Cultivating the Sketching Habit (IV): Figure Studies & Loosening up

Not everybody has access to a subject for figure study. Figure study is one of those bedrock artistic practices you should always revisit. You simply are never too experienced. You’ll always need to keep the skill sharp –with practice.

I managed –somehow– to not only land a musical collaborator living with me. But my live-in partner is also an experienced alternative and plus-size model. (Contact and other info: http://www.modelmayhem.com/325517). Of course I jumped at the chance when she agreed to a few poses for me to use in sketching. She’s always a lovely subject.

This morning I pulled up the photo files I had taken, and began sketching. (Common wisdom is that you shouldn’t draw from photos, I’ve always done so. I take a lot of photos with a couple cameras I own, so it keeps me in subject matter that interests me. I have had many people tell me it’s not the same, but photos from a good camera are convenient and can be available whenever you get the urge to practice).

The first sketch was in pencil. It feels less than perfect, but adequate…

The first image:

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Muse, figure study, pencil on paper

Muse’s pose (she was posed lying on the bed, gazing up at the camera) is really lovely, and there’s a lot of challenges in her poses –foreshortening the lags and abdomen. The harder part was capturing her really quizzical facial expression. I felt I pulled it off in this little sketch.

However, the next sketch I botched. I was starting to get frustrated and getting ready to put pencils down until another day. One thing that helps when a subject is challenging me for whatever reason is to loosen up.

I frequently warned my students about the dangers of becoming to tight and getting stuck just getting details right. When I find myself doing this I back off and do simpler line and gesture drawings. I don’t need to focus heavily on details, and turn my attention to proportion, gesture, and the pose. Get the pose right first, and do it over and over. So, that’s precisely what I did.

Some of the sketches were rather abstracted, others are slightly more detailed. All of them were done in a few minutes a piece, the way one would do in a 5 minute life drawing pose. There’s something I like in pretty much all of them.

Changing my focused work. I turned my attention to some problem areas, and worked them over and over:

working on problem areas, charcoal on paper

working on problem areas, charcoal on paper

In the end, I made several more simplified sketches I was happy with. More sketches to come as I work on them.

figure study, Muse, charcoal on paper

figure study, Muse, charcoal on paper

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Muse, figure studies, charcoal on paper.

It took a while to loosen up my sketching until I was seeing results I was happy with, but it got there. So, snatching a small victory out of an earlier attitude that was pretty defeated.

Eleven Images: Featured Pieces of the Week

I decided to make a new feature for the art blog. Each week I will spot-light a different work that is for sale and not currently on exhibit. This summer and fall is shaping up to be pretty busy with exhibition. Also, with the Art on Eight show having come down, now, I am suddenly with a glut again of work back in my two-bedroom apartment. With that in mind, I will feature different pieces here each week. Some of these will be discounted from what I have asked when the works were on exhibit.

This week’s featured piece could be considered a chance to get something of my work at very low cost. Over the years, I have frequently had some pretty unstable living situations. Fortunately, that’s changed for about the past four. My older work was frequently not stored properly, and over time I have lost a few works to damage that resulted.

This work is unsigned, and untitled. My best guess it was done prior to 2005, because after that, it appears in photos of my apartments. The stretcher bars warped and the canvas has been removed from the warped stretcher bars.

It can’t be exhibited, but it could certainly be framed or hung from a wall like a tapestry. I do really like this canvas, and it’s a shame I can’t exhibit it, especially since it’s from a time where I was not producing so much as I do today. Offering it, for now, at a discount.

unsigned, untitled canvas, removed from stretcher bars (damaged), approx 18

unsigned, untitled canvas, removed from stretcher bars (damaged), approx 18″ x 24″ $45

Inquiries can be made to the e-mail in the about section eaton.robertb @ gmail.com.

Please email inquiries or offers to eaton.robert@gmail.com (see the about section for details). As I said earlier, I have a whole lot of work that has recently come back to me. The following works were all included in The Art on Eight show. The show was put on by the New York State Office of Mental Health to spotlight the art work of artists who receive services through the Office of Mental Health. (Some of the previous show have been included in OMH’s Art on Eight Flickr gallery.

Several of the small works together that were recently in the show.

Several of the small works together that were recently in the show.

You can see more close up shots of the works as you scroll down (all these works are framed –you will probably wish to use another frame, it was a temporary solution for display purposes) These works are all $25, use the contact information in the about section of this blog: The following pieces are all approximately 8′ x 10″.

