Tag Archives: chair drawing

Wednesday 6/6: Critique Day

My work as displayed for critique

Celeste’s work–notice the colorful background for the chair.

I was extremely nervous for our first critique day. There are a couple of real live Art People in this class. Coming in, I thought I’d be able to avoid being compared to Art People in a 100-level summer school class, but that was only because I’d forgotten how quickly this course tends to fill up during the semester. Even though I’ve been working to take my efforts seriously as an artist, there is still a level on which I don’t consider myself an Art Person or even a potential Art Person. That kind of mental work is much easier when I can be alone with my projects, or focus in on my own work in a group. I was afraid that any comparisons would out me as a pretender. Professor Ruby spent a bit of time discussing those fears with us, and I was a little relieved to realize that everyone had some concerns. Some of us shied away from drawing when we first started trying to do realistic drawings and didn’t understand how to do them, and others were encouraged to develop very high standards for their work because of early talent.

Ruby’s Chairs

Looking at a series of drawings of the same chair done with the same technique brought out more similarities than differences. Yes, we all composed our drawings a little differently, and our lines varied in thickness and quality, but they were all clearly the same chair. In the initial drawing, there was much more variance, even though most of the class drew the chairs from the classroom.  Julia drew one of the metal chairs from outside the student center, and I drew my puffy armchair. I almost wish I had drawn a class chair—it would throw the advances in my technique over the past week into sharper relief.) Some detailed elements from the initial drawings of classroom chairs didn’t make the transition to the string technique chair drawings, and I find that fascinating. For example, Celeste created a colorful background for her chair, and Ruby (my classmate, not to be confused with the professor) created some painstaking woodgrain.

Julia’s work

In class, we discussed the differences between Ruby and Julia’s lines. Ruby’s chair has more of a dark bold line, while Julia’s is lighter and precise. We personified the lines—Ruby’s lines would be loud, bold, and brash, while Julia’s would be more reserved, but quietly confident and insistent. It was fascinating to look at other classmates’ lines in all of the projects we’ve worked on and realize how consistent they were.

What do my lines communicate about me? I realized that my lines are very similar to the way I talk—they start off more subtle and quiet, but become bolder and more confident as they go. I also think you can tell that I jumped into drawing the whole thing early on, and revised it almost completely more than once, getting closer in my approximations each time. In art as in life, I’d rather go back and change things than hesitate to do them…though, some of my later corrections (some made in the 45 minutes before class) to the chair were done with lines that look almost meek. I’m especially looking at the faint lines in the skirt of my chair; they don’t seem to fit with the rest of my lines.

My Chair and Basil: Together at Last!

As for the organic drawings, it was very interesting for me to see how everyone dealt with leaves, which was mostly by choosing subjects without leaves, or subjects where the leaves would not be the focus. I had struggled badly with them in the initial drawing and wanted to improve, so they were the focus of my potted plant drawing. I enjoyed the way Moza and Julia drew their flower petals and leaves with such intense focus. The smooth forms of their drawings were beautiful.

I came back to the studio at night to take some photos I’d missed. I found the circle of chairs at night strangely comforting. This was a helpful critique focused on growing, and I value that.


Sunday 6/3 and Monday 6/4: Accepting My Perceptions

Sunday night was an experience that I’ll never remember. I’ve tried to write a process post about the work I did on Sunday, but the details have become fuzzy to me and a bit inextricable from Monday’s process.

Struggling with the lines of the pot. Again.

I do remember that I spent several hours* obsessing over getting the plant’s pot drawn absolutely perfectly. That’s not wildly unreasonable: spending last week drawing next to Julia and watching her chair come together so wonderfully after she spent most of the week getting the seat right probably influenced my desire to get the base of this drawing drawn the way I want it first. Also, having spent the last few sessions erasing and re-drawing every part of my chair made the notion of having a few lines that I knew were already the way I wanted them very appealing. I had very high standards for what amounted to a few simple curved lines, and my drawing wasn’t getting close to meeting my standards for them.

This was making me anxious about my ability to complete the assignment on time. We were supposed to draw an organic object—not an organic object’s home and parts of its semi-wilted green onion roommate. I was getting the worst headache and I was unhappy with how my drawing was going. Even when I could get the angles of the pot to match what I saw using the string technique, I didn’t like what I was seeing.

