Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene Drawing #2

The elements marshal their infinite might at my beckoning! Power seethes in the roiling clouds! Now, at my command -- STRIKE!

-Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, Issue 15, Jim Shooter

Turns out Hurricane Irene wasn't so much in the way of infinite might, at least around here. Anyway, here's the other drawing I did last night during the storm ... Storm of the X-Men. Get it?

Hurricane Irene Drawing

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks. Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks.
You sulph'rous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head. And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world,
Crack Nature's molds, all germains spill at once,
That makes ingrateful man.

-The Tragedy of King Lear, III ii, William Shakespeare

Watercolor pencil over ink

Pre-color black & white lineart.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


These are some drawings I recently did at the sculpture gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are great subjects to draw. For one thing, statues are models that can hold any pose for as long as you need. Secondly, the pristine marble, spotlit or under the skylight sun, is great for studying light and shadow. There's nothing better for studying value. The core shadow is so dark, and the brightest highlights are luminous. And the subject matter itself contains so much to study. Form, value, gesture, anatomy, drapery   . . . you get it all from drawing these things.

One of the few books I picked up at Borders' liquidation sale was Juliette Aristides' Classical Drawing Atelier. Aristides runs a Seattle-based art school with a curriculum based on traditional academic aesthetics and techniques. A large part of the curriculum consists of drawing from casts, plaster replicas of classical sculptures. The students at her atelier spend at least the first year (out of four) drawing from casts, and in the second year spend each afternoon painting from them.

Copying masterworks dates back at least to the Middle Ages, and was codified during the Renaissance. By the 19th Century, the practice formed the basis of art training. The United States didn't have a respected arts training establishment until schools were able to import collections of casts in the early 1800s. Between 1863 and 1873, Charles Brague and Jean-Leon Gerome published a series of lithographs of drawings of casts to be used in instruction which became known as the Brague Course (I'm not sure why poor Jean-Leon got stiffed in the credits). Students would copy copies of masterworks.

The method fell out of favor in the latter half of the 20th Century, but in 2004, art historian Gerald Ackerman compiled a reproduction of the Bargue course and recreated its instructions, which recommends spending up to 15 hours on each copy. He writes, "It's quite typical, in the schools where the drawings are still used, as in the Florence Academy of Art, to spend three to five weeks of three daily hour sessions making exact copies of the plates . . ."

Man. does that sound BORING. I get bored during the 40 minute poses at figure drawing! I did these drawings over several hours at the Met, and enjoyed it. But I can't imagine doing it for a whole day, day after day, week after week, and spending all that time on a single drawing. Sometimes I'll glance at another artist at a drawing session, and they've spent 40-60+ minutes drawing an arm. True, it is great looking arm. But I like to knock it out.

Still, the results do speak for themselves. I just finished reading Malcom Gladwell's Outliers. In it he writes that researchers have found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve expertise and excellence in any field. I bet I've spent at least 10,000 hours of my life drawing, but I'm no master. That's because what he's talking about is purposeful, focused practice, not just doodling around or tossing off quick sketches of Batman.

I could use a lot more of that sort of practice. My undergraduate art training was the polar opposite of the classical approach. There was some basic theory and technique taught in the introductory survey course, but the bulk of my time in that program was spent with instructors who felt that codified academic techniques only stifled creativity. I had a painting teacher who had us buy an assortment of paints and brushes and then basically just told us to go to it. Not a single lecture or demonstration on making a palette or manipulating the media, no color or composition theory. At the end of that semester, she told me, "Your work is so interesting, because you're not doing what we'd consider 'good' paintings." Hello! I wanted to make 'good' paintings, but had no grasp of any technique at all.

The same week I did these drawings, I also saw the blockbuster Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met, and he had this quote: "I spent a long time learning how to construct clothes, which is important to do before you can deconstruct them." I think this is what those art instructor missed. Maybe they thought we'd already been trained in the fundamentals, but really I think they just rejected the idea of fundamentals outright. It's a prevalent train of thought that you can't be creative while following 'rules' in art. But that absolute freedom actually didn't free me, it constrained me, because I didn't have the toolset to achieve the creative results I was aiming for. Building that toolset has been what I've been trying to do for the past several years now.

I still don't see myself spending 15 hours on a single drawing of a plaster cast, though. My life is too short, and I'm not getting younger!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Punch Buggy!

Went out to Governor's Island yesterday for a few hours. There was a bunch of stuff happening, including a Civil War re-enactment, a classical music concert, an electronica music concert, and the NYC Volkswagen Traffic Jam. I sat down and did this sketch of two VW bugs. I tried to get another one in of a rusty old VW bus with a bunch of spare tires strapped to the roof, but a parks ranger parked in front of me, blocking my view, and then the bus drove off.

Cars are on my official list of Things That Are Hard To Draw. The basic structure is a cube on a series of cylinders, but they quickly become really complicated forms, all subtle curves and oblique intersecting planes. The Volkswagen bugs are even more curvy and planey, which is what makes them such cool and beautiful machines and such a challenge to draw. I think I almost got them right in this drawing.

I've always liked VW bugs. I was never particularly into cars as a boy, but one of my earliest movie memories is of seeing a Herbie The Love Bug movie. I seem to remember seeing it in a theater, so it must have been either Herbie Rides Again (1974 ... I'd have been 3!) or maybe Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo (1977), or maybe a re-release of the first one, which came out before I was born. And this is the original Herbie I'm talking about, starring Mr. Dean Jones.

I'm not talking about the 2005 Herbie Fully Loaded, which starred Lindsay Lohan and was directed by a woman with whom I went to college, who probably didn't predict that career path for herself when we were working on that queer rock musical for Pride Week. But then, who can predict the future? In 2005, Lindsay Lohan was an actress who could be hired to star in a Disney family film about a sentient car.

Oh, Lindsay ... What happened?

But I digress. So, yeah, there was a bunch of Volkswagen vehicles. Here's some photos I took. You know, photography is a lot less labor-intensive than drawing!

This last one was the subject of my second aborted drawing:

And here's those Civil War re-enactors. They're portraying the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, who had a 83% casualty rate at the Battle of Gettysburg, and were then sent up to NYC to suppress the Draft Riots.

My blogger stats tell me that among the search keywords that lead to my blog are: asphalt paving, lion anatomy, gambit x-men, chris brown sketsh me [sic], how to draw french street scene, drunk horny russian girl, roadtec 900, dead leaves, sketches of houses, chris brown sketches by people, Field of Dreams DVD, tiny hipster girl, and allan dorison. I think this post covers enough random subjects to confound legions of googlers throughout the internets.

My mom emailed me the answer to my Herbie question:

It was Herbie Rides Again in 1974. Your grandmother & I took you to see it at a movie theater that was on Broadway & (I think) 92nd St or close to that street anyway. It was your very first movie & you were so into it!  It was summer so it had to have been around your birthday because that's when she always visited.   There weren't too many VW's in NY then but when we went to CA the next year they were all over the place & you went nuts over them.  I always loved them too & wanted to get one but your Dad convinced me they weren't practical for three plus dog(s) and "stuff".

 Thanks Mom!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Columbus Circle

A relatively quick sketch I did of the pillar and statues at Columbus Circle today, after getting a wisdom tooth pulled. I was drawn to the contrast created by the direct sunlight from the right. I probably shoulda coulda pushed that a lot further.

Here is a drawing of the statue at the column base, done from a different (and closer) angle a few months ago.