Struggled with this session. Model’s skin, her dress, and the cover on her chair were all similar tones and values. Plus she was sick and kept saying she might hurl, which was distracting to the big sister side of me, as I ran round trying to get her mints, Coke and a bucket in case she lost her cookies. Other challenges: room was hotter than hell and glare on my palette made it hard to tell what I was mixing. The beauty of painting live, I guess. First world problems. Still, one of my favorite models and the painting does look better than the photo was able to capture. This model reminds me of Ophelia, an idea which I tried to incorporate into the painting conceptually. Looking forward to refining this study further. 11×14, oil on linen. Painted at the Scarab Club of Detroit. 2 hours.
Forced to take a couple months off due to that all-encompassing life drain known as moving. I’m a bit rusty, but happy to be getting back to what matters: painting. Great pose yesterday but difficult because lighting sources were not well controlled and she was lit all over. Still, there are things about it I like. 12×16, oil on linen.
12 x 12, oil on canvas. 12 x 9, oil on linen. 2.5 hours each. Rather happy with the costumed portrait of the man. I’ve painted him a few times now, and he does great poses. The nude is coming along, but I couldn’t quite finish it. Amazing model. My first time painting her, and I always struggle the first time I paint someone. It’s as if my brain retains their features and proportions more and more, every time I paint them. So, WIP. This is the journey, as honestly depicted as I can do it. I’ve not had as much time lately to paint due to other pressing life issues, so maybe I’m a little rusty.
This one is close to my heart. My family at the beach at my grandmother’s cabin. It is also the largest painting I’ve ever done. I did it for a class assignment; the vision, however, was strictly my own. The instructor did not touch the canvas, but did help by validating my choices and double-dog-daring me to go for a risky idea I had for painting the water. Taking the plunge, so to speak, :). “The Search for Sea Glass,” Whitestone Point, Au Gres, Michigan. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36.
It’s important to paint a lot. Some studies I throw in a drawer forever; others I finish later. Working at it is what matters most, not the result. I will likely finish these, though the nude will be hard since there’s no reference photo. There rarely is for nudes. Most models, understandably, do not allow photos for nude sessions. Great model today; it makes all the difference. I do not envision taking these paintings much tighter; I rather like them the way they are.
One of the old axioms about writing is that you should always write about what you know. As a marketing writer by day, I’ve found it definitely helps. Recently, though, I’m realizing this philosophy applies to painting as well.
This spring, I read a book by celebrated watercolorist Mary Whyte about how to paint. Not about technique, but how to choose what to paint. And then, how to paint it, from a purely personal point of view. The book has continued to infiltrate my psyche ever since, mostly because the timing is now right. The best advice in the world is meaningless until you’re ready for it. Until recently, I was preoccupied with my disobedient brushes and contentious canvases, mocking me with my amateur abilities. But with a lot of work, I steadily improved. And now, I’m all ears. And eyes.
Whyte’s premise is that you don’t just paint what you see. Instead, you paint what you see uniquely and also what you know. Not the bird in the tree, but that bird and its song. Not the lake with the purple haze, but the serenity, too. Not the model, but her anxiety or his playfulness. And now that I’ve gotten to be more skillful, I can see that my best paintings are always like that. Something about them makes me feel emotional. When I’m painting a portrait, there will often be a single moment when I’m startled to notice that the person’s essence has suddenly come together on the canvas.
Paintings that spark emotion are also inevitably the paintings that sell, and when they do, I always feel a twinge of regret within the happiness of a sale. It’s like a piece of me is for sale, too, one that I’ll never get back. It’s a little disconcerting when you allow someone to see straight into your heart.
These paintings were done plein air at my favorite place on earth: my grandmother’s cabin on Lake Huron. The first painting was done entirely plein air, but the second had to be finished in the studio, since the kids started grabbing the towels off the fence, one by one, while I was painting.
With these, I am painting endless afternoons jumping in the waves, the bad sunburns I got as a teenager, looking for sea glass with my little niece, my mom making up fake Scrabble words, and my grandmother emerging from the lake in her bathing cap after her 6 am swim. I’m painting memories of rocks on the water’s edge and a big sand bar further out. I’m painting lazy afternoons of antiquing in Oscoda, ice cream cones in Au Gres, and trashy novels and Margaritas on lawn chairs. I’m painting the vigor that comes from sleeping soundly to the eternal beat of the waves on the shore.
Fittingly, we get terrible cell reception at the cabin. Because the cabin is me, unplugged.
If you’ve attended a life drawing session, there’s likely a person there moderating the session. I’ve started doing it in the last year, and it’s harder than it looks. In fact, it’s an art form in and of itself.
Plying the artists with sweetness.
First of all, remember that the moderator is likely a volunteer. As in … they get nothing for doing this; it’s something they only do out of goodwill for the club. So giving the moderator grief is a jerk move. #Avoid
When I have time, I buy snacks, which I pay for out of my own pocket. Snacks are a crucial part of the drawing experience at our group, lol, though other sessions I attend do not have them. In the summer, we have a member whose wife makes us sweets, so I bring savory snacks during those months. During the winter, it’s donuts all the way.
