Thursday, May 3, 2007

Drawing from Life

Again today I felt at a loss at which way to turn artistically. I have been feeling a bit guilty drawing so much from reference photos. So, I ended up in front of my bathroom mirror and well, there you go. It isn't a great likeness. I shall have to find a way to keep my glasses up over my eyes next time - it was all a little too indistinct! But I was trying to get a good line going on the edge of my face. I realized yesterday that some of the appeal of portraits for me is the line of the face. Some of Waterhouse's fascination with line has rubbed off, I guess.

As I realized I was having "wardrobe malfunctions", a thought came to me from my Whistler reading. I've been reading John Walker's James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Whistler painted the Nocturne series from memory (at least some of it). He had some friends who would row him out on the river in the evenings for hours. He would just soak it all in and then describe it to a "listener" (who would offer corrections). Then he'd go home and sleep. He'd get up in the morning and paint. If it was right, it was done. If not, he'd head back out that evening. So, I could have just stared at myself, had a nap, and grabbed my pencil - perhaps next time!

Of course, such a practice would be a help to Whistler's goal of presenting beauty over truth. He wasn't gunning for details, he was aiming at revealing the beauty and mood of a subject. This is particularly true of his later work. His famous mother was done at an earlier stage. He was definitely into patterns and colors at that point, but he departed even from that level of detail in later years.

As Walker says: "He gave the portrait of his mother the title Arrangement in Gray and Black, for as he said, 'To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?' The public, instead should focus its interest on the composition and the beautiful intervals of space; also it should admire the pathos and depth of feeling in the face."

I'm not sure what shape my Whistler project will take. Early on, he did some incredible etchings and many thought that he should have pursued more of that than painting. So, something done in pen and ink wouldn't be out of place. But, truly he is known more for his painting. And he had some interesting techniques...he heated his brushes over a candle! But, a colored pencil copy of his mother would be fun...we'll see.


Katherine said...

That's a really interesting post Rose - food for thought indeed!

Rose Welty said...

I am not sure that I could work like that. I have actually been trying to practice looking at an expression on someone's face, memorizing it and then drawing it later - but it hasn't worked so far. Somehow my "impressions" go from visual to emotive and leave me with nothing to draw! But, I haven't tried a landscape! You first :-).

Robyn said...

I really like this self portrait - the expression is lively - not frozen. Very nice.

Rose Welty said...

Robyn, thank you for your encouragement. I haven't done many self-portraits - and now I know why, they're hard!