Fedralsburg, acrylic on cardboard

Fedralsburg, acrylic on cardboard

Study (Manet) The Old Musician, acrylic on Cardboard

Study (Manet) The Old Musician, acrylic on Cardboard

Figure Study, colored pencil on paper

Figure Study, colored pencil on paper

Trinity Church, acrylic on cardboard

Trinity Church, acrylic on cardboard

Young Mother and Child, acrylic on cardboard

Young Mother and Child, acrylic on cardboard

Dread locked Cow-girl, acrylic on cardboard

Dread locked Cow-girl, acrylic on cardboard

Figure Study, charcoal on paper.

Figure Study, charcoal on paper.

Angelspit and The Gothsicles with Man Woman Machine, The Fuze Box, Albany, NY.

I still have a lot more photos to add. Hopefully, the photos speak for themselves. This will be a hard bill to top for me.

First, Man Woman Machine is an electronic/Synth Pop band hailing from Rochester, NY and Massachusetts.

[all photos Robert B. Eaton/Rahb Eleven/Eleven Images, it’s not as though I make money for this, so just give me credit if you share these images anywhere else]

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Brian (The Gothsicles) has been coming back to Albany a lot these days. We couldn’t be more pleased to have him here in Albany. He’s coming back in an upcoming ExHuman event, appearing as his scaly alter-ego, DJ Fishdick.

From The Gothsicles set:

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This counts as the first time I’ve gotten to see Angelspit live. The set ranged through tracks spanning Angelspit’s discography, quite a few tracks off the latest release “The Product.” The set also included a track by Hardcore Pong, the side project of Karl (Zoog Von Rock/Angelspit) and Brian (The Gothsicles) with Brian joining Zoog and Matt (who did double duty with his hand-held midi-controller) onstage. Needless to say, the set did not disappoint.

Perhaps the best part of the night (for me personally) was the ten or so minutes I spent picking Karl’s brain about the stage clothes he custom-made for the tour. Super cool guy, and just massively creative, it was really cool to finally meet him after all the years following Angelspit’s career.

Anyway, this is the photos with (with camera 1) that I took. All the photos Aperture priority 1600 ISO, with flash. Edited in iPhoto.

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Near to the end of Angelspit’s set, my main camera’s battery went dead, and I shot the rest of the set with another camera. I will be including those photos, plus some crowd and behind the scenes nonsense, when I have a chance to update.

Exhuman, Hive. May 1st, 2015 in Albany, NY at The Fuze Box

Photos from Exhuman’s recent event, Hive. Photos by Robert B. Eaton/Eleven Images, please attribute. Taken with Canon Powershot digital camera and edited in iPhoto. IMG_0140 IMG_0141 IMG_0142 IMG_0150 IMG_0151 IMG_0153 IMG_0154 IMG_0155 IMG_0156 IMG_0157 IMG_0158 IMG_0159 IMG_0160 IMG_0161 IMG_0162 IMG_0163 IMG_0164 IMG_0165 IMG_0166 IMG_0168 IMG_0169 IMG_0170 IMG_0172 IMG_0174 IMG_0175 IMG_0177 IMG_0179 IMG_0184 IMG_0185 IMG_0186 IMG_0187 IMG_0188 IMG_0191 IMG_0192 IMG_0193 IMG_0195 IMG_0196 IMG_0197 IMG_0198 IMG_0201 IMG_0203 IMG_0204 IMG_0205 IMG_0208 IMG_0210 IMG_0217 IMG_0219 IMG_0220 IMG_0221 IMG_0223 IMG_0224 IMG_0225 IMG_0228 IMG_0229 IMG_0230 IMG_0231 IMG_0234 IMG_0235 IMG_0236 IMG_0237 IMG_0238 IMG_0239 IMG_0240 IMG_0246 IMG_0247 IMG_0248 IMG_0250 IMG_0251 IMG_0255 IMG_0262 IMG_0264 IMG_0265 IMG_0276 IMG_0277 IMG_0280 IMG_0282 IMG_0284 IMG_0285 IMG_0286 IMG_0288 IMG_0289 IMG_0290 IMG_0291 IMG_0292 IMG_0293 IMG_0294 IMG_0295 IMG_0297 IMG_0298 IMG_0299 IMG_0301 IMG_0303 IMG_0304Exhuman occurs the First Friday of the month in Albany, NY, at The Fuze Box.

