Thursday, December 06, 2018

Apryl #3

Apryl #3
Charcoal and pastel on toned paper

Here's my newest piece in the charcoal and pastel series that I've been doing for a couple of years now.  I'm pretty happy with it.  Apryl is a very lively young woman, very animated and a great life model.  I've done two previous artworks of her.  Both times, she took interesting poses and held them like a rock.  That's great for figure studies, but there's one drawback.  No model can hold a true facial expression for more than a moment, no matter how good they are.

Want to test it?  Great!  Get a mirror and give yourself a big smile.  No, no, a REAL smile, one that you mean.  Nope, try again.  Okay, getting better.  Got it yet?  Okay, now hold that for 20 minutes.  Don't move, now!

Yeah, right.  Many people don't even like to smile for the camera, and that's just for a second or two.

The issue with facial expressions is that they are reflections of our inner state of mind, which is constantly changing.  When you're posing for an artist, you can hold your body in a position for quite a while, but your mind is going off somewhere else.  As one guy who sat for the painter Lucien Freud said, posing is a cross between zen meditation and a trip to the barber.  I've found that models' faces will settle in to a neutral or blank expression, one that will naturally hold itself over a long period of time.  Sometimes you can see flickers of expression cross their faces as some train of thought is amusing, frustrating, or whatever, but mostly it's just blank.

So how do I do expressions?  Photography.  I'll have a camera out as I talk with the model and will shoot a lot of photos.  Then I'll use the photos as references to build the artwork.  I don't copy the photo, though, but will use the images to see the details of how somebody's face shows expression.

This image came from my last life session with Apryl.  Her expression during the pose was, as all are, pretty blank.  But she's certainly not blank, she's smart, funny, and very expressive.  So during a break, I got out my camera and took a bunch of photos as we talked.  Then we went back to the pose. Now, several weeks later, I was able to go back, look at the photos, and start something new based on them.

Originally, this was a full-figure image of her sitting cross-legged.  I had a rough block-in and decided that it wasn't good enough.  For me, the attraction was in her face, and the small paper didn't allow a full-figure with sufficient room to develop her face.  So I rubbed out the figure, although you can still see a few traces of it.  I started over, looking at just the head and upper body.  The first stage was a rough block-in with vine charcoal.  Then I wiped down most of the vine and hit it with willow charcoal.  Why wipe down the vine?  It seems to fill the pores in the paper with slick particles and the heavier charcoals and pastels don't want to stick.  So I wipe a lot of the vine off, leaving enough to guide me along.

My next stage with Apryl was to use the willow charcoal to develop the features.  But I developed the features too much: there was so much detail in the face that the image lost some of the magic.  I got frustrated and hit it with a kneaded eraser.  That took a lot of over-development out and what was left was streaky.  But the streakiness was cool, so I re-developed the face, but only lightly and not nearly with as much detail.  Then came a light application of pastels to add color, first to the lighted areas, and later to some (not all) of the shadows.  Usually, I focus on the eyes, but this time, I focused on her smile, which was the important element in her expression.  There was a lot of experimentation, lots of rub-outs and erasures, and some happy accidents.  Finally, there was the image.

So, yes, I'm very happy with this one.