Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Great Model

 I guess an eternal question for artists is, what makes a great model?  Here's a ten-minute sketch of Krissy that I did a week or two ago.  She modeled at the Wednesday evening life-drawing class at the Sebastopol Art Center.  I've painted her there once before.

Krissy is a great model.  I told my wife that when I got home, and she asked me why.  What a good question, I thought.

Well, there are several answers, all adding up to produce a great session.  By "great session," I mean one where I find myself really, really engaged in the painting - excited and interested both by what the model is doing on the stage and what the paint is doing on the paper.  A good model can help generate the alchemy that creates this rich engagement.

Of course, some of the "good model" phenomenon is in the poses themselves.  Some models have a flair for the dramatic, like one who brought her very colorful parrot to the session (it sat obediently on her arm for two twenty-minute poses).  "Dramatic" can mean the model throwing his or her arms overhead, wielding a support staff like a spear, etc.  Or it can mean accessories: one model who poses regularly wears striped leggings or a jet-black wig.  I think some artists like this kind of drama, but I prefer a much more laid-back approach to posing.  Like other models I love to paint (Anna Maria, Angela), Krissy merely moves her body into very comfortable poses that reveal the natural grace of a particular human body.  

And then there is the factor of the model him- or herself - the body in question.  I would like to say that all bodies are equally interesting (all bodies certainly are interesting), but for a painter - or I guess I should say for me as a painter - the most interesting bodies to paint have good shape, by which I mean mostly rounded forms and soft planes.  Krissy is that one I wrote about a while back about whom a fellow painter whispered to me "She's got a great butt!"  It's true.  She also has a lovely roundedness to her tummy, delicate breasts, and strong-looking limbs (Krissy is also a massage therapist).  Sculpting her form with paint is flatly interesting.  I should add that, for me at least, models should have some substance - not be too ectomorphic.

Finally, there is an indefinable additional quality, which I can only describe as a generosity of attitude.  Some models seem sort of disdainful; others just go through the motions.  Like all great models, Krissy is a pro through and through, interested both in her own body and its capabilities and in the work of artists - interested in the interaction between the artist and the model.  Attitude is all, I suppose.  But the three elements I've named here - a good pose, an interesting body, and an active engagement - all have to be present to make for a great session.

This is not a particularly accurate portrait of Krissy's face (she's not quite this sultry), but I like it for a ten-minute pose.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Another Cloud Study

Here's another cloud study from a photograph, this one taken while on a walk at Sebastopol, CA's Laguna Park.  There had been an early storm (this was in late September, if I recall correctly), and so I went out with the camera to capture the beautiful cumulus clouds that the "unsettled weather" had brought.

There's a fragment of my tomato still life in the upper right-hand corner.  This is how I like to work: doodling a variety of images on one sheet of paper.  I'll write a bit about that.

"Doodling" feels so much better than "Making a Work of Art."  Maybe I'm chickening out, but my experience of art for me is a history of blockages - of being unable to write or paint or create music when I know that I really want or need to.  This is common wisdom: the higher the stakes, the greater the performance anxiety.  

Let me go back to that Blake quote: "Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius."  I like my paintings to be works of genius, but I think to get there I like deliberately to put them on the page in a way that's "crooked" - a way that feels like a testing of materials or casual or even transitory or ephemeral.  I think in my secret heart of hearts I would like to make a painting that would hang in the Louvre for the remainder of human history, but even deeper I know that it's really all about the process.  Making the "crooked road" out into the wilderness of my unknowing and inability requires me to feel that I am working in a very casual way.  Miracles do happen, but I have to get my ego out of the way to allow them to appear.

I like this cloud study OK.  The darks are not dark enough and the lights not light enough.  But the cloud forms are nice.