Friday, September 19, 2008

Slowing Down

Back in 1994, my friend Garin Baker invited me to join him for a figure painting session at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He was working from the model with a group of master figure painters that included Max Ginsburg and Steve Assael.

As I recall, they had already been painting from the same model for some weeks. This was their fourth or fifth session with the same pose. By the time I joined them, they had put in 20 or 30 hours into that one pose.

I was amazed with the quality of their work, which showed deep observation. I was so accustomed to painting from the standard 20- or 30-minute poses in most sketch groups, that even a three-hour session seemed like a huge luxury.

After two hours on the same pose, I felt like I overcooked the pasta.

So I applied the Ninety Degree Rule. Steve Assael became my subject. I felt energized. Here was a living, moving subject and only 45 minutes of time left. Even though he wasn’t holding completely still, there was a quality of life and tension that excited me.

I greatly admire what my colleagues have accomplished with extended observational poses, but I guess I’m more suited to catching life on the run.

I’m curious to learn from those of you who have more experience than I do painting from long poses. How much time is ideal for you? How do you pace yourself with longer poses? If you were running an atelier, how would you balance short and long poses?
Related GJ post "Artists as Models," link.
"Ninety Degree Rule," link.
Websites for Steve Assael, Max Ginsburg, and Garin Baker.
Max Ginsburg has an exhibit "Visions of Reality," in NYC through Sept. 26.
Also, Garin, Steve, and Max are part of a group show called "The Old Hat Club" at the High School of Art and Design, through October 3.


Emily said...

I don't paint much, but I know that for drawing I find that the change between short and long poses seems to make me improve a lot. When I do a lot of short poses and switch to long ones, all of a sudden I can get more life into the long poses. And when I do a lot of long poses and switch to short ones, I find that I've figured out a lot of anatomy problems that have plagued me in the past. But I'm still looking at it from a relative beginner's standpoint, I suppose.

Dag said...

Hi James,
I asked you few months ago about the french parution (don't know if it's exactly the english signification) of Dinotopia : Journey to Chandara. I think i remenber it'll be in october that's right???

Thanks again for you answer and the diversity of your articles in this amazing blog!!


Anonymous said...

I wish I could say something about long poses, but pretty much every possibility for life drawing here in my town seems to focus on short poses for gesture drawing. In general, I am not too fond of that. If I want to make quick sketches where I have to focus on capturing the essential, I prefer to make sketches of, say, people in a café or animals. The idea with a model, as I see it, is to have someone who can stand still for a long time and allow for careful studies.

Recently, though, I came across a note about a weekly three-hour session. I went for it yesterday with much anticipation, just to find out that the model cancelled in the last minute. Hopefully, I will get the chance next week ...

James Gurney said...

Dag, yes, a French language edition of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara is almost ready for release from the publisher Editions Fleurus. I will be in Paris during the week of October 6 for booksignings. I'll put those signing dates on the left column of the blogroll as soon as I have them.

Also, the museum Maison d'Ailleurs in Yverdon, Switzerland will open an exhibition of artwork from Chandara on October 4, and I'll be there for that event, too.

Anonymous said...

My muscles cramp up thinking about it from the model's point of view!

Dag said...

Ok James
Thanks to answer me so quickly
i won't be able to go in Paris in october:(
But i'll buy the book as soon as possible
Have a nice day

Rob Rey said...

I love longer poses. I also spent quite a lot of time in coffee shops drawing people and I go to short pose sessions for drawing too, but if I'm going to do any painting it's great to find a 3+ hour session. Where I am, there is only one place where I can find a 3 hour portrait pose. I would love to find more.

I do think variety is important, as emily said above, each informs the other. However, I also think time builds as well. A student might get less from a 9 hour pose until they can learn to get the basics down quickly as they would in a shorter pose, and from therethen progress into details.

JR said...

Hey James,
I actually studied under Max and Steve while at sva. Those sunday painting groups were loads of fun. If I ran a atelier there'd be two models posing (haha is that allowed or is that cheating?) on two different stages, one for a new poses every 20 minutes and one that keeps the same pose.
Steve use to describe those long poses as a conversation between the artist and the model. So many times when you're painting, time can be an enemy and with these super long poses it is not. The idea that you can work on something for as long as you can until you get it right, it's liberating. It's not even about slowing down.