Update on the class, April 2015

I’m adding a couple images of a few quick painting studies I have done recently in the class. The core of students I have working now are making great strides in some of the things I have talked about in my previous updates. Among my artists now, one young woman is now doing large works on an easel –often abstract works or heavily stylized representational drawings. Another young woman is really taken to images of animals and people in watercolor, and another artist continues to draw in ink and oil pastel of things she describes as being from her dreams.

This was a primary goal of mine: that my classes be more lie an open artists studio where peer artists produce what they are interest are, and choose their own topics and medium. So, success in that realm.

Finally, here are a couple images of works that came off my easel during class. Both of these sketches are based on photos by Stan Sherer from the book “The Life and Death of Northampton State Hospital.” The book is produced by that city’s historical society.

Long-time Hospital Librarian from North Hampton State Hospital

Long-time Hospital Librarian from Northampton State Hospital

Employee of North Hampton State Hospital, in his former office, after the hospital closed.

Employee of Northampton State Hospital, in his former office, after the hospital closed.

[update 4.28.15]

[also, disclaimer: the author is an educator teaching a peer-led art class at a local psychiatric hospital and a consumer of mental health services. The views express here are my own.]

I am adding a couple images of images I have been working on in the class. I have been trying to motivate students to revisit images they have created and develop them further, or in another medium. I am encouraging students to embrace sketches and developing their ideas into more fully realized and finished works. I find that getting to a finished work is a series of false starts, correcting errors in second or third (or, possibly more) treatments of the same image.

To that end, I have been working in acrylic on images I have done in charcoal or pencil or oil pastel before. The first image (of the angel) was a suggestion from a student. I began with a figure study in charcoal (not pictured) before moving on to paint. The second and third images are of a sketch in oil pastel and (a yet unfinished) portrait of the same subject. The image comes for the book “Suitcases From the Hospital Attic,” –which I have drawn from extensively and talked about in other blogs.

Enjoy:

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Portrait, acrylic on paper

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figure study, winged figure

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acrylic portrait next to oil pastel study of the same subject.

[…]

There’s not a lot to report. The ideas I talked about in the last class blog are more or less implemented, –insomuch as I have followed the recommendations of leaders in my field in peer-run art therapy programs to change how the class is taught. I have been working with the transition to a student-directed classroom in which the students choose and direct their own assignments. I’m looking for student to take a larger role in the direction of the class, making it more directed to suit their needs and interests. I choose topics and demonstrate them still, but encourage each student to choose their own projects, and many of my sketches address student questions directly.

The following images are my in class demonstrations going back over the past couple of months.

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Richardson-Olmstead Complex, oil pastel

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figure study, oil pastel

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angel, oil pastel

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sketch, charcoal

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Basil plant, water color paint and charcoal

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Portrait, oil pastel

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portrait, oil pastel and charcoal

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figure study, oil pastel

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portrait, oil pastel

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figure study, water color

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Portrait, oil pastel, Manet reproduction

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sif the cat, (kitten) Pencil

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fall or rise, oil pastel

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figure study, oil pastel

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figure study, oil pastel

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study, Worcester church, pencil

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figure studies, pencil

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figures, in a hall (perspective lesson) charcoal

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abstract, water color

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heart, sketch (unfinished) (often I jump from topic to topic and class participants ask questions, in this case, I began drawing a human heart and didn’t finish as the discussion changed topics)

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portrait, charcoal and oil pastel

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figure study, charcoal and oil pastel

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figures, charcoal

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portrait, charcoal

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Hudson church, sketch

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abstract, charcoal and acrylic paint

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Richardson-Olmstead complex

Thanks for looking in. I am hoping to begin to look for the donations, I am working on getting away from the class being “institutional,” and more like an artists studio outside a psychiatric hospital. To this end, I need supplies, beyond what the hospitals budget usually pays for. We have paint, pencils, and paper galore. I was able to get a lightbox and a couple croquios through a grant. What I am really looking for are things like canvas, easels, and other item that might be able to be donated, so students have opportunities to work bigger dream bigger and in in more durable mediums. Almost anything will help my students. If you are interested in helping make for a more realized program here, use my e-mail contact in the about section of the Eleven Images blog.

