30 April 2016

Life Long Study: Explaining the Imperatives of Movement and Anatomy for Artists

I’ve talked about what it’s like to be a model, and an artist, working with the nude figure before. I am often asked about the situation, and there has been plenty of confusion as well as intrigue into the stigma of the practice, so I wrote something to give a little insight into what actually happens in a figure drawing class, from both the perspective of the model, and the practicing artist, of which I am both.

*Read the post "The Naked Situation: Demystifying the Nude Model" here

But the enigmatic nature of being a visual artist - the study of nature through life-drawing, and the challenging, personal discipline demanded of an artist, for some examples - will always be a stumbling block for many.

As a professional creative, I find this confusion fascinating, baffling, and also worthy of empathy.

People love art, each in their own way, and cannot escape the visual deluge of not only our times, but of our history. Art is everywhere. For all business and entertainment. Everyone faces it, and grows their own tastes for it, subconsciously most of the time.

Besides the brief creative curriculums in contemporary western education programs, increasingly cut, that the average person is introduced to, art is taught to be a frivolity, and a poor endeavor, promising only a “starving” life. People want “security”, and expectations on luxuries to be met before they grow old, so they find a steady form of employment and distraction. If you don’t want to become an artist, if it doesn’t call to you, if you aren’t despite yourself drawing away throughout your youth, then…don’t become an artist, it’s a silly pursuit.

But, if you do want to be an artist, if you are always thinking visually and expressing yourself with this enigmatic language, well, interestingly, romance the hell out of it, and do become an artist, you wild rogue, you!

I don’t think either perspective is entirely healthy, frankly.

But here’s the point: Society now a days loves art, but hates artists, generally speaking. Or at least, they down trod on them by way of asking them to work for free, devaluing their skills and their contribution verbally or through unwillingness to pay for the thing ultimately admired and envied, and otherwise demean artists’ career conviction to be beneath other lifestyles.

Artist discipline, the various needs to be met in order to continue work as artists, is also misunderstood and consequently harassed. “The time artists devote to their work, oh!” It’s too long, it’s too intolerable, for others. “The things they do with that time! Oh, spending hours just looking at a model or a bowl of fruit and copying it?!” Or there’s the paradoxical, “I love your art, it’s pretty to look at, but spend more time with me, with people, with this, with that, and the other thing that is totally unrelated”, as if time away from working will continue to produce the prettiness people like to look at.

Such requests and complaints point to a lack of education in non-creative workers about just what is involved with being an artist, and respecting its necessarily unconventional job description as a JOB description. This is a problem, because it directly affects artists’ lives, their work efficiency, their production, and the industry, through which all others in society “enjoy art”, at the final product stage.

This problem is a symptom of educational shortcomings in culture, and of the perpetuation of pushing honest, hard workers to give up everything about their own lives save the bit about working at nothing special to them in order to have the hope of a life. It’s backwards, and the first place artists can help the massively daunting, deep-rooted cultural problem, besides sticking to their guns and continuing to create a better world, is educating those in their lives who do not understand their creative role.

Artists’ work, without an easy nine to five timetable, to become masters at what they do, to produce imagery of awe-inspiring integrity for the industry as well as the for public. For humanity. It is an honor, and a daily challenge, and a series of ever-changing choices. It is a role to manage diligently on a daily, nearly minute to minute level.

But here’s where the artist, any visual artist, begins, to maintain their position as an artist, on a humble, daily-grind scale.

Everything begins small, step by step. The demanding lifestyle of an artist is no different. Their fundamentals are practicing the basics of good drawing, which build effective visual-rendering skills, which produce good – effective – art. Work. Employment. Money. Work. 

If an artist has no sufficient time to practice, they have no product with which to earn good work, which earns good pay, which covers sustainability, health, and growth. Time IS money, to an artist. And time takes practice to manage well.

How do artists best earn through their time, then? By practicing technique and personal vision through studying nature, its motion and anatomy, its truth.

Famous, international, award-winning illustrator and concept artist John Howe articulates some of these routine imperatives in his book “Fantasy Art Workshop”:

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Movement is part of our make-up, it is inherent in every living thing and in everything we do. Nothing is ever really still in nature, any more than time can stand still, and we have to reflect that in the drawings and paintings we make” –John Howe

Artists have to reflect that because again, it produces effective art for the industry (their livelihood), and for the public (cultural and social improvement).

Howe continues to confirm that, “movement can be arrested through an understanding of motion and anatomy”, which is how effective art is conveyed.

