Tuesday, April 7, 2015

First Session

Here’s a clear instance of a phenomenon I keep noticing in my drawings. I was at Lisa Dinhofer’s life drawing workshop last night, where I drew a model I’d never drawn before, named Dea. I had an impression of great warmth from Dea, but I’d like to try to be specific about the nature of this impression. Dea has a mellifluous voice which reminds me of the voice of another model I know, Natalya, who is a very warm individual. So I tend to assume that anyone with a similar voice is similar in character. This is not so flawed an assumption as you would think. A voice is not shaped by lungs and vocal cords alone. Its actual sound reflects the use a person puts it to. Just as the same body can be indifferent or attractive, depending on the attitude of its owner, so a voice can merely have a nice sound, or sound warm, depending on character. I think there is a high probability that my first impression was right.

The phenomenon I wanted to discuss with you, though, is the transition from a first drawing to a second drawing. This workshop was a single pose, so I had time to draw the same pose twice. Here’s the face from effort #1:

Dea Sitting (detail), 2015, graphite and white pencil on Rives BFK Tan, 15”x11”

I will probably never again get her face this formally correct. We’ve talked in the past about the distinct character of the neurological apparatus responsible for processing faces. It is apart from the more general mechanisms of sight, and the figurative artist must treat it separately in order to bring it into conformity with representation. I have only partly got mine tamed. The density of my recognition of the person in the face precludes my ability to see the face as shapes and forms. I see faces intensely, but not quite formally. Except the first time. The first time I look at a model, they are not yet a person for me, and during a brief window, I can draw them from the cold perspective of sight alone. This is my first drawing of Leah’s face.

First Portrait of Leah, January 15, 2009, graphite and white pencil on Rives BFK Tan, 15”x11” (drawing much smaller)

It is more formally accurate than anything I have drawn of her since. Now here is a portrait of her which is one of my favorites.

Preparatory Sketch for Meiosis II, 2013, graphite and white pencil on Rives BFK Tan, 15”x11”

This also looks very much like Leah, but in a fundamental way it is less complete than the first rapid little sketch. It shows only one side of her character, as most psychological drawings must. There is no complete state of mind, so there is no complete drawing - except for the utterly physical drawing, the first drawing.

On the other hand, consider the entire drawing of Dea:

Dea Sitting, 2015, graphite and white pencil on Rives BFK Tan, 15”x11”

Her body appears stiff and stereotyped. It is precise as to structure, but without a feeling of mass and the internal tensions of the muscles as they contend with the varying densities and weights of flesh and bone. Also, the perspective on the left side of her rib cage is a little fucked up. This too is typical of my first drawings of models, and for the same reason: I have not yet integrated the model into pictorial person-ness.

This is a paradox. My failure to integrate allows me to make an accurate face, because I am representing forms only. But the same failure to integrate precludes my drawing a convincing body, again because I am representing forms only.

The presence of the body is much more strongly informed by the action of its interior. The face, for all of its animation, is a thin layer of soft tissue on top of a surface of inflexible bone. It is most technically accurate when it is depicted in terms of form.

So then, I finished this first drawing and moved on to a second. By now I had a sense of the pose and more of a sense of the person, and so I began to select and edit what was interesting, and doable in the 40 minutes I had left.

Portrait of Dea, 2015, graphite and white pencil on Rives BFK Tan, 15”x11”

This is more vivid and personal, and the marks have more vigor. A personality is much more present here. And yet it is already less complete. In a face through which one mood and thought flashed after another, I was able to catch only one state of being. That’s fine, knowledge itself is incomplete, especially knowledge of people. I just noticed that this transition, from the cause and outcome of drawing #1 and the cause and outcome of drawing #2, illustrated quite well the mechanics of getting to know a model, so I thought I’d share.

1 comment:

  1. These are great, your insights on drawing are very helpful because you don't just talk about anatomy. I found your blog through your Instagram, great stuff.