drawing your body’s anatomy – a workshop

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Arriving to the museum last Saturday morning, I ride up the elevator with a young woman who appears to be jogging. Are you out … for a run? I ask her. She is. It’s colder than I thought it would be, she tells me. And you came to the museum? She nods a yes and goes on to say … to warm up and maybe look around.

In the 2 trips I have made here – between the conversation in the museum with both visitors and docents, and in the city – I get the sense that the museum is a part of regular life for the local community.

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I return to Bentonville to take part in a Symposium at Crystal Bridges. The panel I present with focuses on Science in Artistic Form (I’ll talk about this another time).  This is one event in many. I also teach an anatomy drawing workshop for teens.

After the symposium on Friday night, I meet a couple who visits the museum regularly. We have a long talk about the facility and its various activities. Their daughter hoped to take my workshop but it sold out. I suggest they contact the museum and while I can’t give her a firm invite, I tell her I am open to more participants. I like the synergy of a large group. The next morning they arrive with their daughter. She attends the workshop while her parents attend the rest of the symposium. A few others join us. When everyone signs in I learn the group comes from all the surrounding areas.

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I walk into the studio to find a few artist anatomy books. Influenced by medical illustrations, I am more than excited to see that we also have one of the museum’s rare books on hand – Medical Anatomy; Illustrations of the Relative Position and Movements of the Internal Organs , Folio Size, 1869, by Francis Sibson. Earlier when I learn the museum owns this book, I ask if we can have a special showing. I explain to the class this is a rare opportunity. Anatomy! 1869! Hand-colored lithographs!

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I talk about my work and explain how we’ll proceed with the afternoon. I show one sample of a drawing and pass out postcards of my artwork – one to each participant. I explain general process including  use of color. I note that while I do look at artist anatomy books, most of my references come from medical anatomy and Yoga study sources. I mention I have a full human skeleton which is part of the video I end my introduction with. I pass out flash cards that include skeleton and muscle diagrams – and we begin.

The next 3 hours – we work out anatomy of their choosing. Class ends just as rain begins to fall in the small lake in front of the classroom. Here are photos of the productive afternoon.

A special thanks to Lori, an art instructor at Crystal Bridges, who helped me with the workshop.

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The purpose of the museum is to educate and build community – I’m glad to be a part of it.

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To go to the State of the Art website, click on the image above.

 

textile pattern design equals a charcoal value study

When I put this still life together I was deliberate in the fabric and its layout. I combine stiff white cotton, furry faux zebra, mint satin, shiny red and white stripes, matte red and white pin stripes,  velvet-black with even blacker glitter circular designs, textured sofa fabric and even a shiny cheep-polyester spider web pattern – maybe the latter is a cruel option or maybe a challenging one for the right person. I let students decide. Anyway…that’s just a few of the complicated patters and surfaces.

This is student’s first charcoal composition. It’s intimidating to say the least. By this point the class is wanting to move on to a new medium, so they jump in – head first, to the deep end. I am pleased with progress and result. Most important, so are they. Charcoal is all about working a rich surface, putting down black blacks and lifting out white whites…and working all the values in between.

Ana goes right to the spider web and works on it slow and steady for 2 class days. The light hits some spots and a few lines are a bright shiny silver. She notes the highlight with white Conte.  She wears her spider web blouse in honor of the work. I am impressed with the patience she’s developed this semester. This is her strong charcoal drawing  below.

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Ana’s Pitch Black

Ashley (below) works almost her entire composition with her one pencil eraser. I make other suggestions but she sticks to her game plane. She’s so focused and appears to enjoy the delicate work, she doesn’t take a break. She finishes and decides to use white Conte for the zebra patterned white’s she’d already completed. I wish I’d caught her before she’d gone in that direction. We talk a little about why I think she should have kept her original carefully developed whites. After-all her erased marks were so rich and sensitive. She tones it all down using her finger tips and eraser, and pulls it together beautifully.

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Ashley’s Knotted Zebra

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Satin Charcoal by Lela

Lela (above ) notes very quickly why I ask them to use soft compressed charcoal. And why I suggest they be careful with the white Conte. She re-works the striped area many times until she is completely satisfied. I let her borrow my somewhat pricey, white soft-pastel. The folds in the cloth are accurate, – consequently believable.

