I listen to a lot of internet stuff when working to fill the audio void, since drawing doesn’t really make a lot of noise on its own. Audio books, old radio shows, podcasts, and of course music are the menu, but recently I found a neat website from Dublin that are audio documentaries. Thankfully, most of the podcasts are also available to download for free, so you can take them on the go. One I found is about live model drawing classes in Dublin, and I thought it was very interesting to hear that artists, and models, all over the world seem to have the same issues, goals, and hurdles, when it comes to life drawing sessions. Let’s be honest though, the gripes sound so much more legitimate when you add on that Patrick McGann accent to it (a lil’ shout out to one of my Krav peeps!). So fill up that iPod with some interesting stories, and enjoy a good irish coffee while you’re at it.

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/radio-documentary-lifedrawing.html

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I’m not one for enjoying reading things without pictures. As a comic artist that goes without saying, but even as a kid it was more so, than most people know. At the earliest age, I showed a tendency to only see things, not read them. Granted I could read well enough, but I tended to focus on the visual side of books. When my parents saw that I loved to draw comics they went out and got me the “How to Draw the Marvel Way” book. When others look at it, this is what they see on the page.

But for me it always looked like this.

So fast forward 35 or so years, and you see me now. Still drawing, and still hating to read long sections of copy. Most art text books I avoid like the plague, mainly because they don’t seem to acknowledge that artists are visual and need things explained that way, but Andrew Loomis understood this. I think that’s why his books have been sought out by artists more so than any other. His have taught me tons, and I still go back to them on (almost) a daily basis. For years you couldn’t find them, except as expensive collector pieces, since they’ve been out of print for decades. Luckily they’re being re-released by Titan books and the first two, Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth  and Drawing the Head and Hands, are now available.

But at a recent art session, I was sitting near a girl who was just whipping out sketches. There was something that I recognized in the approach, so during a break I asked- “Are you an animator?” to which she said “How did you know?”. It was obvious from the way her pencil skated about the paper and how her pictures were more about capturing the feel of the pose than reproducing it. I noticed that after she had exhausted the pose multiple times over the five minute pose, she would expand to drawing other artists in the room, quickly capturing the essence of their stance. So I started thinking about how I needed that energy in my own work, to loosen up, to capture the feel of the pose, and not get bogged down in detail. To help me achieve this I found the Drawn to Life series by Walt Stanchfield. They’re not so much books, as they are a collection of handouts he did for his drawing/gesture class at the Disney studios.

What’s happened is I’ve been totally taken in by them. I’m reading theory, and further more, I love it. Perhaps it’s age, which has allowed me to develop… oh, what’s the word, ah, patience. They’re all theory, talking about how to see the figure, how to study it, interpret it, and only then convey it onto paper. He talks about not drawing what’s in front of you, acting like a camera, but living the pose, stressing the important elements, and letting the message of it fill the sketch. Sure there are the visual examples of what he’s talking about, and the lectures (completed around the time Disney was doing the Little Mermaid) have drawings by young animators who are now legends in their own right. It’s a concept, supported by visual cues, but ultimately it’s about how you draw in the brain, not on the page. It’s funny that to me, an artist with 20 years of professional experience (crap, now I feel old), can read this, get excited, and learn as much as a first year student. If you feel caught, stagnated, and frustrated with where your art is, take a look at these. It’s the basics, and as with any profession, be it music, sports, or art, you have to go back to the essentials now and then. This is a great way to do that, and still feel like you’re moving forward.  It’s sad that it’s taken me so long to get to an age where I can realize this, but to para-phrase a line from “It’s a Wonderful Life” , “Youth is wasted on the wrong people.” So be a kid, and learn a little.

Truly Top Drawer

February 13, 2012

Brian Stelfreeze taught me that all art supplies are not created equal, and that everything alters how they perform, from heat and cold, to humidity. Paper that has a slick surface will feel like sandpaper the next day, sometimes within hours. Anyway, I’m always on the look out for new papers, pencils, pens, etc… to find the next perfect thing. A few years ago when I was taking care of my mom after a fall, I ended up buying a cheap sketch pad just to do some drawing, but it seemed to hate every pencil I owned. At first, I thought it would be great, with its glass like surface ( I love smooth surfaced papers), but it hated the technical leads I had so I put it aside.