Update with the class, January, 2015

I have noticed that lately I have not updated about the class for some time. So, I figured that doing so was needed. Today, I am digging through old photos on my hard drive to find a good image –a figure– to draw from, to use as a source image for a new work. Among the images I am working with is this image of my partner, shot with a digital camera, reclining in bed. This is my pencil rendering: KODAK Digital Still Camera There are a few things currently leading me to change approaches with the class. As I have talked about in other blog posts, over the past fall I was able to travel with a colleague from the Office of Mental Health to The Living Museum in Rockland Psychiatric Center, and the original Living Museum in Queens, NY, at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. During those times I met with clients of both hospitals who participated in Living Museum activities, as well as had lengthy face-to-face meeting with Chris Randolph (director of the Rockland Living Museum) and Janos Martin (director of the Creedmoor Living Museum). Both Chris Randolph and Janos Martin were very helpful and encouraging, –and excited that a peer run program may be coming to CDPC. CDPC is a much smaller psychiatric hospital, up the Hudson River, in Albany, NY. Both of them, however, recommended that one of the first changes I needed to make to my own program at CDPC was to change my teaching approach. I needed to model on my emerging program on the principles important to the Living Museum programs and other peer programs like it. I had been, as a teacher, essentially approaching the class as a teacher-directed lesson. I had been teaching the class by choosing the topic. I then led the class in developing that particular skill I was teaching.

My own (very battered) personal paint box.

My own (very battered) personal paint box.

This was a method that worked well at the not-profit class I was assisting with. Most of my students seemed comfortable with the approach. However, there’s a great deal of merit in the idea of letting mentally ill people direct their own projects. The idea is more than just window dressing, it’s essentially to giving people their own agency to direct their own interests and own their own ideas and projects. My conversation with Dr. Martin, especially, hammered home the idea that this is essential to the therapeutic push of peer/consumer led programming. Perhaps my own illness make me a slow learner, that I need to hear the same impassioned argument made twice to cede a bit of control. But this is the direction I am going. I am determined to have a program like a Living Museum program at this hospital. I would like to turn more control for the program over to peers. So far, my students have been responding well to the changes and are excited. We have a couple big projects coming up: I am doing the Art on Eight exhibit with another talented artist (currently hospitalized) –which is exciting–, and there is a cultural fair I am priming students to develop ideas for. It’s an exciting time for me, making art and teaching at the hospital.

The artist at his easel

The artist at his easel

Photo Set: Rockland Psychiatric Center

Yesterday, I posted about my visit to The Living Museum at Rockland Psychiatric Center. It was an unexpected surprise when my OMH colleagues arrived at Rockand with enough time ahead of their meeting that we spent about twenty minutes driving through the sprawling campus. Rockland opened in 1931 –when it accepted 60 male patients– to ease overcrowding at Manhattan State Hospital. At it’s peak, Rockland may have had as many as 9,000 patients and 2,000 staff. (Asylum Projects website, aylumprojects.org).

Post-deinstitutionalization, Rockland seems to have been abandoned in stages. Closest to the road, many of the buildings are so overgrown as to be difficult to photograph through brush. Closer to the administration building (and the modern hospital complex) the buildings are abandoned, and derelict, but covered with ivy of vivid color –since it seems my trip to Rockland coincided with the areas peak time for fall foliage.
Since it is so expensive to knock down the large, old buildings, they are allowed to stand and decay. Closer to the administration building, however, it appears some some of the older campus is being re-purposed for out-patient, vocational and other therapeutic purposes. A walking path goes right through the abandoned parts of the campus. None of the buildings are fenced off from the rest of the campus –which still hosts a variety of patient services and hospital/rehabilitation services. When I had finished my meeting and tour with the director of the Living Museum, I spent about an hour walking the grounds and taking pictures.  Some of the photos were taken from the car as I first arrived.

[click on the photos to view them full sized]

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Currently, Rockland serves a patient (historically speaking) small population between various programs. They are some of the regions most severely ill. A large part of their current population is also deaf. Nonetheless, I felt quite welcome in the cafe and other patients areas. I chatted briefly with patients and peer mentors. One woman who I spoke to was deaf. I explained with a mix of gesture and spoken language (since many deaf can lip-read to an extent) that I was interested in the art and visting because of that. As it turned out, I later saw her working away in the Living Museum (art therapy studio at Rockland) doing a reproduction of an impressionist piece.

[I want to present a brief afterword: I hope in my presentation here, people find respect and sensitivity to my subject matter. Remember these are places where the mentally ill lived a part of their lives, where people worked. There are, I found after my return home, two cemeteries (one contemporary, and one older) on the grounds of the hospital.  May they all rest in peace.]

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