Friday, January 20, 2017

Drawing in the Morning

da Vinci, "Study for Battle of Anghiari" black chalk, ca 1504
"Be always drawing," is a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, although a cursory search didn't show me a source, so perhaps it's apocryphal. Regardless, drawing constantly is awfully good advice for an artist to follow. Drawing sharpens the vision, makes me see things more accurately and in a way, more deeply. Deep concentration on the subject at hand brings such focus. He didn't finish many paintings, but Leonardo produced many drawings that show how magnificently he was able to focus. His study for the lost painting, "The Battle of Anghiari," is typical of his astonishing facility.

"Draw, Antonio" 1522
Like his rival, Michelangelo Buonarotti believed in drawing constantly. He scolded a slow student by writing "Draw, Antonio; draw, Antonio; draw and don't waste time." at the bottom of a clumsy drawing (left). Although not much writing about Michelangelo's teaching remains, those words have echoed down the centuries as excellent advice for almost any artist.

For many, a period of drawing to begin every studio day serves as a way of loosening the "muscles" of the mind, gives the eyes a chance to see and the mind an opportunity to translate the perception. Drawings help sharpen skills with whatever medium is being used. A mentor of mine used to talk about his own practice of drawing for half an hour every morning, the stated point not being to make a masterpiece or even a finished drawing in the classical sense, but instead to work out, in a sense; to train the eyes, mind and hand(s); to introduce the chance to enter that creative state some have called "flow." Most of the results will never see the light of day, and should not. They are only practice, no matter how accomplished the results.  I doubt that either of the masters whose sketches are posted here ever expected anyone except an interested student or artist to see them.

Many mornings--not enough!--I spend time drawing with graphite in any of a half-dozen sketchbooks of various sizes scattered around the studio. Many times the subject is an online image of a memorable individual, or an expression, but sometimes it's a studio still life, or even from memory. The point is just to draw.

Here are a couple of drawings that resurfaced somehow after a couple of years. Each is graphite on a small sketch page of about 5"x7" or so. Neither was intended as more than a study; neither has been shown anywhere. Both were more than likely drawn from a reference either in a book or perhaps a newspaper. When I drew these, possibly in 2012 or 2013, I was most likely using a 2B pencil on this slightly tan and rougher paper.

The expressions were clearly what attracted me about each of these images, and the implied narrative behind them. Formal portraiture these days produces relatively bland expressions, but that's certainly not the usual human condition. We grow angry and scream, or we grumble and scowl--the possibilities in human facial expression are endless. Drawing a subject with a wide-open mouth isn't something that many of us attempt, it seems to me, and I'm no exception. So this one was good practice for the open mouth but also because I worked hard at coherence of strokes, variation of line weight and appropriate use of value. The glowering young man came from a very small image I found in a newspaper. He was terribly angry or disappointed but there is no context beyond that. The deep shadows over the eyes and under the upper lip made this a more brooding and menacing image.

Practice drawing doesn't have to employ tangible media any longer, of course. Digital drawing is the order of the day for more and more artists of this century, and for me too. I use my Cintiq when I'm in the studio, but I can do it very easily on my tablet. As mentioned in earlier posts, a computer tablet like the iPad or Surface can be a really useful and portable tool. In my own practice it's often easier and less obtrusive in public to grab my tablet and draw using Sketchbook. Since I use the tablet instead of paper in many academic meetings, I can sketch sometimes, too.

The image to the right is a quick digital sketch of a woman dressed for the Iowa winter weather. She had just come inside from the cold still wearing her jacket and an enormous scarf, which was what attracted me to sketching her in the first place. In Sketchbook I used the pencil tool for the finer lines and the airbrush tool for the broader ones.

Practice is a foundation of creativity. In all of the arts, whether it's dance, music, visual art, drama, or the written word, experimentation and repetition make practicing effective. Practice gives me the chance to hone skills and try new materials and media. In particular, drawing practice is the foundation of everything I do.

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