Monday, November 21, 2016

Obsessed With Figure Drawing

I am going to write about drawing the human figure. Again. Yes, I've been absent from the blog for months, and yes, I’ve already written about it several times. I must admit something to you, fair reader. The truth is, I have become obsessed. With the human form, and the male one at that.
As a last drawing project of the semester in April, we “went big” during our warm-ups and then did a collaborative mural project, drawing our figures from a live male model, only our second male of the semester. 
Here’s a photo of my first ever large-as-life drawing (after 25 minutes) and an in-progress of our mural that resulted from his fine modeling over those three days:
During this short time, I came to realize how much more interesting it is for me to draw people who are not college-aged and, well, “perfect.” In my art explorations over the summer at several art museums (most notably in New York City), I pondered this as I saw painting after painting of these young “perfect” women. 
It’s not fair to say they’re boring, even though that’s the first word that pops into my mind. Their bodies are fine. But where is the nuance? 
When looking at a man, where are the landmarks to help get it right? Where, in the classical art world, are older skin, age lines, and something else besides Mr. Incredible’s V-shaped body type held up to be appreciated, especially of men?
And, I’m just going to say it:
What combination of things in our western culture, over the course of centuries, has made it so that breasts and vaginas are more acceptable to look at than penises? How is it that it is so ingrained in us that one thing is beautiful and the other not? 
On top of that, in the USA in particular, why does nudity have to mean sex? And since we’re going there anyway, why then must we be so ashamed as humans, of being sexual beings?
I’m not saying let’s celebrate the male form as something better or more important than the female form. 
I am saying that we should notice the ordinary, acknowledge inherent beauty and nuance, think of it as enough, and not shy away from our body parts in revulsion or feel shame for even wanting to look.
At the end of that fateful semester, I was contacted by the model, asking if he could have one of my warm-up drawings. When I told him how much cooler it had been to draw him than most of the other models over the semester, it impacted him in a way that moved me. Later, he asked if I might be willing to draw him again, for a commission. Um, well that was a no-brainer.
I wanted to go deeper. To understand what it’s like for a man to stand there in the nude, to make it comfortable for him, to address moments of what I might call human-ness. 

Luckily, my model was willing to go there too. As we arranged logistics and figured out how to set up a figure-drawing space in my studio, we talked about vulnerability and masculinity and body shapes and identity.

To prepare for our art-making sessions—I was getting paid for this after all—I went to the open figure drawing night each week at the uni. Practice practice practice. (Samples, below.) 
I bought several mid-toned papers and new charcoal. I brought more lights into my studio and curtained off a window.
The day the model arrived, we talked about composition. He wanted to be portrayed as open, confident, still, and quiet. Shoulders to knees. I made a suggestion and we practiced it. I put a sign on my front door: “Do not disturb, Thursday, 8-11am.” 

Then we dived right in to modeling and drawing.

Over the course of making this drawing, I came to appreciate the model even more. He didn’t talk so I could concentrate on drawing. He held still, even when his shoulders hurt or he was tired. 
During breaks we’d sit on the platform and chat. We became friends. I wanted to honor him and his willingness to be in a very intimate space with a woman who wasn’t his life partner.
Important note: we talked about this! We intentionally included our spouses in the whole thing, which made for an incredibly trusting and safe environment and allowed us to do the work we wanted to do.
Here’s the picture at the end of day 1 after about 60 minutes. He sat for me for about 4 hours in total.
People always ask me, “What kind of art do you do?”

This is a hard question for me to answer, since I do so many different things. 

Lately, my answer has been, “Well, I’m really into figure drawing right now.”
This is an understatement. When I say that, what I am not saying is how much I loooooove it. It capitalizes on my callings to be in relationship with people and to make art. I am in relationship while in art. To meld these two things in one project is glorious. It is tapping into the best Heather Matthews that I can see exists in this universe.
Figure drawing has also made me ‘art’ like crazy these last couple months. All I want to do is draw in my free time (thus, the blogging has gone by the wayside). I’ve never felt that compulsion for such as steady period of time. 
I’ve already got another male model lined up to draw in December.
I’ve got an idea in mind for a show once I make enough drawings.
I’m trying to build a more permanent platform in my studio for the model.
I’m thinking about buying big paper and wondering where in my studio I’ll put it if it outsizes my easel. 