This is an understanding which is practiced diligently and strengthened consistently, long term; we can call it a life long study, never ceasing or dwindling in demands on one’s investment in time, energy, focus, and resources.

All of art-making requires two keystone skills; observation and decision. The practice of understanding what we see and how to mark-make in unison with our interpretation of nature – the world around us – is always a complex series of choices, one after another and in reaction to others, creating a visual picture of human experience, knowledge, and emotion. Effective art.

In order to commit to that life long study, with those ever-present demands that inevitably define improvement, both observation and decision require active practice.

And so we as artists go to figure-drawing sessions. We sit down to life-study sessions. We compose repeat still-life scenes to tediously reexamine, and we seek out more models, more costumes, more lighting stages, more scenarios of motion that will demonstrate movement and anatomy. All in order to continue the perpetual examination of nature and truth, in order to increase skill in our profession, our occupation, our passion and obsession, our life’s contribution to humanity, in order to be our very best, and isn’t that what anyone practices anything for?

Master painter and illustrator Ken Laager continues to studiously practice
his work at a collective artists' live figure drawing session in Lancaster, PA.
I've taken this behind-the-scenes picture on my break - I am the model, here.

Life-long painter, graphic designer and illustrator Petar Meseldzija explains this in his own example on improving his ability to depict horses, important to his work because the fantasy genre frequently features the animal:

“In order to understand its anatomy and movements, and to capture the right character of the animal, so powerful and gracious at the same time, I made numerous sketches and studies…Every time I come across a horse…I look at it and think: ‘how beautiful, how complex, how challenging. I have to go back to the drawing table and keep on practicing.” –Petar Meseldzija

Purchase Petar Meseldzija's book "The Legend of Steel Bashaw" here

While his sentiment is specifically about horses here, it is precisely the same with any subject, for any artist, in any genre or medium.

Artists’ life’s discipline sort of highlighting the mode of ‘professional observer’, it is after a fashion their wheelhouse and knee-jerk, constitutional state to notice and admire the myriad moments in reality that go without a second thought to most others. It’s what makes us “those weird artists” to other people.

Be it a horse, a city skyline, a sunset, a tree, a machine, a dancer, a single grape covered in dew drops, the artist looks with attentive awe and reflects: “how beautiful, how complex, how challenging; I have to go back to the drawing table and keep on practicing.”

We keep going back because practice makes perfect, and an artist is nothing if not spurred on by the prospect of the perfect work of art. This elusive falsehood is the ideal that promises better pay for our work, better network and social acceptance, better offers for more and better work, and truer satisfaction with our investment on the career we’ve devoted to like eccentric monks. Of course we’re going to keep going back, until the last breath, if necessary.

This is why wives and husbands, sweethearts, relatives, friends, enemies, all on the periphery of the artist’s discipline, perpetually see studies of who knows what baffling subject matter leafing around, on note pads, at events, in the studio, or books about odd, seemingly uninteresting subjects, or why they always have to put up with the artist committing to seemingly repetitive, gratuitous, or exclusive study sessions with other artists and…that shifty model. This is where others’ jealousy of time and attention come in to play.

But being professional observers, being driven through life and all it’s crazy dramas slightly beyond the fray, compared to other sorts of people, more in awe of those beautiful, complex, challenging horses than local gossip, artists do not enter into, work through, nor finish up any pious session of figure study, for example, with a thought any nearer the realm of ‘sex’ than a strict diet is to a gluttonous and lavish banquet.

We are professionals, for life, and to the bone, and so all movement, all anatomy, is valid, nay imperative, from an analytical and educational perspective. We may have our preferences, one artist more drawn to the human form where another is more drawn to the architectural and mechanic form, or the natural, forested world, but whatever, it is all movement and anatomy, physics and the effects of the elements on the world. This knowledge, these truths, revealed more clearly with each observation, each study session, give an artist closer achievement to excellence in their creation.

Photograph courtesy of Ken Laager, master painter and illustrator present at the studio
session for the artists' collective live figure drawing - My themed, costumed pose for the day,
for the artists subject matter.

It isn’t just for the lofty pursuit of perfection or the increased compensation that is a consequence of professional excellence – though both are good and admiral goals – but also the human connection that is improved and inspired through excellent art.

As humans, if you look at our evolution, our culture, and even the science behind strong individual cognitive development, or personal mental health, art actively matures psychological and emotional intelligence, which inherently contributes large scale to strong society, and culture.

