Friday, July 24, 2015

Animal Gesture Drawings : July 23rd 2015

A major goal of mine is to squash any resistances I have toward drawing. Sometimes, I want to draw, but I'm reluctant to actually do it, because...drawing is hard? I'm allergic to emotion? I'll explode under all the self-inflicted pressure?? I will begin to feel that life is inevitably futile and sad??? Sure, sure, that all may be (just slightly) exaggerated, but - whatever the reasoning - sometimes I do avoid drawing, even when it feels like something I ought to do.

But in order to achieve some greater ambitions, such as drawing wildlife in the field that will never, ever stand still for you, being much better at drawing is a requirement. Speaking of wildlife again, drawing not just quickly, but precisely, would be my lofty goal.

I would like drawing to feel as natural and unimpeded as possible. I think if it ever truly feels easy I might feel like I'm doing something wrong. But natural, quick, sharp, automatic, with less doubt, less "I'm not sure what I'm doing; this is a jumbled mess I can't make sense of; I hate this drawing and everything it stands for", would indeed be nice.

Top left two: 30 second sketches (peahen, kiwi). Right side four: 1 minute sketches (macaw, sparrow, dove, duckling). Bottom left: 10 minute macaw.  Sort-of center: 5 minutes each for goose and seagull.
That's where gesture drawing comes in! Practice, practice, practice. Quick sketches, always with a set timer, and hopefully I'll get into the habit of doing these more often than just once every blue moon, because it's an important exercise for me. Building comfort with drawing, more confidence with skill, and more familiarity with anatomy, form, shape, shading, style. Trying to build myself a little no-pressure free-draw zone while still saying "Hey. Get good."

More 30 second birds surrounding a 5 minute horse, 5 minute squirrel, and 10 minute kangaroo. Yes the kangaroo was in a weird as heck position with strange perspective. It was not trying to be handsome or sensible like the other animals.
Helping a lot to make this practice easy is a neat figure and gesture drawing tool completely free on the internet: I love that they have animal drawing among the choices, and that you can customize the kinds of animals you want, focusing on birds, mammals, or anything from bunnies to tarantulas. I enjoy doing the "class style" program with a variance of sketch times.

Having a timer really helps cut back on the existential despair. Although there's still a lot of internal screaming and frustration words on those thirty second drawings, that's just part of the thrill. The joy of art, I should say.

My 30 second and 1 minute mammal sketches are not pictured here, because most are nigh-indiscernible and my brother made fun of them. Good exercises, not always pretty to look at it, not always something I'm gonna want to see again in ten years.

My brother did not make fun of this parrot, the way he made fun of the poor squiggle cats.
There's an awful lot of mental calculation that goes into drawing and it's only consistent practice over time that's going to improve that. You have to learn how to look, and what to look for, to construct your drawing, and how to do all the proper proportion checking and re-checking that will eventually become automatic. I still have to catch myself when I automatically draw a wing at the wrong angle, and that's just one example.

Five minutes was not enough time to draw that entire horse and all its legs. Not with my limited familiarity with entire horse and weird flailing leg anatomy.
Given that my ultimate goal is to draw things that move, well enough that I can capture things like personality, detailed body language, accurate identifiers, and behavior, the more automatic all the basic processes can be, the better. I want no hesitancy when it comes to putting pencil to paper.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Class Experience

I've been making art my entire life. Even when I've felt apathetic towards it, even through all the times I've felt it only made me frustrated or angry, art has kept worming its way back into my life. And I can say, definitively now, that I'm glad I never let it go.

Throughout all this time, I was never one to try and teach others how to draw or paint. I always felt like art was some sort of personal quest, a journey I was undertaking to uncover some elusive secret I couldn't explain to anyone else (or even to myself). Art was a battle, a struggle, a hike across a valley for the ingredients to make a rainbow to grant your own wishes. It was a way to push my own limits, stretch my own boundaries, to make something that was unique and personal, an attempt to meld the intangible mind and all its echoing emotions with the tangible, physical, sensational world. To learn and to create and to feel. Art, for me, was more like an addiction I fell into, than a conscious choice. Most of all, always most of all, it was an intrinsic way of expressing myself. Through the years, I found I needed it like air. My notebook doodles are testament to my inability to ever stop.