Considering my interest in fibers (weaving/dying/stitching), now I’m thinking about how I can meld the two, too.
Here is the completed drawing, or at least most of it. (Thanks to The Simpsons for inspiration for this photo.) I want to be sensitive to the world we live in now, the one which sometimes can’t handle the Full Monty.
One of my hetero BFFs, when I showed her the whole enchilada, said, “It’s like getting to really look at a man, like I’ve never been able to before.”
If you want to see the final product, do one of two things:
  • Email me directly (address is in the side bar to the right)
  • Come to the show I’ll have, where there’ll be plenty of male nudes on view, date TBA.
And since I can’t just keep blathering on today, stay tuned for blog posts on these topics in the very near future:
  • Objectifying vs. honoring
  • Intimate art spaces
  • On being a feminist who draws men

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Human Figure in HLM's Work?

The 2016 Fort Collins Studio Tour was last weekend!

Thank you to the more than 70 people to visited my studio. It was my pleasure to have you stop by. :)

Here is me standing next to the piece I made for the gallery show for the Tour. The piece is called "In A Bind" and it is the first time I've ever used the human figure in my art.

Making a figurative piece was not my plan. Late one night I was drawing thumbnails in my sketchbook, and out of many I drew, this one spoke the most to me. I was planning to start abstract, and let the piece get me to where it wanted to be.

Many of you saw me set up this piece on Facebook, but if you didn't, here is the video:

After a day of work, this is where I ended up:

Is it just because I've been drawing the human figure for four months that I saw a torso emerge in this? I had to go there. A few days later, this is how it ended:

Bit by bit, the piece became what it is. Here are some details:

I've been trying to delve deeper into my heart in my art-making, and this piece communicates a lot of things that have been in my heart the last few months. I would be happy to elaborate on this piece to anyone who's curious about its meaning to me--just email me (email address is at right). But I wonder, does it have meaning for you?

Reflections On My Figure Drawing Class

I loved the figure drawing class I took in the spring. Loved with a capital L. Loved like I want to marry it. Loved like I'm in withdrawal now that it's over. 


Here is all we did:

  • Hands and feet studies (you can see my hands drawing here)
  • Self portrait (you can see mine here)
  • Bones and muscles study
  • Animation
  • Still life with model
  • Large scale group collaboration
  • 6-minute class presentations about a figurative artist

Honestly, I could do an entire blog post about each thing. (Indeed, I have about two of them already.) Instead of talking about each thing, I want to talk about my takeaways. 

(FYI--all of these drawings are mine, from these projects, with exception of the very last photo, which is duly credited there. Click on any image for a close-up.)

I've said it before: in our culture, "artist" is not considered a legitimate profession to aspire to once one is of the age to start making some actual career decisions. BrenĂ© Brown once made a joke about how people might say: "Well, you go ahead, dear, with your A-R-T, and I'll get on with my J-O-B!"

Amy Misurelli Sorenson is a visiting artist at Colorado State University. It was recommended to me that I take figure drawing from her. I consider this to have been divine intervention. The way she approaches drawing is as if it is her right hand. 

She told a story of when she was working 60 hour weeks in a gallery and she'd come home exhausted, with no more energy to give and all she'd want to do is sit at her kitchen table and draw. Not go to bed, not watch TV, not veg on the couch. Drawing is in her.

If you view her website, you'll see that she pushes people out of their comfort zones with her drawings, prints, photos, and even performance art. As an instructor, she asked us, even demanded that get out of our comfort zones. She insisted that we draw well from observation. During critique, she was honest, didn't sugar coat, and asked people to push themselves even more beyond what they'd done.

