I have been struggling with thinking I should whip off drawings that have a freedom and life to them, particularly at the Sundial Still Life Sundays and for warming up and sketching in between working on fully finished pieces. Part of my motivation is that all the drawing books/classes/etc. say that you should do this, that it will make you a better artist. The other motivation is that I feel that I’ve had a very static, fill-it-all-in, pretty boring way of working in all but maybe one of the pieces I’ve done. But when I sit down to whip something off, I haven’t been able to do it. When I try, what I produce is just a sloppy mess; I hate what I’m doing, don’t think it’s worth any time, and quit drawing for the day altogether in total disgust and discouragement. I realize one thing I’m forgetting is that drawings that have the qualities that make them look whipped off might not be.
I saw the Degas print show at MoMA a few weeks ago. Once the crowds subsided enough that I could even contemplate seeing the pictures (an hour and a half before closing), I was entranced by two of the pictures in particular. I guess there are prints under the pastel, but for all intents and purposes, they are pastels, my favorite medium by nearly any artist and certainly my favorite medium for Degas. (I am always disappointed to see a picture is an oil rather than a pastel when it’s by Degas. The texture of the pastels adds so much that just isn’t there with oil.) Here are those two pastels:
That is how I would like to draw. But it is clear that Degas did not get the lines quite right the first time. And did these take him ten or fifteen minutes a piece? I doubt it. I love these two so much that I was trying to get Isabel to slip one under her arm and I’d slip the other under mine and we’d make a run for it. But she wasn’t up for it. I think maybe she thought a thousand alarms would go off and we’d be hunted down as we raced through the throngs of people that seem to jam every museum and then we’d be locked up for life. So they’re still there if you want to see them.
So, at first discouraged by thinking that Degas had so many more years drawing, so much more discipline in getting it done, so much more opportunity to go backstage at the ballet, for example, etc., etc., etc., I decided that what I will do for a while is to emulate aspects of works that I particularly like. And I will try not to get discouraged at not being where I want to be right away.
So a week ago, at the third Sundial Still Life Sunday, I decided to emulate Jim Dine’s drawings of hardware, which I love. Emulating Degas in a couple of hours was just more than I could contemplate. An example of a Jim Dine:
Clearly this is not a ten-minute drawing, but it has that feeling of freedom and spontaneity in spite of the gorgeous modeling and patina of the head of the clippers.
What insanity came over me to decide to draw some of the gears for our braiding machines I cannot say. Talk about not-whip-it-off material! Cogs! Clearly my gears were not turning when I made this decision.
I struggled with the cogs and then struggled with whether I should keep obsessively trying to get them right. In the long run, I didn’t really value the drawing enough to put the time and effort into it. All those teeth!!!
But it wasn’t a useless experiment. One of the things I love about Dine’s work is the mixture of charcoal and color in some of it, and I was really enjoying doing that mixing myself. It demystified the process to actually just do it. I don’t think I’d have thought to do it if I hadn’t embarked on emulation, so while the drawing is not a masterpiece, and I certainly didn’t whip it out, I was a really great experience, due to the friendship and company on the Sunday and what I learned in producing it.
A month later, at the next Sundial Still Life Sunday, there was, again, a lovely group. Talk of how we fit drawing into our lives was really inspiring. I actually got up the next day very early and got a bit of yoga and forty-five minutes of drawing in before work. I want to stretch that forty-five minutes to two hours if I can, but just having done some drawing before work showed me I can do it. Thank you to the participants last Sunday for the inspiration!
I am planning a series of pastels incorporating toy guns and some other objects, so last Sunday I decided to draw one of my toy guns just to get familiar with it. And I am keeping in mind emulating Degas and Dine. I got this far in the two hours or so at Sundial. I was OK with this as a start.
I have worked on it for an hour or two a couple of times and have gotten this far, still with a lot of work to go.
I love being able to not worry about smearing, a la Dine. And I am trying to introduce a bit of color into the charcoal to give it at least a hint of Degas’ vibrancy. Here’s hoping I can keep bringing it along to get that result.