Since I saw art as some sort of bizarre quest, or a deep internal struggle for enlightenment(?), to teach it never even occurred to me. If you didn't draw, refused to ever draw, maybe you were blessed, and maybe you were cursed, or maybe you were just crazy - who was I to say? It didn't matter to me anyhow. I was very busy searching for my magic rainbow potion.

But it's fun, I realized, over time. And it's worth it. And I love art. I believe in art strongly as an expression and exploration of an individual's personality. For me that's the entire point, and in the end, it's all I really care about. Everything else is secondary, or in achievement of that pursuit. If I'm sitting and talking with you, and my goal and my delight is to get to know you, to see your unique perspective as an individual human, it doesn't matter if your art is "good" or "bad"; that isn't the point. The point is that you made it, that you influenced it, that it is uniquely yours. That it says something about where you've been, who you are, what you care about.

I found myself encouraging everyone within badgering range to draw. Or to let me see, if they've already drawn something. Because I love it. It's a thrill just to see what you made and why, regardless of the skill involved. Who cares if the lines are unsteady? If the trees look weird? If it could somehow be better? It's proof it was put together by your own hands, constructed by your very own crazy brain, and to me that feels like an amazing, delightful, incredible thing.

So, while you could certainly have said I didn't care to be an art teacher, I was very excited and eager to encourage other people to make a bunch of art and show it to me so I could delight in it. And, well, maybe teaching a little art was a good means to that end.

To be honest that's probably what first lead me into wanting to work with kids. I wanted to rope kids into drawing stuff that I could see and that they could then explain to me.

Well, this was all a very long way of saying that I taught my first class this June, a one-time stunt that I was miraculously hired for.

Absolutely a dream come true, I must tell you
I've covered the ways in which I felt I was not motivated to teach, now I guess I'll cover the ways I felt I was not suited to teach. My natural state is very quiet and introverted; I get anxious, I stumble over my words, and I hate talking to groups of people; I'm bad at thinking on my feet, or explaining things in the moment. I'm a fledgling artist myself, still with so much to learn, what do I have to teach anyone?

But I've been trying to change I could never into I could at least try.
That's the message I would send to any would-be artist, after all, a thousand times over.

So, less about me, more about the class! The theme was animals. Draw animals! I was going for draw a portrait of your favorite animal, thinking I could talk a bit about what goes into creating a cool portrait, and get the most out of your crayons, thinking I could discuss things like color layering and mixing and textures to make your crayon drawings look less flat and more impressive. Turns out there were a lot of kids, and I hate talking, and I was losing them anyway. So I'm not sure how much of that actually got across at all, but the important thing is that every kid drew an awesome animal, hooray!

World's best seal. Also quite arguably world's best facial expression.
 I made some sort of attempt at a brief presentation/explanation at the beginning but quickly abandoned that and jumped right into one-on-one guidance and critique, which I felt waaay more comfortable with. With about 25 kids spread around three tables, there was a lot of running around, as I tried to give everyone equal attention and address questions. I think I got around each table twice before time was already up. Having never done this before, it was a great learning experience.

She drew a dog contemplating jumping into a pool. Very awesome indeed!

So, what did you learn?

Number one question I was asked: how do you draw X-Y-Z? How to draw a penguin? A dolphin? A parrot? They want to draw their thing of choice, they don't know how, they want your help. I realized I was giving the same answer each time: think about your thing of choice, and consider its most basic shapes. Imagine your thing if you were squinting your eyes and seeing it from a distance, so it's all fuzzy and indistinct. Looking at it like that, a penguin is basically an oval, right?