Amy also had us complete assignments that showed us that there is a place for drawing in this world. 

Even if cell phone selfies have "put artists out of a job," people of this day and age will still pay for a drawn or painted portrait, illustrations of anatomy, animation (think of the thousands of animated videos that exist in the world).

Being an artist most often means you make your own thing in your space all by yourself, but being an artist can also mean collaborating with other people with different styles and perspectives to make something more than what you'd ever be able to do just on your own.

Taking figure drawing with Amy legitimized drawing for me in a new way, and legitimized the value of the human figure to me even more. Before this class, I was intimidated to draw a human, whether just a part of it, like the face, or the entire thing. 

I was surprised when I said to my model for the still life (second image in this post) that drawing her was not at all what I was worried about. It was the space around her, the other objects, her comfort, and my paper choice that I was concerned most about.

Even our figurative artist presentations were more rewarding than I thought they would be. First, I was able to explore the life and art of an artist I have long admired: Hung Liu

Liu is a figurative oil painter who lives in the Bay Area. She even taught at Mills College when I was there in the late 90s (missed opportunity!).

Here is a photo I took in 2015 of one of Liu's paintings, called Shoemakers, made in 1999. It is owned by the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, CA.

All the students in my class did brief presentations about other contemporary figurative artists, and right away this information paid off when I went to the Seattle Art Museum in mid-May, only to see in-person original paintings by Kehinde Wiley, David Salle, and Eric Fischl. These are living contemporary figurative artists, making a buck by making art. Moreover, all of these artists communicate and create in ways that include depicting the human figure.

The significance of understanding this overwhelms me and causes me to believe that one day I, too, could make something that someone will pay for and shoot, maybe even put it in a museum.  

As I said before, taking Figure this semester, with this instructor, with the skills I've built up over the last few years, and with the appreciation I have for art museums (newly found in just the last 4 years): divine intervention.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2016 Card Swap Revealed

The 2016 6 Degrees of HLM International Card Swap was a huge success in its 9th year!  Thank you to everyone who participated--I hope you had a blast and that you'll join in again next year. Until then, here are photos of everyone's contributions.

To start, the Big Picture! (Remember to click on the photos for a closer view, and to view all close-ups all together.)

28 people fulfilled their goal of making ten individual cards. Here they all are, 280 cards laid out on my freshly-swept living room floor:

The themes this year were either "surprise" or "text." Everyone had such a unique take on these ideas. Brittany, from Fort Collins, found words that were inspiring on the pages of a book. Using a tag template, she cut those places out and highlighted the words in colored pencil.

Claudia (Fort Collins) found her inspiration in the stars. She matched up constellations to their noun in the dictionary, then used a pin to poke the constellation into the face of the card itself. Hold it up to light and you can see the constellation!

When I first met Gale (Fort Collins) a few years ago, I saved her contact info in my phone as as  "Gale the sunflower painter." She certainly does other things, but for her first year in the swap, painted these beauts on the back of vellum then added details and highlights in copic marker and colored pencil on the opposite side of the paper.

Gaye (Fort Collins) liked the shine of this origami paper and wanted to use it up!

Haley (Fort Collins) painted the pages of the daily newspaper while at the Work Party in early April. Then she cut many varying sizes of flowers out to layer them into these flower designs.

The idea for my cards came from the movie Bright Star (a most beautifully styled, artful film) and I got to use my fancy new Cricut Explore Air cutting machine to cut out all the parts. After they were cut, all I had to do was glue, fold, color, and distress. (Sorry, by the way for the tight-fitting envelopes!)

Jane (Fort Collins) is a painter and each year she makes up sets of cards of all the paintings she did using Vistaprint. This is the first year she's shared some of them in the card swap.

Jessica works and makes her art at Wolverine Publick House and Printing Press here in Fort Collins. This was her first year in the swap! She was fun to meet and her cards lent some honesty/humor to the sentiments.