I had intended to commit myself to spending all day in my apartment until the basil was drawn, but I was frustrated. I knew that my perfectionism was hindering the process of drawing, so I finally left my apartment for 20 minutes around 7:30. When I returned, I finally noticed that my apartment strongly smelled of natural gas, and I finally realized that the headaches, chest pain, and other symptoms I’d had that day were probably not entirely due to working on the plant pot.

The next few hours are harder to summarize—I spent about 9 hours in the ER, feeling cold, frustrated, and fairly certain that the ice machine in one of the waiting areas actually was off-center and tilted and I wasn’t just seeing it that way. I got home well after sunrise, assured myself that my apartment had aired out, and slept until it was time to go to class.

The Chair: Now with Tapered Legs!

Today (Monday) was our last full class period of drawing the chair. I’m unsure as to whether it’s because I was in a somewhat altered state from exhaustion and lingering effects of the gas leak, or if it was an effect of taking the weekend off from the chair, but I felt like I was seeing the chair differently. The width of the top of the chair was thinner than I’d drawn it, and there was a taper in the legs of the chair that I hadn’t seen at all last week.

One of the techniques that Professor Ruby emphasized this class session was using the string or a straight-edged object to create a vertical plumb line in order to compare it with a line. My perspective on the chair has a lot of lines that appear to be perfectly vertical or horizontal, but they’re at a very slight angle. I hadn’t seen this at all until I used the plumb lines. I struggled with drawing this in a way that wasn’t too exaggerated, and eventually I left a few notes to myself on how the chair drawing should be revised (slashes in the correct direction near the too-vertical lines) and went home.

After class, I sat down and worked on the basil again for half an hour, feeling a little more clear-headed but still tired. I realized that my plant’s pot wasn’t that bad; it just didn’t look like a symbolized plant pot and I hadn’t liked that on Sunday.  I made a few minor corrections to the pot, and began drawing the stems of the basil. It wasn’t much, but I could have an idea of where the plant was growing. Knowing that the placement of the stems was in a position to be perfected, I could have faith that I would find where they belonged and finish.

This experience emphasized to me just how much of visual thinking requires that you be able to radically accept what your senses are telling you, instead of clinging to what you should be perceiving or thinking. My senses were telling me that I needed a break from the basil drawing because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to work, but I ignored them until the results were near-catastrophic because I thought I should be working a certain way at a specific rate. I know what a terra cotta plant pot or a wooden chair should look like, but when I’m sitting and drawing it, I don’t see it as it should be, I see it as the light is hitting my eyes. I can’t create a realistic drawing from “shoulds.”

A little more progress

As Professor Ruby’s brother’s acting coach says, you should never should on yourself.

*My notebook says that I spent 5 ½ hours broken up into 3 sessions over the course of the morning and afternoon, but I don’t fully trust my accounting on Sunday.

Thursday 5/31: Revisions and My Slant on Things

I came in early to get a bit more extra work in today, and as soon as I came in, I confirmed what I had been trying not to let myself see on Wednesday: I’ve been drawing the chair tilted and entirely too wide. I knew that the day would come when I’d have to correct it. I think that the crick in my neck from sitting on planes for 10 hours on Tuesday may account for the tilt (though my loved ones reading this may assert that I’ve always seen things a bit crooked), but the proportions are just a problem arising from having trouble putting the 3D image I see into two dimensions.

Professor Ruby and I discussed my options for correcting the drawing at the beginning of class. I could make the drawing taller, make it narrower, or change both dimensions. Since my drawing was already about as tall as the page, the first option was out. We measured out a few parts of the chair, and determined that adjusting both dimensions somewhat was going to be my best bet. I set to work erasing and re-drawing. I finally got the proportions to a point where I liked them, but in the process I made the tilt somewhat worse. I was, at least, consistent in the way that I’d drawn the chair tilted—and I am so very tempted to agree with Professor Ruby that it gives the chair personality and this sort of consistent error is “why God invented Photoshop,” but correcting it has been an important learning experience for me.

In the past, I’ve discarded drawings and started over rather than correcting them. I’m starting to see why this is a bad approach. First off, being able to see the history of my drawing (as Professor Ruby puts it) helps me retain the things that were good, if imperfect, about earlier attempts. Yes, I could look at my old drawing when starting a fresh one, but it’s not the same. Making corrections can teach you more about a process than just doing the same thing repeatedly—I think the most important part of learning how to cook, for example, is learning how to fix a mistake. You can counterbalance too much spiciness in a dish by adding an acid in the same way that you can fix one proportion in a drawing by comparing it to another.

