Learning from the Figure

"Lury", 14 inches wide by 17 inches tall, oils on canvas

“Lury”, 14 inches wide by 17 inches tall, oils on canvas


I have been learning a lot from traditional figure drawing and painting recently. More and more, it has become to clear to me that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible with drawing and painting from life.
I recently finished taking a class with the acclaimed portrait painter Bob Gerbracht. If you can visualize the ultimate guru of classical portrait painting, that’s Bob in a nutshell. I learned a tremendous amount during his class. We studied the same portrait pose over 4 consecutive weeks, for a total of 12 hours. I haven’t done that sort of intense observaton for years and it really made me think differently about how I depict “reality”. It occurred to me that no matter how much time you have to paint something, there is always more to do. After the first session, I was convinced that I was going to finish it in the next session and have oodles of extra time. But Bob kept reminding me where I was falling short and where the picture wasn’t exactly right (down to the millimeter). Correcting my mistakes took the vast majority of the time and by the fourth session, I was racing to get it all down. Another thing that I learned from this experience: painting from life is fundamentally different from painting from a photograph. There is always limitations to a photograph’s fidelity, but our eyes can see an infinite amount of detail. This is why I have to continue painting and drawing from life while I simultaneously work from photos in my studio so I don’t forget that lesson!
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Along with Bob’s class, I also started to attend a weekly drop in figure drawing session in Berkeley with some fellow illustrators. It’s a simple uninstructed session, starting with gestures and moving into 10 to 20 minute poses. While these quick drawings are almost the polar opposite of the experience of Bob’s class, they share many observational truths in common. Here are a few more of my favorites. Thanks for stopping by!
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