Consider the findings of "Why Drawing Needs To Be A Curriculum Essential" written by Anita Taylor, for the Guardian:

“[Drawing] fundamentally enables the visualization and development of perceptions and ideas. With a history as long and intensive as our culture, the act of drawing remains a fundamental means to translate, document, record, and analyze the worlds we inhabit. The role of drawing in education remains critical, and not just to the creative disciplines in art and design for which it is fundamental. As a primary visual language, essential for communication and expression, drawing is as important as the development of written and verbal skills.”

Artists know this by consequence of being devotees of these principles, but it is also true gratification to their work that they may attain connection to others and inspiration for others through their work, through these principles.

Visual art is, as explained above, a use of language, and language is at the core of our humanity, because it allows us to develop and to express, through which experience, knowledge, and emotion are conducted. These things make effective art, and they make humanity evolve, grow forward, create more.

Life IS movement. And artists, visual linguists, if you will, must study life. For life.

Drawing by Ken Laager, traditional master painter and illustrator -
Copyright Ken Laager, 2016

Explore the art of Ken Laager, painter, illustrator, friend and mentor, at his official website -


18 April 2016

On Drawing Trees & Nature - Tree Post IV

The Infinity Tree continues!
{Review the dialogue for Tree Post I, II, and III here...}

"Harding...fervently believed that nature's beauties are unendingly abundant and infinitely various", writes a contemporary critic - George Landow - of the master and drawing companion to John Ruskin, J. D. Harding.

He passionately advocated for the truth in representational, 'high' art of the natural world, through as unburdened an observation as possible.

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Harding instructs us to "produce as near a likeness to Nature, in every respect, as the instrument, or material employed, will admit of; not so much by bona fide imitation, as by reviving in the mind those ideas which are awakened by a contemplation of Nature.... The renewal of those feelings constitutes the true purpose of Art".

And so I begin the toned ground and under-drawing search for inner form structure of "The Infinity Tree", keeping the goal of believable representation balanced with evocative breathability of being within my mind's eye...

His protégé John Ruskin established clearer guidance on the same philosophy, observing "nature contrives never to repeat herself", perceiving that "there is indeed in nature variety in all things", declaring that:

"The truths of nature are one eternal change — one infinite variety...there is not one of her [Nature's] shadows, tints, or lines that is not in a state of perpetual variation: I do not mean in time, but in space. There is not a leaf in the world which has the same color visible over its whole surface". 

"Nothing can be natural which is monotonous; nothing true which tells only one story...", says Ruskin.

Which of course leads us to mark-making variation and the variety imbued to the subjects of the image.

Keep building and finding growth patterns in varied iterations:

And do not forget the rules of trees, integral to creating a believable tree-being instead of an oddly wonky figure that defies natural tree growth and all the laws of physics.

Trees are fractal in nature, so that patterns of form growth in the larger parts of the tree will be repeated and extended into the smaller scale parts of the tree.

Leonardo Da Vinci, the great Renaissance man the Arts reference so frequently, explained this aspect of tree rule as "all the branches of a tree at every stage of its height when put together are equal in thickness to the trunk".
The rule for tree growth is explained by both hydrological and structural theories, meaning that the forces for efficient sap flow and design for stress resistance and integrity define the tree's growth.

Form follows function.

Here's a comparison between before and after preliminary rendering on a few root structures:

the larger forms put down provisionally...

finding the finer forms within the larger forms to further define the roots...

End of part IV.

Part V will continue this drawing stage breakdown with further examination of the art world's wisdom for trees, visual truth, fantastical philosophy, and technical execution, with the final "Infinity Tree" drawing reveal.


02 April 2016

"Currently In Show" - 'We're In This Together: the Work Behind the Work'

Exhibition Promotional, Sunshine Art+Design Gallery, Lancaster, PA

Just opened April 1st, for the duration of the month, is an invitational show guest curated by my friend and colleague Matt Allyn Chapman entitled "We're In This Together: The Work Behind the Work", featuring thirteen artists from Lancaster and Philadelphia, PA, demonstrating side by side their original final art (for sale) and their behind-the-scenes material (NFS), whatever they choose.

The exhibit is held at the beautiful Sunshine Art+Design Gallery on King Street, downtown Lancaster.

View gallery hours and location info HERE

My little contribution is the custom framed "In Her Hands", and my worn drawing/painting board with the process tape, notes, and scrubby bits of paint still on it from creation process:

"In Her Hands", custom framed, for sale, April 2016

Opening night fun, on my birthday!

Opening Reception, Sunshine Art+Design Gallery, April 1st, 2016

See how "In Her Hands" was made, with more information, HERE

Stop by and see the show until April 30th!