Today I’ve posted more images drawn or painted directly from life, done in several mediums; pencil, colored pencil, graphite and Prismacolor on toned paper, oil paint, and the most charmingly spontaneous of all (to my eyes), watercolor touches over a simple fluid pencil contour line.
Many of these images may seem slight in technique and detail, but they are the result of over 30 years of serious effort toward mastering the art of drawing—at age 46 I’ve devoted more than three quarters of my life to an almost daily obsession with training my eyes and hand to express my impressions—and also anything I can imagine. This history is on my mind lately as I spend more and more time facing an easel and a physically present subject rather than hunching over a drawing table, lightbox or Wacom Tablet creating worlds directly from my imagination.
A few years ago I began to carve time away from my commercial deadlines and return to an idea of creating paintings for myself—an idea I had pushed aside when I moved into drawing comic books full time in 1981. I can’t say I intended to virtually abandon painting, but the demands of monthly comic book cartooning/illustrating soon reduced my non-hired art-making pursuits to private sketchbooks and occasional life drawing sessions.
I quickly grew to love the challenges of visualizing scripts or plots though, in both comic books and later animation storyboards—the demands are staggering, really—at least as I approached it. I know of no other art forms that are so demanding—you must be able to draw anything—under tight deadline pressure—that you or a writer can imagine, and possess an intricate understanding of drama, directing, staging, lighting, timing, cutting, editing, acting, set design, costume design, all the technical rules that make film storytelling work, in addition to the vast demands of visual art itself—composition, form, perspective, anatomy, etc…. the list goes on and on. Add the tenets of painting—color, value, texture, learning to handle various mediums—the challenges are literally endless.
I stubbornly kept my dream and ambition intact though—to become a great draftsman was always the distant gleam of promise that kept me slogging through the dreary bouts of exhaustion, frustration, failures, disenchantments, vast workloads, crushing stress of deadlines, and often indifferent and occasionally hostile reception to my work. (I’ve had my share of praise too, for which I am grateful.)
Because I decided early on to treat my commercial career as an opportunity to educate myself rather than gain notoriety or use the subject matter of assigned work as a vehicle for personal expression, I can’t deny I’ve often felt lost in an avalanche of hired work that seemed a world away from my own nature and interests. In spite of this I’ve somehow made it to this point with all my enthusiasm intact, which rounds this ramble back toward my central topic; why draw from life?
I’m sure I will always love and invent fantasy, but my particular fascination is to create, by achieving a convincing portrayal of human (or superhuman) consciousness, an illusion of living, thinking, feeling personalities. The only source for this inspiration is the real thing.
So I find that I have been after one essential quality all along and throughout all my various endeavors as an artist—an illusion of life, animation, a spirit of reality that calls forth an emotional recognition in the viewer or reader. When I work from life, I want to convey the spontaneous empathy I feel with the model as a fellow human being—I don’t want to draw a body, an assemblage of anatomy—I want to portray a person, always. When I paint a still life or landscape, the objects exist only as expressions of their use or creation by human touch, or as a place where people have lived, walked, worked, fought, loved.
As odd (even to myself, in certain moods) as it may sound, these days I am as incited to enthusiasm by the prospect of painting a stained broken teacup in a dusty shaft of light as I am by the challenge of portraying a horde of lost souls tumbling through an afterlife dimension into my wildest fantasies of Hell.
An artist’s life is full of surprises!