Recently, I’ve been reading a series of books by Disney animator, Walt Stanchfield (I’ll do a post just about those next) and one of the things he really pushes is sketching with a pen. This isn’t a new concept, but I always shied away from it, because I hate the way pens only seem to have one drawing edge, the tip. Not to mention, it feels like I’m drawing on concrete when using a pen. After deciding to give it a try, I pulled out that old pad I got at my mom’s, and it was a joy. It just proves you have to use the right tools for the job.

I starting taking my sketch pad to the local drawing session, the one where most of the people there are either students (who think they’re going to change the face of the art world), those my age who took art in college (but couldn’t find a way to make a living at it), older artists (who just want to remind themselves why they enjoyed drawing), or creepy, ex-hippies (who always hit on the model). It’s fun to see the look on people’s faces when they’re breaking out their hand made papers, imported Italian vine charcoal, French pastels, mini watercolor sets, and then they see me pull out my art pad; I love the smirks and giggles. I’ve always wondered why the people who seem to do the weakest work are always the ones who grump at the model over the pose, or show up every week just to spend most of their time standing outside smoking. I’ve become aware that these are always the same people who also crank out the “art sigh” midway through a pose. You know, that loud exhale, which fills the room as if they’ve been talking to a mother who keeps criticizing their choice of instant coffee.

The problem is that now I’ve worn down the pad, and I haven’t been able to find a replacement one. It’s odd that my old home town doesn’t have that many art stores, nowhere near the range of ethnic foods, mostly chain restaurants with old junk stapled to the wall, and all the food on the shelves is boxed and processed; but somehow it managed to have one obscure variety of paper pad. I hit my local art stores, trying to explain what I was looking for to the art snob teen behind the counter. You know the type, the one who always gives you the big grump when you start explaining things to them, and then replies “I only work in spray paint”. I described the surface of the paper as being similar to newsprint, so immediately they give me a pad of their generic pulp to which I say “No this is rough, the stuff I have is like glass, but cheap like newsprint.”, this was followed by another grump. On a side note, I’ve noticed that all newsprint pads in art stores seem to be marked as “rough”, but has anyone ever seen a pad marked “smooth”? I’m sure they exist, but then so do baby pigeons. It’s at this point, usually, when the art punks try to get “logical” with you.

“Like, if you had it with you, like, I might be able to…” and then I pull out the pad. (Insert eye role, giggle, and elevated levels of patronizing tones to the voice) “Like, what do you use this for?”

I’m using it at my drawing sessions.

“Like, this stuff is crap.”

Oh you’ve tried it before?

“Like, no, but look at the cover”

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

“Dude, like, it’s not a book, it don’t have any words in it”

(face palm) — So I kept looking.

Remember, I bought it at a grocery, but in DC the only super markets are Safeway, Whole Foods, and a Trader Joes. Two of which don’t carry school/art supplies at all, and with a Safeway fail, the only other options were CVS and Rite Aid— both of which are only slightly larger than a gas station market. As the pad dwindled, I expanded my search to the internet, and I found it on Amazon. As with most things that aren’t movies, books, or a TV, on Amazon, the shipping exceeds the cost of the product. We’re talking about a pad that cost me a couple of bucks, and they wanted almost $10 to ship it. That goes against all logic.

So now I go with the last resort, I ask my mom to get some for me. This is pathetic, it’s right up there with asking your mom to cut the crust off your sandwich, to do your laundry, or when exactly she plans to send those socks she said she got you from the Old Navy she works at. Regardless, I thought — she goes to the grocery anyway, so she can just throw it in the box when she sends it.  To make it a little easier, I sent her a pic I found online of what I wanted, so she’d know what she was looking for.

You can’t tell my mom you like something, because then you get 10 of the same item in every color available. My mom, especially, will hunt it down like a US Marshall if it’s not readily available; and that’s exactly what she did. It wasn’t enough to go in, look on the shelf and say “Nope, they don’t have it”, and leave it at that. No, she pulls the manager aside and says “I’m looking for this.”, then proceeds to pull out a print out of the picture I sent,  making him run around the store looking for it. They found a single pad, but it didn’t have the same cover as what I asked for. Despite this, she forced the poor manager to go back into the store room to look for more. My mom, God love her, sent the pads to me, and even with the re-branding, they were exactly what I was looking for. So now I can enjoy my model sessions, practicing gesture drawings, and my exacting pen exercises, with no worries of running out of paper.

So if you’re looking for nothing but the best when it comes to art supplies, make sure you go out and get a “Scribble Pad” from the Carolina Paper Company at your local Publix. Yep, only the finest products will do for my grand artistic vision. So says the bear, or as it is now, a duck. What a quack.

Only the best for a masterpiece!