The piece of paper I carried around to do demonstrations. I found I needed this with the very first kid.
And then its head is probably sort of circular, right? Then they have little penguin feet, and little penguin beaks. Flippers (or wings, whatver), and a tail. It's just simple shapes. Then you can fill it in to cover lines, and add more details as you go. By utilizing your mind's eye and thinking "what are the shapes?" you can make a simple recreation of pretty much anything.

Another question was "how do you get good at art?" and the answer to that is practice, only practice. Just keep going don't stop and you will transform from a caterpillar to a butterfly with the magic powers of time, love, and persistence.

This is a lovely pig with awesome pink eyes, also wonderfully tall, can probably see the whole world
"Oh, is that a cat?" "No." Please, for the love of pigs everywhere, do not make speedy assumptions about what someone is drawing. This can be embarrassing for everyone involved: I know it as a student, and now I know it as a teacher. I managed to get two wrong guesses in a row and vowed never to do that again. There's no reason not to ask "So what are you drawing?" instead of "OMG that's a cat right?" The way they look at you when you are wrong is not something I'd wish to inflict upon anyone's poor soul.

I love this cat's face, and the sense of flowy feline movement it has. Cute little paws too!
 Every single kid had an idea they wanted to persue. No one seemed to sit and wonder for too long about what animal they wanted to draw. They knew, and they were on it. Some ideas changed. A penguin might become a duck. Monkeys could become squirrels that could become squirrel-monkeys. Some kids needed help with their ideas, but no one seemed to need my help generating ideas.

"I will stare into your soul". Really wonderful bird.
Also, very thankfully, no one needed to be coaxed into drawing. Every kid drew a picture. Every kid drew an animal, even! They played along magnificently.

Be prepared for that one kid that just isn't going to talk to you. It threw me a little bit. But just offer what you can, give them your best, and don't try too hard to coax them into communication (it's just going to be awkward). In this case, the kid was doing great work, and there was no problem at all.

Penguin VS Penguin! They are wearing boxing gloves! I believe the animal in the scene above them is an interesting and very unique looking rhinoceros. This kid had a perfect sense of humor.

Kids like to see your art. Show it to them. I'm weird about my art. It's counter-intuitive, but I often don't like showing it off. I brought one small painting and then print-outs of other paintings of mine, but in my goofy cut-off presentation I only showed the one small painting. I didn't think it was important, 'cause my motivation was in seeing the kids' art, all my focus put on seeing what they wanted to do.

But kids, more than any other group, respond really well to my art. They like it. They pick favorites. They get excited. And in addition to just enjoying the art, they can be inspired and motivated by it. Like one girl who decided to try making a drawing based off of my horse painting.

I was so excited when she gave them titles all her own.
Amazing eyes. She put jewelery in the blue one's hair, also her own touch.
It's really cool to see someone be excited about something you made. It's really awesome when they love it so much they linger over it, explore it, even create their own story around it. I was surprised when this kid said she wanted to do something based on my painting. It hadn't occurred to me that someone might want to do that.

What I really love about this piece is that it shows off her own interpretation of my painting. I never called them "the Fire King" and the "the Ice Queen". That's what she saw, and so she drew it, and I got to experience it. It's a really amazing experience to watch someone interact with your artwork like this, and it really hardly ever happens.

She made my own experience and relationship with this painting richer, by adding her version of the story to it, even just showing that she saw a story in it at all. I know she had fun with her drawing, and it's really motivational and encouraging for me as well. This is the kind of magic that reminds me why I love paintings so much, and why I wanted to create my own in the first place.

I tried to send the message that everyone can create an awesome work of art with a little extra effort, and I think works like hers and many others went far to prove that point effectively.

Most of my example works, arranged by one of the kids, who took it upon herself to make it pretty - I said I ought to hire her for shows!
I actually hadn't brought out the painting prints until the end of the class, when I wanted to show the girl who did Fire and Ice my other elemental horse painting ('cause we were talking about horse art). Some other kids saw, were interested, and I brought out the rest. It's always fun for me to see which ones are picked out as favorites. The colorful ones get the most votes, but there was one vote cast for my black and white painting from an enterprising young artist.

