With my first trimester at the Florence Academy of Art behind me and the New Year already rolling, it is finally time for a long overdue update.
First of all, let me just confirm my first impression of the school and say that studying at the FAA is well worth it! In the past few months, I have learned so many valuable lessons and, consequently, made noticeable progress in my work. From what I can tell, so has each and every one of my fellow students. It is both wonderful and rewarding to observe this learning curve emerge and I feel very lucky and grateful to be studying with the team of people who know exactly how to make it happen.
I still feel I am learning the most during the figure drawing sessions of a nude model, so I decided to devote this blog post to explaining in a bit more detail what this process entails and what the students are expected to aim towards.
The so-called ‘long pose’ lasts for five weeks. Typically students get a chance to work on two long poses with a nude model during one trimester. Unfortunately, because our first model was involved in an accident (she is ok now), my group only got to complete one long pose this term as visible from the photos below. And by complete, I mean finish the drawing of the model and the simplified background within the assigned period. I should clarify here that students tackle the long pose in charcoal on white paper during the first year of studies at the FAA. In the first part of the second year they continue drawing in charcoal, on toned paper, with the addition of a white chalk. Later, starting with a limited palette, students move on to painting the model in oils.
However, one does not simply start the large charcoal project on the first day of the long pose. Instead, in order to understand their subject matter better, students are first required to complete a series of studies. This includes several studies of the model in pencil from both the chosen standing position for drawing the long pose, as well as one from a different position in the room. This is in order to get a better idea of how the form turns in space. The pencil studies should focus on an accurate description of the gesture, proportions, outline and shadowline. They are very useful for understanding how the pose changes over time as the model settles in it and, consequently, for choosing the exact moment or pose that one is actually drawing.
Another study done in the preliminary stages of a long pose is a value study in the same medium that a student uses for the large project, in our case charcoal. A value study, just as the name suggests is supposed to correctly map out tonal relationships, on a small scale. In a value study, one needs not to focus on the accuracy of the drawing, but rather the correlation between the lights and the darks, as well as the idea of the flow of light.
Once the small (usually A4 size paper) studies are complete, which is normally after 3-5 days, a student moves on to the large project. As far as the size of the working surface goes, the first year beginning students are typically working on a 50 x 70 cm ROMA paper (using the reverse side of it, where the water stamp spells AMOR, because it’s less bumpy), while the more advanced students of the same year often tend to use slightly bigger sized, white Arches papers.
Here is a photo of my working board, in the preliminary stages of the ‘long pose’ project, including the start of my big charcoal drawing and its small accompanying studies:
As I already mentioned in my previous posts, the method employed in tackling the long pose, along with most other projects at the school, is the sight-size method. When using it, the first and the foremost thing that the students are supposed to get right are the big proportions of the model and the nature of the gesture. The steps we follow in doing that are, as previously mentioned, drawing out the outline, then the shadowline and finally the shadow. In finding the accurate contours, and while moving from a more abstract to a more organic drawing, a student is supposed to pay close attention to rhythms in the line, subtle angle breaks, the variety of shapes and edge quality.
As students progress with their work, they are always being reminded to go back to the big proportions and the gesture in order to establish whether they accurately describe the pose. So, at the beginning of each new day spent on the pose, one is advised to check the major heights and widths – because is that’s off, everything else will be too, no matter how fine the finish is.
The fun part starts when the values are introduced in the picture. Compression of values is here the key, as well as preserving a beautiful flow of light. That’s why students are advised to gradually approach the shading process and squint a lot as they are doing it. One thing that comes in very handy with regards to establishing correct tonal relationships is a black mirror or, in the absence of one, a smartphone with a black, glossy and flat screen (for more info, see http://www.marcdalessio.com/iphone-painting-tool/). I’ve also seen teachers and students ware hats with a wide brim, as it reduces the glare coming from the rooftop windows and helps them establish the values more correctly.
As far as values go, I got some tips from my teachers and found them very useful in establishing the correct tonal relationships in a drawing. One is to press, rather hard and only once, the bottom of the charcoal stick, slightly grated off with the tip of the nail, in areas on the paper where the darkest darks are. Also, I’ve been told that an alternative to squinting, which can make one feel dizzy if done excessively, is tilting your head slightly backwards and looking through your eyes half closed. Another really useful tip is to use the back of the fan brush (the wooden part) to slightly knock down the values in some areas, by quickly and lightly moving it back and forth across the paper. And finally, I’ve learned how cross hatching, both with the finely sharpened charcoal, as well as the finely created tip of the kneaded eraser can help create refined effects.
Speaking of finesse and fine finish, things to look for and improve at the final stages of a drawing are, amongst others: 1) smooth and beautiful transitions, while retaining a clear delineation between planes and a clear description of shadow shapes; 2) finding/reinforcing the variety of edges (with some completely lost in the background); and 3) putting the focus in a chosen area, while achieving the atmospheric effect in others.
This about sums up the process of drawing the long pose in the Intensive drawing program at the FAA. Soon, I’ll be able to report how the process changes in the higher years of studies, as I am very happy to share with you that I’ve been transferred to the Intermediate program (that is the 2nd year of studies), starting this January 🙂 I feel very honoured to have been promoted by my teachers and hope to successfully tackle challenges lying ahead.
In the meantime, I leave you with the results of my larger school work in the first trimester at the FAA and wish you all a very happy New Year!