One of my favorite things is having an artist’s group which meets regularly. While most of us spend a lot of time alone creating art, nearly everyone is a social creature too. We naturally benefit from being around others. It’s also a great way to help newcomers, and even old timers will pick up new things, if it’s just how to use Pandora!
I am a member of the Oil Painters of America, the Portrait Society of America, and other professional groups, and these are terrific organizations. It’s so fantastic participating in their events and competitions. I am also in the Plein Air Painters of the South East (PAPSE), and these wonderful artists meet for painting events a few times a year. These are all such learning opportunities!
But my point here is that belonging to or starting a group that meets weekly or thereabouts can be of tremendous value. In college, and just after, I drew and painted at Detroit’s Scarab Club a few nights a week, and on some Saturdays. I cannot express all I learned about a wide range of subjects while developing my skills. I also continued to take classes after graduation, and then teach, which can be other ways to do what I’m suggesting, although usually for a more finite period. One of the most basic lessons is that MUCH OF LIFE IS JUST SHOWING UP! This cannot be overstated.
How we got “a head”
In January 2015 we started the Wednesday Night Head Study session at our local arts organization; Tryon Painters And Sculptors. We live in a small town, but it as been easy and fun asking folks to sit for three hours while we paint or draw them. We are thinking of starting a landscape group. If we had a larger population to draw on we would love to start a figure session. If something you would like doesn’t exist near you, start it up! Then you have the added benefit of deciding on what the focus is, when it happens, how long, how much etc. Hopefully you will soon have partners who can run the show when you can’t be there.
Do I always feel like procuring a model and going to paint on Wednesday night from 7-10? Not so much. But like other forms of exercise, I’m always glad I went, even if my painting or drawing turned out poorly. Besides the obvious improvement to our skills and increased confidence from the extra hours working from life, there are other benefits such as the comradarie of the regular members of the group, getting to know those who sit for you better, and it’s not surprising to sell or give some of the work you generate, or get commissions for other work as a direct or indirect result of these endeavors. In fact as I write this I’ve just learned that my head study of Remy has been accepted into the OPA 2016 Salon!
We always have to stress to our sitters that they don’t have to stay frozen for three hours! We explain that they find a comfortable pose, and that it’s important they are able to get back into it after taking whatever breaks they find reasonable. We reassure the models that they’re doing a great job and usually everyone has a fine time. We each contribute $10 and split it between the sitter and the facility.
If it’s not possible for you to have a group like this, you can commit to working from life regularly in many ways. Doing self-portraits in the mirror is a terrific exercise. Surely there are people in your life who would sit for you and perhaps even pose figuratively. Painting still life, landscape and interiors are also great ways to work from life.
Each week I renew my commitment to try to hone my process to generate work that rises to a new level. There are so many factors involved in painting; inspiration, composition, drawing, value, color, paint application and edges, calling it done…not to mention getting your ‘rig’ together, discipline, human relations, negotiating with ‘clients’, dealing with ups and downs, following through on commitments…
So we take it step by step. If we can adhere to solid principles of working from life and continue to grow our understanding of the figure and the process of picture making, we can see great results in time. If you’re ever in Tryon, NC on a Wednesday night do come and join us. Thanks to the Tryon Painters And Sculptors for providing such a great space!
PS- if you would like a solid, somewhat simplified approach to human anatomy for the artist, check out Andrew Loomis’ ‘Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth’. Luckily it’s been beautifully reissued and is not expensive.