Tanya (below) never relaxed with the marker, though she’s calm and happy with charcoal.  I comment on how her whole body appears at ease as she develops a beautiful and dimensional knot. She finishes the composition with some complex pattern on either side of that knot. She expresses her emotions with humor,  in the title.

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Knot Tense by Tanya

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In Between by Adrianna

Finally Adriana, above, who began the assignment so nervous she said she felt like someone who had never even picked up a pencil. And then she completed this incredible knot. I think her confidence is back.

Manny (below), one of my Drawing 2 students, kicks up dust with color pastels. I tell him to be careful. He shouldn’t be inhaling pigments. He works by the open front door and direct the dust out of the classroom. I’m amused by how he draws, its physical for him. He has taken two semesters with me. His whole style has developed. I want him to continue in the fine arts, but Manny will do what is best for him. He’s now a graphic design student.

He freely helps the other students who are struggling with the various challenges of working with charcoal and Conti. I listen and watch the way he supports others and their  work. They take to him well. I also think he could teach.

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Manny’s Colorful Knot – Pastel on BFK

I let them go an extra day even though we don’t have very much time left in the semester,  because as a whole, the group is working the materials so well The surfaces are rich and well-developed, not bad for their first charcoal assignment.

What will we do with the last week of drawing …

they look closely

Look closely. The beautiful may be small. ― Immanuel Kant


The focus of this assignment – structure and texture, parts and surface – of the forms. Students also take time to consider the placement of subject matter into the picture plane. They construct a composition and balance out positive and negative space.

Everyone picks their shells, magnifying glasses get pulled out. The work to look at structure and define texture begins. They look closely. They see. They identify. They put it down. Emotions run high. Throughout the assignment we discuss stylizing.
Critique is great.

… a few highlights

Descending Collection – by Melissa

Different Shells, Different Textures – by Alejandra

The Shells from the Great Abyss – by Kyle

Fossil Poop – by Kris

Silhouette – by Segio

Shells – by Aaron

Sally Sells Sea Shells – by Brittany

experiencing negative space

Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space“. Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses … Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form” … The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.    The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher

In this assignment students learn to see the space between things. All the drawings are strong, because contrast is naturally enhanced in the composition. Some works are simple and express a less is more sensibility, while others are like a series of complex pathways.

Note the subject-matter stands out, and so does the space between the leaves, stems and flowers.

Seeing Negative by Luis

Shrub by Aaron

Enchanted Forrest by Brittany

Money Tree by Kris

Negative Core by Manny

Kristine, a Native American student, responds to Izzy’s study below, in a personal way. She tells us it reminds her of a place on the reservation where there are many hand impressions left on rocks, from over 200 years ago. Or did she say 2000? Ancestors placed down the palm of their hand against the rock, and blew powdered pigments through hollow tubes over the form. A ghost print remains of the activity.

Phoenix Sunset by Izzy

We enjoy a productive critique. And though the group has just learned the concept of negative space, they will develop and understand its use with each assignment. They’re supportive and constructive in their commentary today.

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Line is a rich metaphor for the artist. It denotes not only boundary, edge or contour, but is an agent for location, energy, and growth. It is literally movement and change – life itself. (Lance Esplund)

….and we’re off.


New semester, new students, new contour studies.

The first critique went the entire 2 hours and 45 minutes. They did get a short break. It was productive and energy was high and maybe tense now and again.  Most everyone had something to say about the process, the marker, the pine cone, and / or my directions. I know I’ll miss some stuff but it went something like this…

It was not easy.
It was so hard.
I thought I wouldn’t be able to do this.
I loved it.
I didn’t like any of it.
I have no patience.
I was surprised by my patience.
I am happy with the drawing.
I like it…yeah.
I’ve never done something like this.
I usually have more…you know…not so many rules..

I especially appreciate that last comment.

The first assignment is a contour study of a complex object. Some students do more than inner and outer contour. They start to add texture.  I don’t believe in stopping progress so I let it them go a bit. The nervousness for the majority of the class comes from the complexity of the subject-matter and the use of marker.

The assignment is such a valuable lesson, working slow and careful and developing patience. Learning to see the edge and translate it into a smooth flowing line and finally creating a flowing composition.

Here are a few samples of some of the completed works.

