Monday, February 15, 2016

‘A sense of concentrated urgency’

2/14/16 charcoal and sanguine pencils (20-min. pose)
Whew! When I got home last night, I plopped down in my recliner, ready for Valentine champagne and some TV binge-watching! I had spent the weekend in Mark Kang-O’Higgins’ “Expressive Figure Drawing” workshop at Gage, and I was exhausted!

Over the course of two days, we repeatedly sketched the model during one- to 20-minute poses using a variety of techniques designed to push us past capturing the gesture all the way to creating drawings with a conceptual nature. I don’t know how far I got in making such drawings, but I know I worked hard!

Unlike most life-drawing classes at the Gage Academy (which is grounded in traditional art practices), Mark was open to students using any media we wanted. This was a huge relief, because I hate charcoal! Still, I wanted to push myself to use media I don’t normally use, so I pulled out some charcoal, sanguine and sepia pencils I found in my vast arsenal. Although not as soft as traditional vine charcoal, these pencils could still be smudged, blended and erased like charcoal (but left my hands clean!). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed using them.
2/13/16 sanguine pencil

A bigger challenge was exactly that – using large paper. Accustomed to my typical 9-by-12-inch sketchbook, I found myself making small drawings on 18-by-24 paper. It took a while to get used to working large.

Highly knowledgeable in human anatomy, Mark didn’t have time in a two-day workshop to give us much anatomical information, but the part he did give us – the structure of the head – was very useful as an introduction to the second day’s emphasis on expressive portraiture.

A highlight of the weekend was Mark’s 20-minute demo of a portrait. Using charcoal and white chalk on toned paper and talking the entire time he was drawing, explaining the strategy behind each move, he magically made a portrait appear. The “magic” was the way he focused almost entirely on shadow shapes, not details, for most of that time, then used the last few minutes to put in small marks that accented key features. Magic! (No, not really – more like decades of practice.)

Some of the techniques we used for developing expressiveness were things like making multiple overlapping drawings on a page, using varying line weight instead of shading to indicate light and shadow, and scribbling wildly on the blank sheet before beginning the drawing (which takes away the “preciousness” of the drawing). I enjoyed the scribbling part a lot!

Mark believes strongly that building artistic skill comes slowly and gradually over time with continual practice, not “talent.” That said, he also stressed that the practice has to be self-critical and not simply repeating the same mistakes.

2/14/16 sepia pencil (20 min. pose)
In one of his handouts, he urges students to work “with a sense of concentrated urgency . . . Developing artistic skills do not often come in a short space of time, rather long-term dedication, diligence and hard work.” Definitely feeling myself working with concentrated urgency, I had been introduced to many principles and techniques in two days. But now it’s up to me to “internalize these techniques, practice them over a long period of time” and make them my own.

2/14/16 sepia pencil (20-min. pose)

2/14/16 charcoal and sanguine pencils (5-min. poses)

2/13/16 charcoal and sanguine pencils (1 and 2-min. poses)

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