Sunday, May 01, 2016

Figures in Charcoal and Pastel

I'm continuing to do my new figure series using charcoal and pastels in a very sparing manner.  It's not only fun to do, but challenging.  I'm working in a different method than what I've done for years.  Even though I've been making these artworks since February, it's still not second-nature yet.  Every piece requires a lot of thought.  And a lot of restraint, since a critical part is stopping long before I want to.

So far, this series seems to be working really well.  The first dozen or so were of Amy, a wonderful model, done from photos taken in my studio.  I'll continue to do artworks of her, but now I'm adding other people.  I've had Troy in the studio for a photo session and have done one artwork of him.  Troy was a hoot to work with: point the camera at him and turn him loose and the next thing you know, he's rolling around on the floor or climbing the walls, sounding for all the world like Robin Williams.  I've also done a photo session with Emma, a lovely young woman with a very different presence than Amy.  And I'm going to do a session with Jennifer, Troy's wife, in a couple of weeks.  Pretty soon, I'll have enough material to keep me busy for a long time.

So here are some insights into some of the works done over the past month:

Amy #9

I had asked Amy to take a "defensive" pose.  She came up with a bunch of them that said "frightened" and "vulnerable".  She seems to be a natural method actor.  This is the only artwork I've done from those photos so far, but I will go back and do more later.  In this piece, I kept color to a minimum and tried to focus on her hand, shoulder, and upper back, using the tension she expressed to tell the story.

Amy #11

In this piece, I developed her back, but left the skirt, hands, and feet relatively undeveloped.  The warm colors of her back contrast with the cool gray of the paper and the turquoise of her skirt, and the diagonal pose with the center of interest offset to the left provides a quiet dynamic to the composition.

Amy #14

Here, I pushed the minimalism much further.  Her face and shoulders are strongly drawn in heavy black compressed charcoal and light warm pastels, while the rest of her is indicated by little more than contour lines.  I wanted to capture the delicacy of her posture.

Jennifer #1

This is one I did from life.  Jennifer posed for our Wednesday night life drawing and painting group.  This pointed out a number of things that I have to think about.  One is that, when I work from life, I'm much more literal than when working from photos.  A photo sometimes (not always) provides some distance, both physically and conceptually, that enables me to make artistic decisions more easily.  When something or someone is in front of me, I sometimes (not always) feel like I have to record what is there, regardless of how it looks in the artwork.  It's funny: with this series, I can look at a photo and make decisions about how to do the artwork quickly and easily.  Other times, a photo demands that I copy it without question.  And sometimes, when working from life, I can change things around on a whim, while at other times, I'm locked into what I see.  In this case, I had to fight to keep from putting too much detail into the hands, dress, couch, and feet, and to keep the image very simple.

Another thing it pointed out is that a live pose that has to be held for a long period of time will never have the immediacy of one from a photo.  Here, the model has to be in a position that can be held for 20-30 minutes at a time, and repeat it multiple time.  This is why most paintings from life have a very still or quiet nature.  A photo, by contrast, captures a particular moment that does not have to be repeated.

So that's some insight into what's going through my head when I'm working on this series.  It's new territory for me and a lot of fun.  I hope you're pushing yourself into some new territory as well, no matter what it is that you do.  That's how we grow!

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