Also, the practice of making corrections in a drawing does put the emphasis on “perfection as a result of practice,” as Professor Ruby said. That phrase reminded me of this blog post by Cal Newport, who is a computer science professor at Georgetown University. Newport is a modern advocate of the sort of Aristotelian striving for self-improvement and moderated perfection that I mentioned in my first post. He uses the example of Steve Jobs’s obsession with the visual details on early Macs to illustrate the point that we can use perfectionism to focus on deliberately improving skills without driving ourselves crazy.

I think I’ve erased every line in this drawing three times, and I appreciate that the vine charcoal allows me to see the history of the drawing. (I’d washed my hands two minutes before the photo below. I eventually got my own gum eraser out of my bag, since I’d been hogging the one that the class had been sharing so much.) I’m lucky in that I’m looking at the chair head-on—the angles are very simple, at least. Though, I did wind up getting a yard stick out because I’d confused myself so thoroughly as to what a horizontal line looks like. I think it’s good that I’ll be getting a break from this project. It’s getting closer to looking like the actual chair, but I’ve still got a few revisions left in me.

I’m looking forward to seeing how much my drawing will evolve next week.

Wednesday 5/30: Units, Angles, Grids, and More Chairs

Today was focused on angles, measurements, and imposing a grid on an image. Systematizing drawing like this really works for my understanding—it’s just like graphing! I’m an economics geek. Staring at graphs until I understand them is most of what I do.

Professor Ruby showed us an interesting Powerpoint on composition before we began drawing today. I’d had some instruction in composition before this, but it had focused on ways to make a piece visually interesting in whatever way the teacher had wanted to highlight, and less on the basics of how to place the subject on the page so that it would fill the available space as well as possible. With all the trouble I had later with truly seeing the proportions of my subject, the reminder to confirm that I was measuring at the widest and tallest points of my subject from my perspective was very helpful.
A poster on composition in the studio
Professor Ruby pointed out that the third line you draw determines the scale of the entire drawing. Thinking geometrically, this seems obvious—you’re defining the length of a line segment at that point—but I’d never really thought about it before. I’ve often started fretting about the scale of a drawing much further into the process, but now I realize that I should start planning the scale of my drawings earlier.

We also began learning the string technique, which will get its own post. The string technique is basically a formalized way to use a string to measure units and angles in order to see and draw them more clearly. It’s similar to (and a little easier than) what I was trying to do by measuring with my fingers on my initial drawing. You hold an end of a string in each hand at arm’s length with elbows locked, and close one eye. You can then rotate the string to match the angles of your subject and compare them with what you’ve drawn. You can also pinch out a length of string that is the same length as a part of your subject, and compare it to other parts of your subject. If you can find parts that are equal (or multiples of each other’s size), it helps in maintaining the proportions of the subject in your drawing, even though your drawing is scaled. The string technique helped me to start thinking in terms of proportions, instead of absolute measurements.

My drawing partway through classThis was the first day we spent formally drawing in the studio. This project is another chair, drawn with vine charcoal. It’s interesting to me how much a difference in materials and location affects how I draw and how I approach a project. Drawing my own chair with pencil (not even a nice pencil from an art store) on printer paper while sitting on my living room floor, it’s hard to take my work very seriously. As I mentioned in my first post, I felt a little silly devising my own methods of measurement in my initial drawings, but put me in a studio and hand me a piece of charcoal, and the string technique seems like the most natural thing in the world. I like taking these projects seriously—it’s  much more relaxing to stop judging myself and my abilities for a while. To me, it’s like the difference between going into an office dressed like all the other interns and dressing like a real employee. Yes, I own a disturbing number of bureaucracy-friendly suits for a 22 year-old, but it keeps the impostor syndrome at bay.

When I first started drawing, I spent a lot of time confirming that, yes, the seat of the chair is horizontal from where I’m standing, and yes, the sides are mostly vertical. It was interesting for me to realize that from where I’m standing, the chair looks very wide relative to the length of the back of the chair, for example. I know that length is greater than the width of the seat of the chair, and it’s tempting to make my drawing reflect that, but that’s not showing what I see.

I stayed for about half an hour after class, correcting, over-correcting, and re-correcting the chair legs and checking and re-checking proportions. It was completely fascinating.