The Figure in Watercolor

I struggle so much with watercolor, yet I like the media and really do want to get better with it. So I keep trying. Last Tuesday night, at my life drawing session, I worked in watercolor. I worked more spontaneously than I usually do, which I liked. My biggest problem was that I felt as if my values were too light; they lacked intensity. This is something that I need to work on. I will most likely take my watercolors with me tomorrow night, this time with a focus on developing intensity.

8-28-12, “Eric 1″, 11″x14”, watercolor on watercolor paper

8-28-12, “Eric 2″, 11″x14”, watercolor on watercolor paper

8-28-12, “Eric 3″, 11″x14”, watercolor on watercolor paper

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Life Drawing in Watercolor

This past Tuesday night, at my life drawing session, I decided that I was going to work in watercolor. I wanted to work more loosely than is typical for me. To make this happen, I did not sketch the pose in pencil first, instead I focused on painting the shadow/darker areas of her form. Because our model, Lisa, had short black hair, I also found it helpful to paint in the mass that was her hair. From there, I would add in the various values and tones to complete the figure. Each of the paintings was accomplished during the 20-minute pose.

Pastel Figure Drawings

This past Tuesday night, I had just gotten to Stu’s studio for the life drawing session when Rainy called. She was really upset because she was sure she hadn’t gotten the summer internship she had applied for. She was on her class field trip and some of her classmates had heard that they got the internship. Because Rainy hadn’t heard anything, she was sure that her news would be bad. This left her struggling with what the next steps in her college education would entail. She has the credits to graduate with a BA, but she needs the BS in order to work in wildlife research. We talked about her back-up plan of doing another Wildlands Study, this time in Ecuador. We also talked about what her steps would be after the summer program was complete. I am always wishing that there was something I could do to make everything perfect for Rainy, I just don’t have the magic to make this happen. We talked for quite a while, I think she felt better than when she called. I was subdued for most of the evening drawing session. I missed the first few gesture drawings, but did get to participate in the 2, 5-minute gestures. I did work in pastels again. I brought blending stumps and workable fixative with me as my intention was to take my time, work areas more slowly, and to fix as I went along.

My process evolved into starting the basic figure with a quick pencil sketch, just to lay out the figure on the page. To achieve correct proportions, I used my pencil as a sighting tool. This worked out quite well. Then I gradually worked in the pastels, smudging and blending gently with the stump. I did’t take the time to spray with the workable fixative as I worked, but just sprayed the drawing at the end of the 20 minute pose. This was because I didn’t want my movement to disrupt the other people that were drawing.

Model with Red HairMy second drawing of the night focused on the model’s torso. I can’t remember the model’s name. I drew on the back of the paper my first drawing was on (something I don’t usually do) because I was not pleased with the first drawing. This one is titled “Model with Red Hair”, and is 13″ x 20″. I like drawing a 3/4 view of the face, it is challenging but more interesting than a profile. I struggled a bit with her hair because I didn’t have the right colors of pastels to capture the reddish tone as I would have liked. Because this drawing was so much more successful than the first drawing, I was able to settle down into the process of drawing.

Relaxing with RobeThis next drawing is titled “Relaxing with Robe”, it is on 11″ x 14″ neutral toned Mi-Teintes paper. I didn’t have the best view of the model, but managed to shift my easel over just a little so that I could see just a bit of her breast and more of her face. Even though it doesn’t look much like the model, I did like the composition.

Resting in BlueThis third drawing is titled “Resting in Blue”, it is 11″ x 14″ on blue-toned Mi-Teintes paper. I really liked this pose as it challenged me to correctly interpret the foreshortened figure. Because I was working on blue paper, I chose to work in a variety of blue pastels. Once I was home, I added in the pastel beneath her midsection and her head as the drawing seemed to need that extra information.

Model with Green PillowMy final drawing of the night was my favorite one. It is titled “Model with Green Pillow”, it is 13″ x 20″, soft pastel on green-toned Mi-Teintes paper. I like the overall composition with the figure placed in the lower third of the picture plane. The green of the paper is a difficult one to work with, so I decided to not use a lot of greens in the figure, but to instead work with more yellow tones. I did incorporate the greens into her pillow and the sheet she is laying on. Once I got home, I thought the upper portion of the paper looked too empty, so I came in and blended some additional greens and yellows into the negative space.