Kristine’s Pinecone

Manny’s Stepping Stones

Melissa’s Rejuvenated Pinecone

Ale’s Focusing

Sergio’s Pinecone

Kyle’s Calibration

The second semester students have other concerns, though they still have to emphasize contour lines.

Isi’s Delicatus

If they’re inclined they can take the general lesson out into the world –  slow down, think carefully, do mindfully.

focus is on the spaces between things

The space between the dish and the pitcher, that I paint also.
Georges Braque


One needs to  learn to see the space in-between things before one can bring the concept into play in a composition.  The focus in this assignment is the negative space. Students learn to look at and draw the space between the flowers, leaves and stems. Because it’s the opposite of how we are trained to see, the brain can get a little confused.  Everyone makes one or two mistakes before they start to flow with it.

Critique begins in an unusual way, in the dark.

Chuck, an advanced student, wants to try some new things. He follows the basic assignment. He works in class with the markers but then takes his drawing home and in the middle of the night, yes in darkness, he works on it with fluorescent paint markers.

The result in regular light is interesting in that the positive space, where he has used the paint, looks textured…fuzzy.  I like the surface.  But to really get a sense of what he is doing we need to see it  in darkness.  Chuck floods the work with fluorescent lighting, we pile into the darkest area available, a narrow storage room, and there…the drawing comes alive.  It’s bright, colorful and full of whimsy.

Chuck shares his process as the students stand cramped and excited, in the space. This is the best photo I get to share.  You can’t tell, but 19 students are cramped into the area. It’s worth it we decide. Chuck is pleased.

A general positive-negative study is always high in contrast and bold, the assignment always results in strong compositions.  We move on with excitement about all the other work.  Here are some examples.

Eruption by Crystal

Kim

Little Pleasures by Eddie

You've got Nerves by Jose

Sharon

Kyle

Bri's Magic Tree

This Is, by Andres

The students understand negative space now.  And because we will use the concept for the rest of the semester, the highlight and balance of both the positive and negative space will continually strengthen with each assignment.

Here is how I sum up the afternoon (and the project)…we were standing in the dark, focusing on the negative… consequently the positive was highlighted…that’s it.

“the pine-cone doesn’t lie”

Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
Pablo Picasso


New semester, first critique. Students put up one wall of very good renderings of a natural object.

I quote Jose, a Drawing 1 student, in this post title.  He says during critique, The pine-cone doesn’t lie.  It always tells the truth. I came back to it over and over and it never changed, it was always the same. I’m the one that changed. I was the one that was lying.

I consider calling it a day, so the class can go home and meditate on that one single thought, it’s pretty wonderful. Jose also notes how he had drawn and redrawn, and because he was not at all familiar with a pine-cone, he was forced to look and then look again, and again. He titles one of the studies CSI because, he explains, if his pine-cone was killed or went missing he would recognize its DNA, because of all the intense observation.

Excellent!

His last (and 4th study) drawing is below.  He only had to complete one, but obviously, he wanted to get it right. Here is a simple (though not so easy) and well observed contour study of his one unique pine-cone.

Pine-Cone Sunrise by Jose

The drawings that follow are all Drawing 1 student’s work.  Some of them have never drawn before. And though the assignment is a focus on inner and outer contour, a few do include texture. Clearly, this group is already paying attention. For the record, they work 18″ x 24 and use a Sharpie Marker…no erasing, forcing them to work slowly and really consider what they put down. It’s not effortless, but they sure make it look that way.  I know better though.

Androa by Alexis

Pine-Cone Slam by Bri

Ultima by Eddie

by Michelle

Recognition by Alberto

Cono del Pino by Kyle

Pillars of a Pine-Cone by Andres

Below are a couple of the Drawing and Composition II students. Crystal (working in oil pastel) and Kim (working with charcoal and conté) have studied with me before. They pick up right where they left off in Drawing 1.

Seed-Pod by Crystal

Pine Cone by Kim

As the students are working they talk about the spiral form that they begin to note in their pine-cone.  During critique when they are commenting on the accuracy of other student’s work they bring up this spiral pattern again. It helps them identify if what the work we are discussing is real (based on what the student sees) or imaginary (based on the imagination). We really are off to a great start.


…and here is an explanation of the Fibonacci Spiral seen in pine-cones…as well as many other things in nature.