When people find out I go to a figure drawing group on Wednesday nights, they sometimes ask, “Isn’t that weird? I mean, you’re there drawing, and the model isn’t wearing clothes??” Michelangelo is famous for celebrating the world’s creation his beautiful, statuesque nudes… and Church leaders are famous for, years later, painting loincloths over them. There has been a tension between nudity in art and Christianity for along time.
I’m in an exhibit this month at Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio entitled NUDE, so this is an appropriate moment to discuss how my faith informs my practice of drawing the un-draped figure.
In short: It is not weird. When I am before the un-draped model I feel blessed that the person modeling has given me the opportunity to capture their likeness. A child of God sits before me, like Adam and Eve before the Fall, in total simplicity, without the trappings of human shame.
A child of God sits before me, like Adam and Eve before the Fall, in total simplicity, without any of the trappings of human shame.
In every model, old or young, large or small, male or female, I see one God’s amazing creations. In the process of drawing I try to capture just one small portion of the magnificence, delicacy, and beauty of what He made.
The human figure is the most beautiful, complex, and difficult subject there is. While everyone’s proportions are very nearly the same, yet every individual is unique. The human body’s proportions are so ingrained in our visual brain that even non-artists can easily say “that looks just like him” or “Not at all!”.
Engaging in the process of drawing is an act of love. The dedication one must have to spend hours drawing is humble at its core. Even for the most talented of draughtsmen, drawing is a process of creation and correction, establishing relationships and then refining them. Those corrections and refinements may involve erasing and re-drawing, what beginners call “mistakes”, but are just part of a process. All drawings fall short of God’s original creation.
When I am drawing or painting the model, everyone is working very hard. The model is working very hard to maintain her balance and stability. Myself and the other artists are working hard to measure proportions, analyze how light and dark are falling on the figure’s form, and to put these elements of line, tone, proportion and structure together in a way that also conveys an atmosphere of life and breath – so that our viewer can perhaps tell that we have drawn a living being, and not merely a statue at a museum.
It is that extra something – the sense of life and breath, the mystery of a human being’s psychology, emotion, and intellect which comes across in a true portrait. Rembrandt is remembered by the world as an artist because of the psychological presence of the sitter in his paintings.
…the process of drawing is an act of love.
In the limited time frame of the pose, I am forced to move quickly to capture life and breath, tension and energy in two dimensions. As I sit in the presence of the model I grow in an awareness of vulnerability and humanity of this person over a period of time. I like to work with ink because the ink, just like the person before me, has a life of its own, an unpredictable quality which reveals an emotional dimension of the model’s pose I could not myself have foreseen.
You can view my figure drawings here. I invite you to spend some time with them, considering the miracle of the bodies we were given. I also invite you to consider purchasing a drawing (or two or three!) to take into your home, a reminder of our vulnerable simplicity and humanity.