whole body. Well, I'm lying. I can, but I don't like to. I'm lazy. I like to draw a knee, or a shoulder, or whatever. Those are my g(x) and h(x). So I integrate those parts, and then I use the integration by parts formula to make a whole picture - in this metaphor, f(x) is the function "the entire figure," and the integration by parts formula is "make the parts the right size and in the right place relative to one another."
So my 1-minute pose drawings are usually the raw product of an incomplete integration by parts - the drawings are integrated parts, but the entire function is not integrated.
And my 80-minute drawings, nice though they may be, are also integrated by parts. I have not gone directly for the entire area under the curve. I've just found it out by means of a bunch of tricky steps.
When I did those 1- and 2-minute drawings of Leah, I wasn't using my usual tricks. I was integrating f(x) directly. I did it again with her 5-minute poses:
Doing all of this was like getting a bucket of cold water to the face. It's good for you to get this kind of bucket of cold water to the face sometimes. It reminds you that you're not all that, that things can be tough and you don't know everything.
Also, it opens up new possibilities. For instance, the next week Natalya was modeling at Spring Street, and she did a really cool 10-minute pose. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have noticed the entire pose, because I'd have quickly scanned her for a 10-minute-drawing part, and zoned out on the rest. But because I had just been practicing seeing the entire figure all at once, I saw the whole pose and felt like I ought to draw it:
I like this so much I think I'll make a damn painting of it, that's what I think. So - I got a painting out of my exercise, and I also loosened up my attitude: I brought more life into my work.
In that earlier post, I was right that my brain naturally seizes on details, from which I build up an image. I was wrong that it's reasonable never to go against this tendency.
Why is it important to be wrong?
Let me quote for you a bit of monologue from one of my favorite films, Andrey Tarkovsky's Stalker. This monologue has walked beside me ever since I first heard it:
Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being.
Always be wrong. You will become a better artist if you are wrong than if you are right.