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Figure Painting at The Art Students League

WARNING: There are drawings and paintings of male nudity in this post.  Please do not read any further if this is an issue for you.  Thank you.

I am taking a figure painting class Monday - Friday at The Art Students League.  And although I am taking the class five days a week, it's not a traditional class in some of the ways that so many of us are used to.  There's virtually no instruction. The teacher has spoken to me for a total of ten minutes on two occasions.  He's only present for two of the five days, and then for only part of the time.  The point of the class is to have active studio time with a live model.  And we are lucky enough to have two models -- a man and a woman.  My easel is closer to the man, so he has been my focus thus far.

The models hold the same pose for 3 weeks.  They pose in twenty-minute increments, separated by several five-minute breaks and one twenty-minute break over three-and-a-half hours each day.  I can't imagine how boring it must be to just sit there.  I feel kind of terrible for them when I see their muscles twitching with fatigue, or when you look into their faces and see the discomfort.  But I am so grateful that they're willing to do it. 

The good news is that I can feel myself improving every single day.  Here are my drawings and paintings thus far in the order they were done:

On the first day I spent the entire class time creating this portrait.  The teacher told me I needed to work on the body.

So I did a shorter sketch and moved down a bit to include his torso.  But I didn't like the composition.  It didn't tell a story.

I like the composition here a lot.  And I love how his knee cap turned out!  But that right hand -- eek!  I just could not draw it!

So this time I started my sketch focused on the hand and then drew everything else around it.  That foreshortened arm nearly killed me, but it looks pretty good now!  I'm rather proud of myself.  I didn't think I was going to be able to do it, but I did!

Empowered by the hand, I decided to tackle another thing that scares me: feet.  This is a larger than life version of his lower leg.

This is first painting.  And to say that I had absolutely NO idea what I was doing is an understatement!  But since there was no one around to help, I just kind of did what I know how to do and I was delightfully shocked that it worked.  At first I thought that this painting was done.  But then I decided to come back to it and delve a little bit deeper.

And I do think it improved!  I love the composition and the story it tells and I feel like putting the pattern in the background was really important.

This next canvas I worked on for about a week:


I felt the proportions of the face were wrong, so I wiped the top half of his face and started again.

At this point I asked the teacher for some guidance and he did something that I absolutely *hate*: he painted on my painting. 

Personally I think you learn nothing if a teacher just goes in and touches your artwork.  A good teacher should be able to verbally guide you towards a solution.  Part of learning is figuring out how to get from an intellectual idea (i.e. the shape of this face is wrong) to a physical solution.  While I do think that you can learn from watching someone else work, if they do it on your work you don't get to practice the principle.  Sigh.

So this is what my canvas looked like after he painted on it:

He lightened the left side of the face and reshaped the right side of the face.

 The next day I attacked it with vigor!

Besides a weird lip problem, it's boring.  So I brought in some new colors.

Still got a mega lip problem.  But I'm liking what the blue and green is doing.

Lip problem fixed.  Loving the orange.

Love his face, but his body feels a little cartoonish and un-finished.  I definitely need to spend more time figuring out the subtleties of capturing the contours of a body.  Like how do you depict a hairy chest? 

But for now, I've decided that it's done.

I did a bit more sketching:

And then I decided that it was time to do a painting that felt very natural to me.  So I collaged a canvas, used some punchinella, and started splashing the paint around:

I feel like this is very "me."

Overall, I'm having a good time and feeling like I'm learning-by-doing.  I wish there were a bit more instruction, but I appreciate that I'm not being forced to do things in a certain way.  I can find my own way.  I also appreciate being forced to work with the same subject day after day.  I can see that working at a single subject for a long time is good medicine, although it does feel like medicine some days.  Mostly I feel unsure of myself.  But then again maybe I'm just looking for someone to say, "good" or "bad" so that I know where I stand.  Something for me to think about.

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