The black and white drawing is a horse I drew when I was around 12
Some of the kids actually liked the prints so much they wanted to take them home. Because it was the end of class and most of the kids had moved on, I felt okay with giving them away. Were I to do this again, I'd bring enough so each kid could take one home. They had me sign the prints they were taking, too.

The duck's artist didn't want the spotlight, so she let someone else present it for her. Whatever works! The duck's open mouth is so cute, and details like the crab, the fish, and the blazing sun are great.
What may have impressed me the most was the great artistic vigor some of these kids displayed for their work. Some were so into it they kept working past the end of class, hurriedly scribbling to finish in time. Quite the familiar feeling to me, and always so cool to see. These are the kids that seem to have real interest and potential in being artists for the rests of their lives. Because they were so intent and interested, these are the kids I got extra time with, answering their questions and talking more deeply about art.

This kid drew her pet parrot, and also decided to do a split screen composition; the other half of the picture is an ocean scene, which I thought was a clever idea. Unfortunately there wasn't quite enough time to finish that second half. I love the mix of colors and patterns she put into her bird, too.
 One of the girls commented on how surprised she was at how much physical energy she was pouring into her drawing, working hard to color in large surfaces on time, focusing hard on detail, solving composition issues. I was excited by this observation: it's true, you're right, art can be surprisingly hard work! But that's why it can be so rewarding too.

 I loved that she was able to pick up this valuable lesson about art (respecting artists, respecting the work that can go into what they do!), from a positive first-hand experience. I love that these kids who worked extra hard on their drawings never gave up and pushed through to the very end to create beautiful work. Even when they ran into trouble, they found solutions and work-arounds that suited them.

Sea horse! The curled-up tail is awesome
There is of course always the very ambitious, entrepreneurial, excited kid who already has a lot of dreams and schemes and on going projects. She was the only kid who decided to draw a comic (I think she was able to finish about six panels, which is pretty good), and she's already specialized in cats, and if she's telling it true probably practices drawing more than I do.

I think artists typically crave connection with other artists. And that as young artists especially most of us look for role models too, even if, like the girl with her extensive cat comics, we don't appear on the surface to need them. She was still eager to connect, discuss art and ideas, ask questions. A kid like this will have more constructive questions, but some kids seem to just need encouragement, or something that inspires them.

Really cute bird drawings
I never thought of myself as any kind of good role model, but I do think the more artists you know, the better, and I'm happy to be an example of possibility. There are so many ways to explore art, and so many ways in which it can be valuable and rewarding, and if there is any opportunity to encourage that exploration, I gladly will.

Happy bunny! I love those bunny feet
I found working with the kids to be very energizing. It's always interesting, never boring, and the art kids do, and the stories they want to tell, can be so refreshing. Their enthusiasm, their focus, their sense of humor, or just their willingness to put something on paper, is an inspiration to my own work as an artist.   

The Golden Horse! The barn is really nicely detailed, and the horse seems to have a lot of personality to me.
This girl seemed to be quite the accomplished panda artist! I like that it's an active scene, and the background is well developed.
This was the only night scene anyone did! I think this ended up being a monkey-squirrel creature of some sort? A fun one for sure.
I love the colors of these bears. I am hoping they are indeed bears. The grass is nicely done too I notice
Some of these drawings I'm not sure I actually got to see in class - some kids did multiple ones that were lost to me in all the flurry of activity! This is really cute though
As a big fan of native birds, I was very happy to see this Blue Jay so well represented!
Dogs were a popular choice. The smiles on these are so sweet!
Big bold lines for big, bold, expressive dogs.

And I thought this picture couldn't get any better!
Photos were taken by the always great Gail Bixler! Used here with her permission of course.

This class was part of the S.A.F.E. Summer program by the Mark Kilroy Foundation.