Reflection on Working with Pastels

I have been teaching soft pastel techniques to my Drawing & Painting students as they create an expressive self-portrait. I encourage them to layer the pastels to create depth, spraying with workable fixative between layers. I created this self-portrait to use as I demonstrated different ways of working. Self-Portrait with Lily I have titled it “Self-Portrait with Lily”. It is 11″ x 13″, soft pastel on Mi-Teintes paper. I am bringing this up because it is a good example of layering the pastels, working to create a sense of depth. Like a few of my students, I elected to work in natural skin tones and managed to successfully portray a reasonable likeness of myself. Because I was in the process of teaching soft pastels to my students, I have also been working in soft pastels at my Tuesday night life drawing sessions. The problem with the weekly sessions is that I totally ignore the aspect of layering in my attempt to create a completed drawing in 20 minutes. Guess what….this hasn’t been working too well for me. Craig with Rope This is my best drawing from Tuesday night, April 24th. I titled it “Craig with Rope”. In my rush to get a drawing started and finished, I don’t spray between layers so they often get a bit muddied. I also don’t take the time to push the pastel into the paper with a stump or tortillion. Craig Laying Back Because I am not pushing the pastels into the paper, they are laying on the top surface of the paper, which creates the textured appearance. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer to smooth the first few layers into the paper and then allow a few strokes of the pastel to remain on the surface of the paper. This second drawing is titled “Craig Laying Down”, it is 11″ x 13″, soft pastel on Mi-Teintes paper. Craig on Chair This third drawing is titled “Craig on Chair”, it is also 11″ x 13″, soft pastel on Mi-Teintes paper. From the 5 drawings I did that night, these were the better ones and they aren’t even that great. I left that night feeling discouraged with my drawings and thinking that next week I should switch media.
Then an interesting conversation occurred. My friend from Tuesday night, Eric, had come to North High School this past Wednesday to teach the after-school life drawing session to my students. I spoke with him about the difference between my successful pastel self-portrait and my unsuccessful experience with pastels from Tuesday night. Eric made the remark that 20 minutes isn’t very long, that he doesn’t concern himself so much with finishing a drawing, but rather he focuses on doing the best he can within the short amount of time. He works at his own pace and what gets accomplished is it. His incomplete drawings are a record of his experience with that particular pose. I thought about what Eric said, and took it to heart. This week I will change my approach to Tuesday’s 20 minute poses. I will take my pastels, a stump, and my workable fixative. I will work more slowly and not concern myself with finishing a drawing, but rather with recording the pose and working more to refine what I can and not worry about what does not get drawn.
I will let you know how this works for me.

Working in Pastels

This past week I was able to go to life drawing on both Tuesday and Thursday nights. I wanted to work in something other than watercolor, so I gathered up my soft pastels and some toned paper to work on. Because Tuesday was 20 minute poses, I worked on half sheets of paper, but Thursday we had 40 minute poses that allowed me to work larger, 19″ x 25″. Even with the 40 minute poses, I didn’t quite finish any of the drawings that I started, so last night I tackled 2 of the 3 drawings and completed them both. The third one is still on my easel, just waiting for me to finish later today. Interestingly, as I leafed through my sketchbook, I realized that it was this same time last year that I was working in pastels. I thought that was rather odd, until I thought about the reason behind my interest in soft pastels. This is the time of year that I am teaching portraits in my Drawing & Painting 2 classes and I always have my students create a pastel self-portrait. I show my students a power point I made featuring Witkacy, a pastel portrait artist from the early 1900’s. Then I have them practice with layering the pastels before the students begin their expressive self-portrait. Because I don’t work in soft pastels on a regular basis, I think I revive my interest in pastels as a way of refreshing my own knowledge so that I can teach the techniques to my students. I will be ready to demonstrate pastel techniques tomorrow.
This first drawing is titled “Courtney”, it is 19″ x 25″, soft pastel on brown toned Mi-Teintes paper. This was actually the final drawing of the night on Thursday. I was hesitant to use such a dark brown paper, so I saved it for the last. I consider it to be my best drawing of the night, the pose was interesting with Courtney’s face turned away from me. She was sitting on her dark green robe, which I thought was the perfect color for the brown paper. With this drawing, I worked with more natural skin tones, adding touches of blue for the shadowy areas. Courtney’s skin is very pale, which contrasted wonderfully with her dark black hair, which was pulled up and back, away from her face.
This drawing is actually on light blue Mi-Teintes paper that is 19″ x 25″, it just didn’t photograph well. It is titled “Courtney in Blue”. I am quite pleased with this drawing, even though I shortened the torso a bit, Courtney is actually quite long and thin, not as heavy as she looks in this drawing. Because I was working on blue-toned paper, I chose to work with blue pastels. I successfully captured the curve of her spine and the basic gesture of the pose. By placing Courtney slightly off center, I was able to create a more interesting composition. It also helped that I enlarged the figure to fit the paper, and cropped her on all four sides.
“Courtney in Green” is actually on a medium olive green shade of 19″ x 25″ Mi-Teintes paper, I don’t know why it grays out so much in the photograph. This is my least favorite of the drawings I made on Thursday night. I really struggled with her hand resting on her thigh, but I finally got it to at least look like a thumb on a hand. I liked the value changes evident in her face, but I just could’t carry the concept through on the rest of her body as the lighting really did wash out her pale skin tone.
I think I will work in pastels again this week when I go to the life drawing session on Tuesday night.