The session before the session.
I generally arrive a half an hour early, save myself a decent easel, and start prepping the room. I clean the snack area, get a pot of coffee going, and take out all the snacks. I pull leftover tape off the model stand, plug in all the spotlights and get the fans going, being careful to position them so that they don’t blow on one of our older artists, who’s always cold. I run upstairs and ask the gallery assistant to call the model to confirm. I arrange the room to optimize the cramped space, pulling the drawing desks to the back because they take up so much room. Then I arrange the model stand.
Artists start arriving. I try to give a shoutout to everyone as they arrive. Some always forget what the format is for each session, so I remind them and answer other questions … when do we start, who is the model, is the restroom fixed, etc.
You’re dependent on the kindness of models.
I really appreciate a model who shows up at least ten minutes early, but most of them don’t. This means I’m already running behind before we start. I have a short chat with the model when she arrives to discuss what poses we need, then the model disrobes and takes the stand. I generally let the model figure out a pose before giving any instructions. Half the time, no instruction is necessary. Seems like the more specific direction I give, the worse the pose gets. So I’m intentionally oblique if I don’t like the pose, using words like, “Can you do something else with your left arm?,” or “You’re looking a little uncomfortable. Maybe relax more.” Artists who ask for specific things of the model are not being helpful; it is unfair to expect the model to navigate the room and please everyone. Direction should only come from the moderator.
Once the pose is settled, I adjust the lights, and trust me, they aren’t all that adjustable. Plus if you deliberate for even a second, the artists start chiming in with ideas, usually in direct conflict with each other. I’ve learned to smile, nod and ignore.
And, we’re off.
Finally, we’re going. I announce that the pose has begun, how long it is until the break, and set my timer. I then walk back to my own easel. Somehow all the prep always means I haven’t had time to set up. I start pulling out all my materials and trying to get my head into the drawing. But my concentration is soon interrupted.
Inevitably, I forget to turn the music on, so I pop up and get that going, knowing full well that there’s no way to please everyone,and there will be complaints. People keep arriving late. I greet them, try to point out available spaces, and give them an update on how much time is left in the pose. I periodically check the model to make sure he or she is not shifting too much. I turn my attention back to my drawing. Maybe I can get started. I put a few marks down, then give a five-minute warning before the break. Time to start hunting for the marking tape. I spot it and mark the model’s position, being careful not to tape any hair, then give her a break. An older member has been away from his easel for a long time; that’s very unlike him, so I go hunting for him on the break to make sure he hasn’t had a heart attack or something. I find him upstairs in the lounge, sleeping. I make sure he’s breathing, then head back downstairs.
Staying alert during the session.
As the session continues, my work is ongoing. Wrangling the model back onto the stand in a timely fashion after the break. Making sure the pose is reassumed correctly. Determining new poses and which chairs or props work best for those. Adjusting the lights. Reminding the artists repeatedly how long the pose is and giving timing updates. Making any announcements that the club needs. Paying attention to see if the model becomes uncomfortable/asking if he needs an early break. We have a tip jar for the models to encourage attendance and to help them out. Most nights the model pockets an extra $10-$20. They don’t get paid that much and they’re a crucial part of the process, so I give little reminders about the tip jar. And the coffee fund. If the model is good, I throw extra money in the jar to make up for those who stiff the model.
During the session, there’s always some of what I call “daycare for artists.” Helping out late arrivals who can’t find or move an easel. Shutting down any convos about the model that aren’t appropriate or respectful (“C’mon now, don’t be creepy!”). Trying to head off any disputes between temperamental members at the pass. Refilling the coffee pot. Monitoring the amount of conversation to make sure it isn’t too loud or doesn’t go on for a long time. One artist complains all the time because he likes to work in stony silence. Another hates working to music. The majority of members, though, come for both camaraderie and drawing, so I go for a balance that keeps most people happy. Somebody always whines; meh.
Your own work … it will likely suffer.
Between all this, I attempt to draw. Most of the time, it doesn’t go well. It’s hard to concentrate with all the distractions. Due to my Catholic upbringing, I then wallow in shame if people look at what’s on my easel, lol. Epic fail. I figure they wonder how I ever became moderator, ha. (The previous moderator left and I happened to have a timer app on my phone.) I hear them thinking, “Hack!” in my head.
When it’s all over, since it’s a nonprofit, I clean up. Some people hang back with comments and questions. While attending to those, I unplug the lights and appliances so the place doesn’t burn down. I wash out the coffee pot and pawn off any leftover food to keep the bugs at bay. I make sure the model gets those tips. I sweep up pencil shavings from the member who sharpens his pencils onto the floor. I then pack up my own compromised drawings and head out. Sigh; I could have drawn better!
Stuff your moderator appreciates.
If you’re attending a life drawing session, help the moderator out. Offer to lift furniture on and off the stand. Make coffee if the pot is low. Be mindful that others are around, and don’t block their views. Don’t second guess the moderator’s decisions unless she asks. Offer to help clean up afterward so the moderator can get out of there. But most of all: be in a good mood and be low maintenance. We’re all trying to draw here, :)!