I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Chicago recently, a fascinating city filled with art. Upon departing for the “Windy City” of the Midwest, my greatest anticipation was for the Art Institute Gallery. I had seen a sampling of their permanent collection and was instantly itching to get my eyeballs on their ridiculous sampling of paintings from all epochs of art history. While the Institute did not disappoint, I’d have to say that I was most surprised and delighted by another attraction in town, the Field Museum. A special exhibit entitled “Whales: Giants of the Deep” captured my imagination with an energy that spoke to my inner fascination for these creatures. Most of all, I was stunned by the skeletons on exhibit. Bizarre arching bridges of bone matter linking brain cases to spinal cords spanned 20 to 30 feet long. These anatomical masterpieces seemed altogether out of this world. The mere massiveness of these bonescapes touched on something in my mind’s eye and allowed me to form an image of how such a huge creature must live. I have fresh ideas on how I might go about designing the famous Sand Worms from the science fiction novel “Dune”. Nothing like to real, living nature to truly inspire an idea that is galaxies away from our own world…
I went to the dentist recently and received a x-ray scan of my teeth. Usually the process is fairly mundane and the photos are printed out on small, grainy little pictures smaller than a polaroid. However, on this latest visit, they used a new digital imaging program to instantly visualize my teeth on a large monitor nearby. The results were astounding. I’d never seen the structure of my incisors in such detail, with resolution so fine the very ends of nerves could be discerned. It triggered an old passion of mine: the study of the human body. I’m always going back to anatomy. Something about the structure of this living machine fascinates me. The way limbs, musculature and skeleton interact to seamlessly perform tasks is a wonder that provides endless inspiration. For me, drawing anatomy is an ode to the infinite possibilities of our own physicality.
Tonight I took the opportunity to attend a free drawing session at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. It was a pretty good night all around, the model was a qualified professional with stimulating poses. The last image is about 6 by 4 feet in comparison to the first three which are all sketchbook size, a detail that may not be readily apparent. I always find dimensions of art I’ve only viewed on the internet to be sometimes predictable but usually surprising. Someone should conduct a test on how big people imagine original art to be based on only their perception from the computer monitor… so much changes in the adaption to digital formats that we aren’t even aware of most of the time.
I guess I’ve been on a bit of a observational drawing kick. Today I went to the Mountain View Cemetery, near Piedmont Avenue in Oakland to sketch some of the statues on the headstones there. Statues are fun to draw because they’re all about gesture and attitude. They can be tricky though because they are not as natural as they may seem. Hands and eyes are often enlarged and exaggerated in order to convey a mood to a viewer who may be looking at the piece from far away or from a much lower point of view. One may wonder where the tractor comes in. It may seem incongruous but they actually have a lot of heavy machinery at this location for landscaping and the construction of new plots. Seeing it parked on the side of a driveway, I couldn’t resist drawing it as the backhoe summed up nostalgia for a past job of mine in which I spent whole days operating industrial vehicles of a similar nature.
It may be a pretty tired cliche but nature is truly the best muse an artist can ask for. I went on a relaxing jaunt in the beautiful Napa Valley with a few friends today and took the opportunity to make some sketches at a waterfall at the end of the trail. The area was a bit of a locals only kind of spot, so the quiet setting made for a nice environment to scribble off a few images. It’s a fun challenge to attempt atmospheric perspective and the detailing of features like moss and ferns with only a ballpoint pen; it requires an elegant shorthand technique that is challenging but rewarding when done correctly.
Last night, I had the great opportunity to see live music… and capture some of it in sketch form! My brother Alex plays in a group called the Emily Moldy Band, and he invited me to see them play with another folk artist named Sean Burns and the Lilac Field at a little joint called The Crepe Place in Santa Cruz. I have come to enjoy sketching bands at live events; there is so much energy and attitude in the air. In addition, musicians tend to stay in roughly the same position and posture (very relevant to making a drawing of someone on the spot). The bearded fellow is Sean Burns; you can find him at “professorburnsandthelilacfield.com”. And the lady on his left in the last drawing is Emily Moldy, she is at “myspace.com/emilymoldy”.
Figure drawing is something I always try to get back to when time allows for it. Ideally, I prefer to draw from life… but as most artists know naked folks are a hard crowd to contact on a whim. As a result, I work from anatomy manuals, and the stellar photography they feature is good reference for when the real thing isn’t around.