Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Faces of Afghanistan" at Ohio University Zanesville

I just got back from a road trip.  Ohio University Zanesville offered to exhibit my "Faces of Afghanistan" drawings.  So I drove 'em up, installed them, gave an artist talk, and got back yesterday.

Except it wasn't quite that simple.

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show the drawings up in Ohio and jumped at the chance.  Zanesville, though, is 435 miles from here.  So rather than get up at 0-dark-thirty and have all the pressure of a deadline to meet, I split the trip into two days.  That allowed me to take highways instead of the interstate, something I much prefer doing whenever possible.  Weather kinda/sorta cooperated and it was a beautiful trip through the mountains of Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.  I stayed overnight in Marietta, Ohio, and finished the drive Monday morning, again on the highways.

OU Zanesville is a nice campus with great people.  We had some issues with the hanging system, in that it wasn't geared for as many artworks as I brought, but everybody had a "we'll make this work" attitude and we got it done.  I had barely enough time to do a quick change of clothes before we started the artist talk.  It went really well, too - lots of interaction with the audience and lots of good questions.  I really enjoy those events.  Afterward, there was a reception and more talk for an hour and a half.  Had a really good discussion with a Desert Storm vet who is still carrying some pretty deep physical and mental scars over 23 years later.

I planned to come home the next morning, Tuesday, but a monster storm was set to pound the whole route, so I decided to stay put in Zanesville.  The weather there wasn't bad at all, just a bit cloudy, and Ohio was in the peak of leaf season, so I grabbed my camera and went exploring.  Had a great time and got some beautiful photos.

Wednesday was travel day.  I hit the road about 9 am and did the interstates all the way back.  And it turned into a beautiful drive.  The clouds gradually cleared, there was some blue sky, and it was peak leaf season almost all the way down.  Phenomenal!  I got home just before 5 pm, right when Janis was taking the dogs out for their evening walk.  Trips are great, but it's always good to get home.

The good folks at Ohio University are going to take this show down in three weeks and move it over to Ohio University Eastern.  It'll be on exhibit there for another three weeks.  Then I'll go up, do an artist talk in the evening, and then take down the show and drive home the next day.  Neither drive will be as nice as this one was.  It'll be later in November and all the color in the trees will be gone.  Oh, well, the things you gotta do to get your art exhibited!

I really want to give high marks to the professors and staff at Ohio University Zanesville.  They really went above and beyond to get this show up.  It's always a pleasure to work with people like that.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Life Drawing Again

Now that we're back from our St. Augustine vacation, I was able to go to a life drawing session last night.  I wound up drawing the figure with a Sharpie pen and had some interesting discussions about the process with the other artists.

Claire #8

I decided to use pen and ink in a deliberate effort to force myself to loosen up.  That sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it?  It's not.  A Sharpie is a harsh instrument to draw with.  Everything is either very black or very white, with sharp edges and little variation in line width.  It looks very mechanical, even industrial.  And it seems to demand that you get it right the first time, since it can't be corrected.  The human figure is the opposite, particularly when the figure is a female: it's soft and rounded, with infinite variation in color, shade, shadows, and shapes.

My approach is to let the pen fly.  One line rarely defines a shape.  Maybe, occasionally, one line will suffice along an edge, but usually, it's multiple lines that suggest the shape curving away.  Shadows can be suggested by hatching and cross-hatching.  The closer they are, the darker the shadow.  In the detail below, check out the shadows of her ribs compared to those under her arm.

Pen and ink initially makes you think that you have to get it right, which tightens artists up so much that they're afraid to make a mark.  I go in the opposite direction: it is not, and never will be, "right".  The model didn't really have a series of hash marks across her chest.  Those are just marks of something that is not really there.  But when those marks are combined with the white spaces of the paper in between, then the viewer's eye reads it as a light shadow.  So something that's "wrong" actually reads like it's "right".

For me, this approach works best when I work fast.  That keeps me from obsessing over details and adds a vitality and energy to the drawing.  Your eye picks up on the details, even if your conscious brain doesn't.  Notice the shadow marks in the ribs: you'll see the hook marks as one line ends and the pen moves over to the next line, or you'll see the rapid back-and-forth without lifting.  Some lines will just be wrong no matter what.  There's a couple of vertical lines in the shoulder that I put in during the initial blocking.  It would've been better if they were angled lines, like the ones I put in later, but they weren't.  No matter.  Stuff happens when you work fast.

When I'm drawing with a Sharpie, even more so than when I'm drawing with a pencil, my hand tends to dance over the paper.  That's the best description I can think of.  Keep the pen moving, bouncing from one thing to the next.  Keep your eyes on the subject.  Look at the shape of the form, the shape of the shadows, and let your hand (and pen) follow your eyes.  Don't try to make your drawing match the subject because it won't.

Another metaphor just popped into my head.  If you've ever been snow skiing, you know the difference between slowly and laboriously creeping down a slope, and flying down a slope with your skis and poles barely in contact with the snow.  One is painful to do and watch, the other is a glorious rush.  That's the same thing with drawing.  Obsess over every individual detail and you'll miss the excitement.