I've been working with live models for about 10 years and weekly since August 2015. My experiences with models have varied depending on the circumstances. This is a post wherein I try to explain to you and to myself, my evolving relationship with painting live models, both friends and strangers.
I should explain that by "live model" I'm referring to a living, breathing human being posing in front of me for various lengths of time, clothed or unclothed, while I draw or paint them.
During the past year, I've been painting with a group of painters, mostly women, in a small gallery space in Berkeley, California. There are definite rules to this seemingly peaceful gathering. Come early to stake out your spot, pitch in 20 dollars to pay the model. There is no talking as we paint for 20 minute stretches. These are punctuated by five minute model breaks. Music is curated by our "hostess", the woman currently organizing the event. Sometimes, I have spoken during the painting stretches but I have been quickly reprimanded. Concentration is the key to life painting, whether in the studio or plein air.
So even though I may grumble at times, there is a predictability to this structure that supports my success at painting from life. The models are strangers, professionals from the Bay Area Models Guild. It actually makes it easier not having responsibility for the model's feelings and whether or not I create an acceptable likeness of them (often I do not). Let me say that the more I know the person modeling for me, the harder it becomes.
My familiar way of working was shaken when I came to the Vermont Studio Center this past month for an artist residency. I was excited to learn that there would be daily model sessions, but there was none of the order and familiarity of my home group in Berkeley. I have new artists to wrangle with and we had different goals. The model was not accustomed to long poses of several hours and made this known.
But I also had another goal for my time at VSC: to personally ask people I know to pose for me. After my slide presentation during the first week, I asked for volunteers interested in posing for a portrait. I was overwhelmed by the response of my fellow artists, my peers, and the generosity with which they offered their time to me. But it also made me anxious. Being one on one with a model, a stranger or a friend, is a fraught situation for me. "Are they bored?" I wonder to myself. Will they like the results? Am I taking too much time? These are the thoughts that fill my head.
One of the issues I have is talking. When it's just myself and the model I tend to talk a lot, partly to ease the discomfort of the model (or what I think is their discomfort) or maybe to ease my discomfort. It's a co-dependent thing. To be honest, I think I get better results when I refrain from talking but I just can't seem to help myself. Perhaps it's about my loneliness.
I read that the painter Alice Neel talked a lot during her sittings. In fact, from all accounts I've read, she was quite a chatterbox. Picture a dottie old lady, maybe your grandmother, chatting away and you're unable to get a word in. That was Alice Neel. So when I reprimand myself for talking too much, I think of Neel and I don't feel so bad. I think I might be evolving into one of those eccentric old lady painters anyway.
One day I found myself alone with the male model (MM) in the life drawing studio and I didn't know what to do with him. Feelings of low self worth bubbled out of me and I began to cry. The model, who previously had complained about long poses, reassured me that this was MY session, that I was the artist and I had the right to pose him as I wished.
During my solo session with MM, he became, during that time, my therapist. Or maybe I acted as his therapist. We shared our life stories with each other - the tragedies, the despair, the sadness. In this way, we became intimate and that's what can happen during a sitting, but not always. I painted a fellow artist a week later and we didn't say a word to each other. It's always different.
I've learned different ways of working and I've grown as a painter, portraitist, and illustrator.
BTW: The two portraits on the left in the triptych above were actually painted from photographs, so there's that. I also discovered during my time at VSC, that I don't have to always paint from life. ;)
Before I came to the Vermont Studio Center, I had planned to blog frequently - even daily. Oh, I had plans. What I hadn't anticipated was the hot, humid east coast weather. Brutal!
Consequently I haven't been sleeping well, averaging about two hours per night. There is no a/c in our rustic accommodations other than electric fans. So my productivity has been lower than expected. My mood restless, irritable and discontent.
Good news came in the form of Chelsea, our figure model, who announced on Monday that a cold front was moving into Vermont. Hallelujah! On Monday night, it poured and poured and poured and we cooled by about 20 degrees. I was able to sleep. Soundly. A full eight hours and believe me, sleep makes all the difference.
I leave you now with images from Bread and Puppet, a local theater group founded by Peter Schumann here in Vermont that we visited last Friday.
The papier-mâché puppets are stored in a giant barn, the tour is self guided and the Friday puppet performance is not to be missed.
And with that I'm off to bed - good night.
We experienced some crazy weather today that this Californian isn't used to. The morning was humid and sweltering. I was working with a few others in the life drawing studio and it felt like an oven. The model was naked which kept him only slightly cooler than the rest of us.
The weather topped out at about 86 degrees according to my iPhone but with the humidity it felt much hotter. At around 2 o'clock I was just about to change into my swimsuit and jump in the river when I heard a loud clap of thunder. More thunder followed and then the clouds opened up and the rain came down heavy and loud. Downpour would be an understatement. The storm lasted for about an hour but seems to have passed for now.
According to a local (at the bookstore) there is more rain and more humidity forecast through Sunday. Other than crazy weather, I am enjoying my residency at VSC. I have met a lot of great writers and artists from around the world and I'm feeling somewhat productive. So far, I've been sticking to a schedule: meditation at 7:30, then breakfast, then off to model sessions from 9-12. My afternoons are less structured. I'm trying to be easy on myself. It's hard to shake the feeling that I'm on vacation and that this is summer camp for grown ups.
The thing you should know is that the food is really good here. Amazing. You get three squares a day plus snacks and it's really hard (for me) not to overeat. Luckily the food is prepared fresh daily and very healthy - salmon with red rice and asparagus, rock cod with roasted potatoes and kale, etc. This evening they are offering pork tamales with rice and beans.
Thats my update for now. Check out my studio in the photo below. More pics to come.
Tonight I'm taking off for Vermont where I'm going to be attending an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont during the month of July. I'll be on the redeye flight: OAK-->JFK-->BVT.
So what is a residency you may ask? Every month the Vermont Studio Center hosts over 50 visual artists and writers who are each given their own room, three meals daily, a private studio (or office for writers) and the freedom to create without the daily distractions of...you know...life. It's an escape from the daily grind. Think of it as a summer camp for creative people. The setting is beautiful rural Vermont, a place that I have never visited before so I'm super DUPER excited to be going.
I'll be at VSC from 7/3 through 7/29 and then I head up to Montreal and other locations throughout Canada and the Midwest. I hope you'll check back here often for updates. Bookmark this page. Leave comments. I *love* your comments.
And now...up, up and AWAY!!!!!!
You may remember the double model session from about a month ago. The one with models Signe and Lisa that occurred in my anatomy figure drawing class at Berkeley City College. The instructions were to expand on the resulting drawing by giving it a narrative and/or context.
Admittedly this is not my forte. I hate details like backgrounds so the assignment was actually a good one for me. Thinking of nothing better, I used my friend's garage in Albany, California as the backdrop. Why? I really have no idea. I guess I just like the shape of it, the perspective and the way the light fell on one side giving it a groovy dimension.
Here's the photo from which I based the rendering:
Overall I'm pleased with the results although I see things that could be added (more sun dappled shadows on the sidewalk for example). It's a wonky drawing but that's ok. What do you think?
We had a double model session last Wednesday at the figure drawing/anatomy class that I'm taking at Berkeley City College. While I enjoyed drawing Signe and Lisa and I'm pleased with the results, the drawing is definitely not finished. It needs a background, a context, a story. I have some ideas but I would love to hear yours. Tell me what you think will complete this drawing.