Saturday, February 21, 2009

My three-day throwdown with a 560 year-old wooden nun

Round One, in which our hero, on a day of museum sketching, lightheartedly engages a late medieval carving of St. Bridget of Sweden and very quickly gets his be-hind handed to him on a polished walnut plate.

A word to the unwary: you don't just jump into jagged Gothic drapery.

A second attempt is not any prettier. In fact, it is worse since our hero is, by this point, getting hungry. And the third, after lunch? Well...

Here's the thing about museum drawing: it's not the same as drawing at home. I was having to hold the drawing board, manage a couple of different pencils and an eraser or two with the same hand while still looking, drawing, correcting, thinking. I was standing up, looking up (since the sculptures in the main medieval hall at the Met are mounted pretty high) and the aching feet and tight back muscles definitely have an impact on the experience, therefore on the drawing.

None of which is news, exactly, but I think my awareness of it as a factor to be dealt with was clear to me in a way it hadn't been before.

For all of these reasons, my friend Jason, who has done some museum drawing in his day, regards it as an extreme sport: not for the weak, the undertrained or the faint of spirit.

In the past, I might have gone home from this experience discouraged.

But not this time.

I mean, I was discouraged, but not only discouraged. I've been on an artistic self-improvement project lately, and this seemed like a good opportunity. I wanted to go back and do it right.

Round Two, in which our hero begins by paying proper respect to St. Bridget with a full-figure survey.

Here was my thinking: if you want to solve a drawing problem, isolate it. Rather than starting over someplace else, I decided to eliminate variables and go back to St. Bridget. Same light, same subject, same materials. Same physical discomfort. But with the knowledge of the previous day's difficulties more clearly in my head, hoping that recognizing the challenges would make it easier to meet them.

By the end of the day, I felt like I was getting somewhere. The sleeve here is better defined (late medieval drapery is nothing is not clearly demarcated). The values are more coherent. There's a basic idea of what the light is supposed to be doing, which is trickier than it sounds, since the Met doesn't do single light sources: every piece in this hall has several spotlights on it, which makes for very dramatic viewing but very tricky drawing. You have to make a series of semi-artificial decisions about light hierarchy and then try not to get pulled off of them by well.. reality... as you go.

Round Three, in which our hero, after a late start and a scanty breakfast, attempts to consolidate his gains... with mixed results.

Not unhappy with the overall feeling of this drawing but the face is all wrong.

The problem with the late start and the scanty breakfast - as well as a third day of standing on my feet for hours and hours - is also how much your brain has to work: the process is part intuition, part visualization, part complicated intellection. And that burns some fuel, man. I was hitting the Met cafeteria like I'd just come in from a long bike ride.

The Met was open late Friday, but by six or so, I was done. Wandered around, saw some of the temporary exhibitions. Did some little moleskine sketches of goodies from the Babylon show, but after three days I was kind of drawn out.

Not quite ready to lay down my arms on these issues, though. Going back with Ann Marshall on Tuesday and possibly Wednesday as well. St. Bridget might be calling again.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Moleskine moment

Every now and then I have an OK subway session. I think this is my favorite moleskine spread since I started doing these little subway sketches almost two years ago.

100 Hands 8-24 (February Obsession Edition)

Above: hand studies done on the plane either to or from Berlin (can't remember, didn't label).

Below: either the dullest or the most interesting page I've posted here yet. Spent a couple of hours at Chelsea Market doing mostly pretty boring sketches of people. Started packing up to go, realized that the ink was still wet on some of the sketches. Rather than ruin them by closing the sketchbook on them before they'd finished drying, I kept drawing for another twenty minutes or so.

Instead of continuing to do the usual figure/costume thing, I got interested in one little detail of the passersby: the way they hold their hands while walking. Like everything else about sketching reality, it turns out to be more and more variable the longer you look. Leads to totally obsessive thinking... I literally couldn't tell you one thing about any of the people I looked at except what their hands were doing.

Loose fingers, clenched fingers, all kinds of angles relative to the wrist. Very hard to capture as they whip by... but a really interesting drawing/looking experience I hadn't been expecting. Coming up for air at the end was like waking out of the oddest nap ever.

Because these are little and pretty sloppy, I'm only giving each hand partial credit on the 100 Hands countdown.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Berlin sketches

Less drawing time than I might have hoped on this trip. Despite jetlag, couldn't resist this fragment at the Altes Museum. Below, killing time at the airport.

Yes, everyone really did look this out-of-sorts.

Berlin: Pergamon Museum

When 19th-century German archaeologists got their plunder on, they just didn't didn't stop until the job was done. This is a two-story market gate from a town called Miletus; I couldn't even photograph the enormities they carried off from Pergamon, the town that gives this museum its name... it was basically a temple half the size of the Parthenon.

Biggest fun, though is the Ishtar Gate from Babylon. This is only a partial view of what's actually only a portion of the original gate. It's still ginormous:

In a lapse I can only credit to jet lag, I missed getting close-ups of the repeated images of the god Marduk, who is represented by this crazy snake/cat hybird with bird feet and a scorpion tail. Oh, wait... as usual, Flickr's got my back.

On the other hand, I did get some nice photos of the processional avenue that led to the gate. It's not every decorating scheme that can get snarling lions and daisies to cooperate this well.

It think it only works because the lions are snarling with so much conviction. They clearly mean it; the daisies won't be enough to save you.

The backgrounds behind the lions alternate ultramarine and turqoise; the yellow holds everything together. It's not the first color scheme you'd think of to suggest divinely sanctioned royal power but when you're standing in the middle of it, I think you buy what they're selling.