For our second class, our Drawing in Museums group once again met in the Kogod Courtyard on Tuesday morning. This time, we were joined by Smithsonian Associates film intern Danielle Fox, who was interested in shadowing me and taking some clips during class to promote us online. As everyone was eager to jump right into drawing, we immediately headed up to the galleries. We began by gathering in the same section of the museum that we drew in last class, taking a brief stop to view a large John Singer Sargent painting, Spanish Dancer (see above). Admiring Sargent’s masterful use of light and dark, as well as his striking rendering of the human figure, everyone was inspired to get to work on the skills and techniques emphasized in this course.
Paul Glenshaw, the instructor of the class, demoed a drawing of another portrait in the museum. By request of one of the students, Paul used a compressed charcoal pencil (note that he used compressed charcoal, not vine charcoal, which is too messy to be allowed in the museum) rather than a graphite pencil – which he used last week – to create his replication. I appreciated the change in medium, as Paul encourages us all to explore the advantages and disadvantages of different drawing materials. Personally, my favorite drawing medium is conté crayon: a stick of compressed natural pigments (such as graphite and wax). I find conté less messy and easier to control than charcoal, and it gives a greater range of value than graphite alone. In his demo, Paul reiterated the ideas of last week’s class, making sure to instill good, productive drawing habits in his students. Again mentioning the benefits of copying and stealing the work of others, Paul explained that this form of “theft” allows you to get into the artist’s head and decode the thought process of how a piece is built. Paul also repeated the importance of finding the rectangle to begin placing signposts for creating proper proportions (read more about this in my previous post). One of the students asked if he ever physically measures the scene he draws; Paul replied by claiming that eye-balling gets a bad reputation. In fact, Paul stated, with practice, just using your eyes can become the most accurate form of measurement – if you can catch a ball or make a left turn while driving, your eyes are already very precise.
After Paul completed his demo, we split up similarly to last week, all finding different figures we were interested in drawing. Danielle and I stopped at a small portrait of a woman. I was initially attracted to this painting because of the bright contrast of her profile against the muddled background, but I soon found that the lights and darks in the rest of the piece were somewhat indistinct. Excited and a little nervous about the challenge, I started sketching on a piece of toned paper. You can buy toned paper (typically in grey or tan), but I prefer making my own by sanding a piece of conté over a piece of plain white paper and rubbing the powder into the fibers of the paper (make sure to do this before walking into the museum, though - you can't have loose powder or anything else that could damage the collection). This way, not only can I create value by adding black and white conté, but I can also further my range by using a kneaded eraser to create subtle areas of light. I started the rough skeleton of my drawing while Danielle filmed my process before we broke for lunch. During our break, Danielle asked me about why I took the class and why I think it’s significant – all of which can be found in her final video, which will be posted soon on The Smithsonian Associates Youtube channel. We talked generally about the class and specifically about the importance of drawing as a universal foundation of art. Then she headed out to work on editing, leaving me to finish my drawing (below).
At the end of class, everyone came together to share our work with each other. It was clear that there was widespread improvement among the drawings of the students: less outlining and more blocking in lights and darks. We also had more time to draw this class, so all of our work was more fully developed. After celebrating our successes, we moved up to the Luce Center in the museum. Paul showed us a variety of sculptures lined along one of the walls, explaining the subjects of our next task. Next week, we’ll be drawing sculptures rather than paintings, meaning we’ll have to design the scale of our drawing to fit the page instead of relying on the trusty rectangle. I’m excited to translate the skills I’ve been learning about replicating 2D works into replicating 3D pieces – it should be a fun, if challenging, class!
Paul also mentioned a couple of great exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art, so check them out while you can:
Drawing in Silver and Gold: Leonardo to Jasper Johns – Only here until July 26th. See our previous blog post about this exhibition for more information.
Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye – I’ll be viewing this exhibit on Friday. I might even write about it!