Unknown said...

As has been said by Emily and Rob, a variety of both short and long poses is great practice. Shorter poses for me let me be expressive and work instinctively. There is an energy in my short pose pieces. That gets lost if the pose exceed an hour and a half. I too have felt like i can't continue once I hit a certain point in a long pose :/ In my school we generally always warmed up with about an hour or more worth of short 1-5 minute and 10 minute poses, then spent the remainder of time doing 20-30 minute poses. In a techniques class we hada model for well over 20 some odd hours. It was painful... But thats just me :)

Brian Busch said...

I have never been to keen on the short quick poses, I understood there importance but I really just wanted to sit down and try and faithfully capture what was in front of me. Many years ago in school we had the model sit for about 12 hours in the same pose and that hardly seemed enough time to really "see" the figure. If I ran a school, I think 2 weeks or about 30 hours would be a great duration to really study the figure in oils.

Carly said...

I think it's all relative. I used to love having hours because personally I'm a slow worker, but the most recent figure drawing I've done was bi-weekly at the Illustration Academy where the longest we ever got was 20 minutes, so when you're prepped for that you're "overcooked pasta" by 30.

I guess if I knew going in that I'd have several days I'd sneak up on it a little more in the beginning. I also have more of a desire to fix things with a long pose, whereas if something is going wrong with a shorter pose I lose patience and just want to throw it away and get on to the next one.

Victor said...

With short poses you have to put yourself in the mindset that you're just going to draw "a person". If you try to capture an exact likeness in 30 minutes, you inevitably run out of time.

With long poses, the goal is often to capture EXACTLY what is in front of you. Not just the face, but the specific shape of every contour and form of the body. In such cases even 70-80 hours can seem insufficient.

Dianne Mize said...

I'm too much of a grab-and-run sort to give any advice, but John Howard Sanden does it by progressively working value areas--darks--mids--lights, then around again, and again, etc. I've tried it a couple of times and it works for finding those little surprises we miss the first or second pass. But I lose spontaneity.

I think it has to do with what dominant type of person we are. Those who are more inherently deliberate would have no problem spending dozens of hours, week after week. But the more spontaneous among us just can't make it work.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Julie Tsang said...

It's hard to say how many hours is sufficient because it depends on how define the model is, how large the painting is, etc. In many atelier, 50-60 hours is the norm. But as the painter becomes more experienced, 30 might be enough.

How one would pace themselves depends on the length of the pose. Here is an example of the stages: drawing (gesture, proportions, contour, shawdow shapes), underpainting (graiselle or full-color) overpainting - taking a section of the painting and bringing it to a finish.

I'd like to stress that it's not really copying exactly what you see because the pose is never exactly the same from seating to seating. It's the painter's interpretation of the pose through his/her detailed observation.

Erik Bongers said...

My own (school) experience with modeling.
I now know I spent too much time on the overal figure. I almost never finished hand or feet.
(I notice a same thing in the first example painting)
I regret not having decided back then to focus more on one aspect (arm, leg, ear,...), but I just followed the crowd (hey, I was young back then !).

If only I had heard of the infamous "90 degree rule"!

Notice how the 2nd example DOES include the hand. And it's quite obvious why: it's an essential part of the action going on, so intuitively any artist WILL include that hand and observe it carefully.

Second recollection: this model is a muscled man. Most of the time we had female models. I cannot deny that carefully drawing those nice curved lines was a joy, but one time a male ballet dancer posed for us. Wow ! As if drawing a skin-stripped Vesalius man!
I learned more in that one session than in all the 'female' sessions together!

But if I was the 'Maitre d' Academie' (don't we artist just love french) I would start the day's class with a male dancer and for the last hour have a female subject 'as dessert'. I'm sure that last drawing of the day would look more correct because the students still remember the underlying muscles.

So if I was the boss!!...I would probably let democracy decide. I guess I'm a lousy dictator.

sarahelizabeth said...

I personally prefer short poses because I love the freedom of expression I can achieve.