WEEKS 10 & 11:  Painting the Nude – A Timeless Art

During the past few months I created this blog, bought a MacBook Pro laptop, a wireless printer and a new iPhone.  For my birthday a couple weeks ago my generous and thoughtful boyfriend gave me a new semi-professional DSLR camera, and with a gift certificate from my brother and sister-in-law I bought a new lens.  I feel blessed with abundance that I have all of these creative tools at my disposal.

I also feel overwhelmed.

Learning new technology is not my strength.  My learning methodology (fueled by need – not desire) is a strange combination of intuition and reading instructions (sometimes).  And looking things up on Google.  A lot.

After consulting a career coach 10 years ago I will always remember one particular thing he said to me about my career choice, which is accounting but often involves learning new technology as well.  Both involve learning new things constantly.  He told me that although I had a strong aptitude for accounting and technology, I would always feel like an outsider because I had other more dominant aptitudes (e.g. writing …and certain types of art).

To explain why I have a love/hate relationship with my career he said, “You’re like a cat.  A true accountant is like a squirrel.  A cat can climb a tree but a squirrel can live in it.”

He also said that despite my high scores on most of the aptitude tests, I had the “lowest rate of idea flow” he’d ever seen.  Translation:  I can concentrate on one thing for ridiculously long periods of time.  On the other hand, multitasking will break me.

Used as a reference during our figure drawing studies, this is is how I feel after a day of multitasking.

Used as a reference during our figure drawing studies, this is is how I feel after a day of multitasking.

With this in mind, one thought hit me hard during my last two watercolor classes:  what I love most about fine art is that it doesn’t change.  Sure, subject matter and styles might slowly evolve, but the basic media and techniques are timeless.

Watercolor as a medium is one of the oldest in known history.  Primitive man used pigments mixed with water to make cave art, the earliest of which dates to around 40,000 years ago.  Chinese and Japanese masters painted on silk and handmade paper.  In the middle ages, European monks used a form of watercolor to create illuminated manuscripts.

Combine the timeless quality of watercolor with painting nude models and you have the perfect combination of changelessness.  The history of nude art can easily be traced back to the heroic male of classical Greek art (6th – 5th century BC).   But nude art dating all the way back to 30,000-25,000 BC has been found – a small female statuette called the Willendorf Venus.

Gesture drawings using 1-2 minute poses.

Gesture drawings using 1-2 minute poses.

During these past two weeks, we painted first a male nude and then a female, focusing on expression over structure and anatomy.  We started with the traditional gesture drawings to get a feel for movement of the human body.  These were a series of 1-2 minute poses.  Then we had 30-45 minute extended poses to work on detailed paintings.

If I’m really in the zone the outcome doesn’t even matter.  Only the process – the moment the brush touches the paper – only that moment matters.  This has made the study of watercolor painting particularly interesting for me because the medium is known for its unpredictable nature.  With practice, I learn to take advantage of that.  Improvisation gives the work a feeling of freshness.  In some cases where my intuition is running high, the outcome is that whatever I’m feeling ends up on the paper.

"Practice" with a 5 minute pose ...starting to add paint.

“Practice” with a 5 minute pose …starting to add paint.

 

It appears what I was feeling during these classes was frustration.  The human figure is more difficult to draw and paint than one might think.  The proportions and angles either have to be totally correct (i.e. realism) or completely disregarded (i.e. abstract expressionism).  I managed neither, but the process was fascinating – a huge learning experience – and there are some things I like about parts of these paintings.

Male nude - before adding pen & ink outlines.  I loved the non-traditional complementary color palette and the abstract quality.

Male nude – before adding pen & ink outlines. I loved the non-traditional complementary color palette and the abstract quality.

Male nude - after adding pen & ink outline.

Male nude – after adding pen & ink outline. I was able to correct some proportion issues (like a giant floating foot and an oddly skinny thigh).

Female nude - I tried to be more realistic and softer with this one.

Female nude – I tried to be more realistic and softer with this one. I liked the limited color palette but I thought it lacked definition.

Female nude - I tried a new technique to add definition - water soluble graphite pencils.

Female nude – I tried a new technique to add definition – water soluble graphite pencils. I was able to add some definition to a hand that looked like a flipper before, but the outlines may have become too strong …and the face looks “off.” The foreshortened arm still looks strange and the more I messed with it the stranger it looked.

Female nude - using more impressionistic color palette and no outlines at all.

Female nude – using a more impressionistic color palette and no outlines at all. I thought about adding more paint – or maybe some outlining – but part of watercolor painting is learning when to stop.

Overall, I did better than I expected, having not drawn or painted a human figure in over 20 years.  Innately, I seem to do better painting inanimate objects. Maybe next time I’ll try going completely abstract.  If that doesn’t ring true, I’ll try something else.  One thing is certain, when I’m making art I’m a squirrel in a tree.  There, time stands still and I am living.


 “The purpose of diving into a pond is not to swim to shore, but to delight in the sensations.”  ~John Keats

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