Watercolor Class #6 – Portraits & The Figure
June 3, 2013
I took my sketchbook dedicated to Figure Drawing along to class last night so I could have subjects to work on in watercolor, none of us wanting to pose as a model for the whole class.
The focus was on very quick sketches of people in watercolor: the barest of foundation line work in pencil, followed by broad brushstrokes in monochromatic watercolor. What’s important is to get the whole figure down before making any tiny adjustments to the pose just before using the watercolor – a long way from moving laboriously down the figure including all the tiny details as you go, as one is prone to in pencil drawing!
My subjects ended up being Art Gallery of NSW sculptures and newspaper photos of footballers, but I am motivated now to start doing more from my imagination (and then finding precedents for the pose in photos and the work of other artists to “confirm” what I’m imagining). My teacher is very big on having someone else’s work by your side, acting as a mediator between the photo/subject and the blank page. You’re not copying someone else’s style, but somehow lessening any baulking at the blank page. It also works as a prompt for particular details (trees on mountains, details of boats, etc.).
I used his “smudge” approach to incorporate figures into landscape on the weekend when out location sketching last weekend. In such tiny figures it’s important to differentiate them one from another otherwise they look like soldiers. I’m finding it helps to ask myself “What are they DOING?” to get down the essence of the pose, not necessarily “what do they look like?”. As for the criticism that they don’t look like “real” people, you’ve got the fact that no distinguishing features can be discerned at such a long distance. As for defining individual features in portraits, well, that seems a long way away from Urban Sketching and is in the realm of posed portraiture sketching.
My teacher often goes back into the watercolor sketch to “tidy up” features with pencil. Here I’ve done it with charcoal pencil. This approach is quick enough for me to try with 10 and 20 min life drawing!
There is something whole-heartedly inspiring about making art in a group. There is so much anguish in working by oneself, by comparison. Things seem so much more “effortless” in a class situation, though what you do can’t be too far from your skillbase. For example, most of the students freaked out when having to apply watercolor to portraits and figures and quickly gravitated back to watching demos of Buildings and Landscapes.
Before the next class, two weeks away because of a public holiday, I hope to reinforce some of the Buildings/Landscapes approaches as well as demonstrate some sort of competency in portraits/figure drawing to take along to class next time. A lot of personal angoisse seems to have dissipated now that I understand intellectually what’s required; now that my brain knows what’s going on, I just have to have a further 100, 500, 1000 goes at it so my hands and fingers can perform the tasks physically.