Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Year's Resolution: Rediscovering Dry Media



I have a drawing phobia.

Let me be clear what I mean by "drawing." I'm confident in drawing in terms of spacial relationships. I draw every day with paint. I'm referring to the classic definition of drawing "the art or skill or making pictures or diagrams with a pencil, pen, or crayon." Don't get me wrong, I can draw, I've just lost my confidence in the media.

I've heard so many students tell me that they are confident at drawing, but painting is so much harder. We learn to be comfortable with the pencil at a very young age. Somewhere along my journey through life, the tables turned for me.

I love the energy of creating a painting. The attack on the canvas with wet and moving pigment that drips, flows creates the unexpected and the exciting. I have gravitated almost exclusively towards alla prima painting. This could be seen as impatience, but I see it more as my love of the process and the painters I admire - Velazquez, Hals, Sargent, Sorolla, Fechin. I didn't always create work this way, but once I felt confident enough to do so, there was no turning back.

I studied drawing with the great Wilbur Niewald. I was trained as an illustrator by the master of the oil wash lift out technique, Mark English. An underlying pencil drawing was the cornerstone of everything. Once the drawing was complete, it would be sealed with a fixative and layers of semi-transparent paint would be washed over the top. Highlights could then be pulled out by "lifting out" the paint with a kneaded eraser. The piece could then be finished with colored pencils or some opaque paint. For the commercial market, it was a great way of working. Once the art director approved the drawing, the process of finishing the illustration was quick and more importantly dry and ready for shipping or scanning.

Illustration work from 1991.

My technique evolved when I took a position with Hallmark Cards. It was no longer necessary to seek approval of a sketch from an art director. I could go directly into the final piece. I apprenticed with a master floral painter, Gail Flores, and spent my days painting directly from fresh flowers. I learned quickly that an over rendered flower no longer looked like a flower. The reproduction methods used at the time made it essential to master watercolor and gouache. Any pencil underdrawing would reproduce as black, so we splashed the paint on directly but deliberately.
By the time I left Hallmark, I rarely used a pencil.

An example of my work while at Hallmark.

Fast forward to now, San Antonio, Texas.

While painting from the model at the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts on a Wednesday evening, I was invited to the drawing group the very next evening. At first, I declined, but then thought "why am I avoiding this?" Any opportunity to work from a live model is a good opportunity. I pulled out my sketchbook and was surprised to find that the last drawing in it was dated "1995." Yes, I had created many drawings in the decades in-between, but not in a practice setting.

The last drawing in my sketchbook. 1995?!

The drawing session was brutal. The evening started with quick gesture drawings lasting only seconds. My lack of practice with dry media made me slow and awkward. By the end of the evening, I was thoroughly disappointed with myself. How did I let this skill lapse?

It was a wake up call. Every instrument requires practice. I don't believe in natural born talent. Use it or lose it. Our artistic journeys take us down different paths, and sometimes rediscovering an old path can be just as exciting as forging new ground. In 2016, I will recapture my confidence with dry media - pencil, charcoal, etc. I'm going to fill sketchbooks!