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