Friday, April 7, 2006

The Figure

Riotous Morning, 2006, Oil on Panel, 8x10

As an illustration major in college, I was required to take a lot of figure drawing classes. I mean a lot. At least three days a week, sometimes for 3-6 hours each session for four years. We had to study anatomy, and classic figurative work by Michelangelo. Rubens, daVinci, Rubens, Titian and Rembrandt. Classes included drawing, using a variety of mediums, charcoal, graphite, conte crayon, ink, painting in which we mostly used oils and sometimes brush and ink, and sculpture. For sculpture, we had to form a wire armature and then build up the form of the figure with Roma Plastilina Modeling clay. To this day I can remember the smell and texture of that oil based clay, though I haven't worked with it for maybe 20 years.

Anyway, I was pretty good with the figure, probably not the best in the department, but I did ok. Doing the figurative work was kind of a love/hate thing for me in college. It could be grueling and stressful, and some of the instructors were really intense. But figure drawing can also be so exhilarating to me, it is amazing to be able to look at the figure, throw out conscious thoughts and just express whatever you feel and see about the model in front of you. I loved just getting into the medium, whether charcoal, paint, or clay and being able to create an image from basically nothing.

Over the years I have tried to keep up with figure drawing. When we lived in Utah, Doug and I ran a weekly figure drawing session and I did those classes during two pregnancies and while having the babies right next to me. I was able to develop the technical aspects of drawing such as line quality at this time and refining the use of using pure graphite, but still I always felt kind of rusty at it, because I wasn't immersed as I had been in college.

I have been able to do very little figurative work in the last few years, since moving back east. Our local art organization has a weekly class and I go to that occasionally. But there are few models in the area who are willing to pose unclothed and so often class is either canceled or the model is clothed. It is also difficult for me to get out of the house in the evenings, what with dinner, homework, bedtime and other kid stuff always going on.

So last summer I decided to take two figure drawing workshops in Woodstock. It was so incredible to be able to just completely focus on drawing the figure and I realized how much I still yearn to do figurative work. Some things have changed for me; my vision is worse, I should wear my glasses to more clearly see the model, but then I can't see the paper comfortably (bifocals may be in my near future), my arm gets sore after awhile and I need to brush up on my technical knowledge of the figure's anatomy. But I still have "a good eye" and I think that motherhood really added a new quality to my drawing, more sensitivity and sensuousness. My drawings have more feeling and are more expressive now, compared to when I was a silly, overly serious and inexperienced college student 20 years ago.

This has become longer than I expected, so I think I will talk about the class I am currently taking in Monday's post. The following are drawings that I did in the week long workshop that I did last summer. We had two excellent models and I am fairly pleased with this work, although I can always see something that I wish I had done differently or better. In fact, I was not happy with how I handled the model's face in the third drawing, so I did a another drawing, focusing only on her face in profile. The poses are anywhere from one to three hours and the male is drawn with graphite, the portrait and female are charcoal and the other (the orange one) is sangiune conte crayon.


martha said...

Tracy, what fun to see these! I'm also tremendously drawn to the figure, though I have trouble with life drawing classes because I feel they reinforce some of the issues I already have trouble with. I get so drawn into the anatomy, and focused on getting everything 'correct'. I'm incorporating some figures now, but trying to do them with really minimal reference material. It's the reference that does me in, because I feel like I have to follow it. I'm powerless! By the way, the second profile you did is absolutely lovely-- the difference between the two is striking. It's funny how one take can be so different from another. I would love to see how the figure would translate into paint for you. In fact, if I could be so bold, how about trying one out?

Tracy Helgeson said...

Hi Martha, I know what you mean about worrying about the anatomy, although I maybe should worry more about it. I get a bit lazy about it. In the past, though, when my knowledge of the anatomy was really good, I didn't have to think about it while drawing, it was almost automatic, so I could just work on being expressive. Funny you mention me painting the figure, it is something I have been struggling with lately. I will be talking about that in my next post.


I really like the painting at the top, I like it the most out of what I have seen.

Tracy Helgeson said...

Thanks, my husband likes this one a lot as well. I do too, but to me it seems really jarring and I haven't decided if that's good or not. Either way, it is one that painted itself, I'm not sure that I even had to be there. Do you ever have that feeling about any of your work?


Oh gosh! that is when it is at its best. I think that you get to a point where you are so in tune to the work that you dont have to use your brain at all. I own a painting by a guy I was in college with, he said he didnt like it because it was too easy. I pray that the work will be easy because if its easy then its good, the bad ones I have to really fight. Its so rarely flows. it realy is a beautiful piece!