Jessie (Fort Collins) came to the Work Party and found inspiration in a piece of paper that's been hanging in my studio for months. The paper is covered in hot air balloons. She took that theme and made each part of the image out of words. (See a fun photo of Jessie holding a potato cannon at the end of this post!)

This is Kristin's first year in the swap. She lives in Longmont, CO, and worked so hard on her cards that she drove up to Fort Collins to hand-deliver the precious cargo, created out of fabric, dyed napkins, tea tags, and stickers. Labors of love! 

Laura (Fort Collins) has a way with magazine pages. She hates to get rid of the beautiful photography in the magazines she subscribes to, and we are lucky to see some of her re-purposing. She wove these strips together into dynamic new images.

I met Marge at a Fort Collins Hotdish event this winter and we hit it off. When she told me that she'd recently tried out some new-to-her medium, I suggested she join in our swap. She went to town and made tons of cards. When I went to pick up her ten, she showed me a cupboard full of cards! When I went back to deliver her kitty, she said that just in that short space of time, her "style" had developed. Can't wait to see next year's contributions!

Mary Lu (Fort Collins) has been on some journeys of the heart and soul these last few years, including an actual road trip in Washington state. This year she'll be road-tripping on her own for the first time, so her cards were inspired by maps and being grounded and ebbs and flows.

Susan's cards were inspired by newspaper headlines from events in Colorado in the last year. Her collages were individual and thoughtful. She's from Fort Collins.

This is Tara's first year in the swap. She's from Centennial, CO, but about to move to Hawaii! She found inspiration in both themes, so decided to make five of each. The tree design was a pop up.

Amelia is from Fort Collins. She is famous here in town for her "dots" and if you look closely, you'll notice a few in these silhouette compositions. 

Andrea (Fort Collins) joked about how the Happy Birthday vellum has popped up in her cards for at least three years. She liked the extra challenge of making pop-up cards, and making them so large helped use up a lot of her supplies. 

Anne is from Seattle and has used fortunes in her cards before. I was amazed that to make these, she must have collected hundreds, especially as the fortunes chosen for each card seemed to relate to each other in a quirky way.

Annie (Fort Collins) made her adorable fiber collages and threw in some meaningful words to accompany them. 

Ambra (Toronto) embellished some cute owl cards, which got caught up in customs because of the feathers!! Nothing liquid, fragile, perishable, or hazardous here, people! 

Joanne is my new next door neighbor here in the Fort. This print-out of tulips is of a painting she did from a photograph of some tulips in her garden! Inside, there is a fun play on words (think: two lips); she says if you want to change the message, you can! The message is written on chalkboard paper with chalkboard pen. You can just wipe it away and write a new message with such a pen, $3 at Michael's.

Katie (Fort Collins) made this bee-on-a-flower with a hand-cut stencil and watercolors. The bee spins around on its flower. Inside: Happy B-day! Haha!

Mia (Fort Collins) shared her stellar hand-writing skills in her card design, and played with brightly-colored papers against black card.

Sarah (from San Diego) participated this year for the first time and her cards cleverly incorporated both themes. The text on the fronts was endearing, and inside you find a removable bookmark to remind a friend of how great you think they are.

Shari (Fort Collins) subscribes to a monthly stamping club, and these cards were put together with some of the supplies she got one month from them.

Siri (College Town, PA) has an eye for fabrics! She used some of her scraps to make these heart cards and the surprise: heart confetti to be included in the envelope!

Sophia was recruited into the swap this year by Claudia and her simple collaged images packed a lot of punch. I hope I'm remembering right that she's from Maryland. 

Phuong is from Cambridge, MA, and made these cards with her almost-three year-old daughter. They like to stencil together--it's like magic when you take the stencil away to reveal the shape!

A few last photos, from the Work Party, the photo-taking, and the distribution day. That's Jessie having a go with my husband's potato cannon, which he was entertaining Andrea's kids with during the Work Party. Thanks in particular to Katie (who helped with the photography) and Haley and her 4-y.o. Harper, who carefully hand-selected each card for many of you. :)