This past Tuesday, I met my Drawing in Museums class in the Kogod Courtyard for the fourth session of our course. We began with a brief discussion of The Smithsonian Associates’ volunteer program led by volunteer Ana Gardano and student Lori Schue, who is looking into volunteering for some studio arts classes. Volunteers assist instructors in setting up and cleaning up studio arts classes and helping other students with anything they need. They sit in on every session and often have the opportunity to participate in the class with the rest of the students (at no cost). Ana Gardano, for example, has drawn as a student in every Drawing in Museums class this semester. If any of you readers are interested in volunteering, feel free to send an email to the volunteer coordinator, Jenna Jones, at email@example.com or call her at 202-633-8596. After a few inquiries from students about volunteering, we wrapped up the conversation and headed over to The National Portrait Gallery to start drawing.
Paul Glenshaw brought us into the first floor of the gallery, pointing out the multitudes of classical portraits. However, he noted, while they initially all seem somewhat similar, there is a lot of variety among the portraits in the museum. Paul gave us the choice to draw either a sculpture or a painting – the first time we’ve had the chance to choose between the two. Emphasizing the techniques we’ve learned throughout the course, Paul encouraged us not to get hung up on details (How do you draw noses again?); drawing portraits is no different from what we had been working on before. You still rely on the boundaries of the borders of the piece (the “rectangle”) when drawing paintings, and you still compose the proportions to maximize the space of your own paper when drawing sculptures. The focus is to draw the distribution of lights and darks rather than line (such as the highlight over the eye and shadow underneath, rather than drawing an “eye shape”). As a previous drawing teacher told me, draw what you see, not what you think you see.
When searching for a piece to draw, Paul told us to wander through the galleries and briefly view the paintings and sculptures in each room without stopping to read the information accompanying the pieces or closely examining them. When a piece catches your eye, making you stop, then that’s probably the piece you should draw. It’s a good idea to first quickly draw the lights and darks with your finger on your paper to be sure the shapes make sense to you, but drawing the work of art that stops you in your tracks is a great way to find your own style and artistic sensibility (don’t choose an incomplete study though: you won’t learn much). Paul completed two short demos to start us off – one of a bust, and one of a painting. Using the side of his pencil, Paul stressed the importance of using broad marks to work from the general to the specific, saving the minute details for the very end. When drawing portraits, it’s key to ignore the inner doubt that tells you, “Wow, I hope this ends up looking like him." If you stick with the technique, drawing lights and darks, then your drawing will look like him. Paul also encouraged the students to explore the galleries during his demo, advice which many people took to get a head start on their drawings.
My initial inclination before searching for a piece to draw was to look for a painting; after a bit of thought, though, I decided I wanted to challenge myself with a sculpture. It didn’t take me long to find one, either – I stopped in the first room I walked into. Though I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to look through the rest of the galleries, I was absolutely fascinated with the sculpture that stopped me. A plaster bust of John D. Rockefeller, the piece had rather unnerving features, and his gaze made me feel as though I had simultaneously shocked and disappointed him (whatever it was, I’m sorry Rockefeller). Visually, the piece had a nice mix of subtlety and sharpness in its lights and darks, so I was excited to render it. Here’s my final piece, below:
I was happy with my finished product – that is, until I took a picture of it and saw all of the flaws pop out. I had a bit of a problem in the challenges associated with toning my own paper: I oversaturated it, making it more difficult to lay more conté on top of the conté I rubbed into the paper. The proportions are a little off, too: he doesn’t look quite “bird-like” enough to completely satisfy me. Overall, though, it’s certainly an improvement from last week, and it was a lot of fun to draw. Next week, the plan is to draw in The Luce Center again. And, by request of the students, Paul will perform his next demo in conté to explain the pros and cons of this medium. It’ll be a great class!