Charcoal and gouache. Drawing I did back in 1992.
Last night I went to a live model class at the Society of Illustrators on the east side. It’s a neat place and the session was attended by old-timers and kids alike–cartoonists, book illustrators, comic book artists, professionals and amateurs. It’s been more than a dozen years since I’ve been to such a class but I got the itch recently when talking to some old painter friends of mine. I figured what the hell, why not? It’s been too long.
The night before the class, I couldn’t sleep I was so excited.
It took an hour or so or flailing around, not really knowing what to do, where to start or continue, before I settled in and got a little bit of the old feeling back. Mostly though, it wasn’t about any finished product as much as it was about paying attention and really looking. After the second hour my hand was cramping and my eyes hurt. But I felt good. I think I’ll go again.
Five years ago, I walked into a third-floor art studio on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, climbed atop a wooden stage covered in stained padding and dropped my ratty yellow bathrobe. A panel of strangers asked me to pose, and then to freeze. I had never modeled for artists, and had no idea how I would feel standing naked as people I had just met stared at me. The idea held some bohemian appeal, but more urgently, I needed to supplement my income as a freelance writer while I worked on a novel.
I made the cut, and became a member of the Bay Area Models Guild. I had hoped this gig might earn me grocery money. I soon grew to love the freedom and strange relinquishment of status that comes from offering your nude presence to artists. What surprised me the most, though, was how profoundly it changed my writing life.
Soon I was sent out on bookings, mostly to introductory college drawing classes. The professor’s approach was always the same. I was asked to do many sets of active one- or two-minute poses.
“Find the gesture!” the instructor would shout, as the would-be artists sketched. “What is the essence of that pose? How does that pose feel to the model? The whole pose — quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. The line of the energy. What is that pose about? Step back and see it — really see it — whole.” And then, my timer beeped, I moved to a new pose and the students furiously flipped to a clean page.
This “gesture” idea was fundamental. In painting classes, where I held the same pose for three hours (with frequent five-minute breaks, thank God), the paintings that looked most alive were built on top of a good gesture sketch, a first-step, quick-and-dirty drawing in which many crucial decisions about placement, perspective and emphasis were made intuitively.
In a gesture drawing, a whole arm that didn’t matter much might be just a smudgy slash, while a line that captured the twist of a spine might stand in sharp, carefully observed relief. The “gesture” was the line of organic connection within the body, the trace of kinetic cause-and-effect that made the figure a live human being rather than a corpse of stitched-together parts. If you “found the gesture,” you found life.
I just started a Tumblr site for the Banter. Is 50 posts in 24 hours excessive? Dudes, I’m hooked.
Bookmark the bitch and check it out on the reg for artwork and cool stuff to look at.
[Painting by me, gouache on paper, 1997]
Last week, I read an interview with our pal Pete Abraham over at a Respect Jeter’s Gangster, where he mentioned that he listens to Old School Wu Tang Clan. A few months ago, I had a discussion with a kid at work who claimed that Biggie Smalls and Tupac were Old School. Which leads me to this: What exactly determines whether you are from the Old School or not? Does it simply mean anything that is more than ten years old? Whitey Herzog is from the Old School. Ditto Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin and Bix Beiderbecke for that matter. In Hip Hop terms, Old School means funk and soul records from the ’60s and ’70s and then the early days of Rap records, maybe through 1983. I guess you could call Run DMC Old School, ang go through ’86, but I generally don’t. However, a kid in his mid-twenties would think of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest as Old School I suppose. But Biggie, Tupac and the Wu? I guess that means Nas and Mobb Deep are Old School too. Or maybe I’m just getting old. What’s your take?