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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Breaking Out of Prison

One reason some artists avoid drawing the nude human figure is that, more than any other subject, every mark counts.  Not only is the drawing's success dependent upon the artist's seeing things in the right place, it also demands the artist's confidence in wielding the drawing tool.  A mark intended to define a shadow in the lower back can translate to a wrongly placed hip.  A drag of the finger smudged with charcoal can result in the appearance of a misplaced nose.  A slightly misaligned buttock can cause an onlooker to accuse the artist of imitating Picasso.  So many things can go amiss that too many avoid the intimidation rather than face the challenge.

Avoiding intimidation never solved a single problem.  Rather it imprisons us, causing us to place ourselves in a box where we feel safe and surround ourselves with excuses for being there. The only way to find freedom--to break down the walls of that box--is to enter into the place where the intimidating starts and act.

Being unsure of the drawing materials is quickly corrected by daily practice with the materials, becoming conscious that pencils, charcoal, conté or pen are tools, not mark makers.  Doing studies from master artists' work by attempting to make your tool replicate the marks made by the master artist rather than trying to replicate the image will do wonders towards building your tool's vocabulary.  The Michelangelo drawings I've included below are excellent ones from which to build this skill.
(Michelangelo drawings from The British Museum)

A combination of quick (gesture) and slow (contour) drawings--where your intent it following what your eye is seeing--is an excellent way to gain confidence drawing the figure itself.   To begin with make your focus to capture only the movement--what the figure is doing, rather than the shape.  That's the gesture.  When doing the slower contour drawing, make your intent ONLY to follow your eye along the edge of each shape, inside and outside.   Aim for only one thing at a time and above all, avoid trying to make your drawing look like the subject:  keep your intent on the process.  If it's gesture you're studying, then focus only on the movement; if it's contour, focus only on the edges of the shape.  Just that and nothing else. It's all about controlling where your attention is.

Michelangelo gesture studies
Michelangelo contour studies
For exercises aimed to build your confidence, using photo references is a good way to go and, in spite of what the purists say, if it's helpful towards building your skills, then do it.  If you don't have good photos, the website Pose Space has excellent photos created especially for artists to study from.

If the intimidation comes from either the drawing tool or the subject, I have just shown you a way to enter that place of intimidation and break through it.  Once it's broken, you will have gained a freedom within which your drawing tool can go wherever you want it to go.