Some people need a little extra push to get them to sit and draw. I’m one of those people. I’m a chronic multi-tasker. I tend to be scattered, I take on too much, and whatever I’m doing I feel like I should be doing something else.
One very potent and wonderful invitation to focus is the scenario that a model has just taken the stage, and they’re waiting for me. It’s their job to pose, and it’s my job to draw. We have a deal, and they’re doing their side beautifully. Where am I? They won’t be there forever. I have 10 minutes, and I shouldn’t waste them. It’s danged hard to argue with the tick of a clock, and the allure of a good model.
I used to think the goal of figure studies was to make a beautiful drawing of something very difficult. If you get a branch wrong on a tree, no one knows. If you get an arm wrong, everyone knows. Figure drawing is valuable because it is the ultimate challenge, with clear feedback. You know you’re not seeing because you know when your drawing is wrong.
I tend to see figure drawing differently now. Instead of a challenge to make a 10 minute charcoal masterpiece, I see drawing as a study in attention. I don’t draw to make a perfect drawing. I draw to practice maintaining curiosity, even when things aren’t easy. If I’m able to maintain curiosity, some sort of good drawing will follow.
When I teach, I often address my struggle with tech culture and computer addictions. Every hour we are on the computer, we practice and develop quick-click brain patterns. We do this for hours every day. In figure drawing, I have the chance to practice a different type of attention. This attention is deliberate, sustained, and focused. It’s something I have to actively work towards, for 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20.
As I draw, both the drawing and the model change in front of me. I don’t have instant understanding of all the shapes at first glance. I’m learning as my charcoal moves. My drawing is the recording of my investigation. The marks are a visual record of my learning and attention.
Engagement, focus, attention – whatever words you want to use for this, you’re going to be talking about effort. Calorie expenditure. People do actually burn calories drawing. Not from their arm moving (although arms do get tired), but from the focus. Mental focus burns calories. All synapses firing! At the end of a good drawing session, I am exhilarated and exhausted.
You might have figured out by now that this is an invitation. I’m teaching figure drawing, and this teaching thing tends to work best when there are students. I’m pretty excited about this stuff, and I would love it if you were interested in giving it a try. Want to exercise your mind? Come draw with me.
Start where you are. All levels welcome.
– Ruthie V.
All drawings are by me, from recent Monday night drop-in sessions.
Below: studies of a figure in motion.