Attempted-Art Therapy

A crazy couple of days/night here.  I may not have mentioned that a close family member is going through chemotherapy right now, and I am helping to care for her. 

It is a brutal course of treatment.  I suspect that years from now, current cancer treatments will be viewed like wound care pre-antibiotics.  (I.e. back when amputations were your best bet.)

Even being a witness is quite painful.

Which brings me to the benefits of art!  Of course, simple distraction can sometimes help with stress. Online shopping, word games, scrolling, can certainly use up time one might otherwise devote to worry. But there is nothing like art for true relief.

The word “art”includes all types! The appreciation as well as the making!

But, for purposes of this post, I write of the simple therapy of attempting to make art. Attempting to make art within the structure of a class, which can be a special balm, simply because you have a specific time for it, and can’t give in to procrastination (as in, online shopping, word games, scrolling.)

For me, my zoom drawing classes with Peter Hristoff (of School of Visual Arts) are particularly wonderful, as (i) Peter has an encouraging, thoughtful, and yet, “let’s get on with it, shall we?” presence, and (ii) no one can see what you are doing!

The class I am taking right now is the Vigorous Figure. Peter arranges for the class to have one or two wonderful models, who typically adopt one-minute (or shorter) poses.  Peter and the models are separate from each other but are used to working together, and Peter suggests various moods, positions, tropes, and sometimes, props. (In the case of the class below, the props were a couple of large palm leaves.)

The speed of the class is both difficult for someone like me (who is extremely unskilled), but also reassuring.  (In the sense that when I later look at my garbled drawings, I can always say that I only had a minute to do them in.)

I use an iPhone for the class, which is obviously sort of weird for figure drawing, but I have the kind of poor vision that works better super close.  And the phone is somehow important here. Any Zoom experience is surreal. One can’t help but be aware that each participant has their own, individual life on the other side of their little screen–their own drama or tedium–their own background, both physically and metaphorically. This sense of other’s lives is particularly strange when experienced through the little postage windows that the iPhone makes.  

Part of the wonder of it is an awareness that all the little postage stamp windows are focused for a couple of hours on Peter’s voice and the model’s vigorous figure.

I was extremely tired last week, but I tried to use that tiredness to my advantage. First, to really look at the pdfs of other students’ work that Peter highlighted. Honestly, this is the type of thing that, in the time squeezes of modern life, can sometimes make me fidgety, but I let myself really look, and appreciate, the different styles, materials and approaches.  It was inspiring and freeing.

Then, we got to doing our own drawings, and I tried, because I was so tired, to absolutely let go of results. This was not so difficult as, given my low skill level, I am very clear that I am taking the class to learn, and have no expectation of “keeper” drawings.

And one thing I decided I was interested in learning last week was not to look at my drawings as I drew, but rather to focus on the model. To keep my eye on the ball, as it were. (Sorry, male model!)   I mean this in the sense of the baseball player, who looks at the pitch rather than the bat. Or like a touch typist, a pianist reading music–it is so helpful in these activities not to look at your hands.

Admittedly this meant that some of my figures were quite awkward, often started in places where the whole body could not be fit on my paper. In that case, I just drew the legs separately, or made my figure kneel!  (I sometimes tried to tell myself how much I love Greek sculpture fragments.)

As the class went on, I changed materials, going from pencil (whose precision always makes me feel naked) to charcoal to thick charcoal. And that was great as the darker, less precise implement allowed me to be more gestural as Peter also sped up.

Of course, even in the focus of the class, I could not be heedless of the family member we are trying to look out for. Nor would I want to be. 

But in the same way that one realizes in just drawing what one sees, how perspective works—how, for example, a hand held straight in front of a model is drawn differently when you draw what you actually see rather than what you think you know–so, personal space opened.

That last bit is confusing, sorry! What I mean is that when you sketch a figure model in the complex postures Peter encourages, and speedily, you realize you are best drawing the shapes as you see them–the big hand in front, no forearm visible, perhaps a partial round of shoulder, nose.

In contrast, my normal, non-looking, way of drawing would be to try to depict everything I think is there. But drawing what you think you know, rather than what you actually see, can make perspective impossible. 

You cannot draw an outstretched hand, for example, unless you see, and give physical importance to, that outstretched hand.

So, below attempts at figures, perspective, space.  Sorry for the length of this post and the many klutzy drawings! (I am hoping to encourage others to try!) Have a good week! 

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5 Comments on “Attempted-Art Therapy”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Hello Karin, thank you for caring for Theo. I miss her so much, and am relieved to know her family is with her. Though, it is exhausting. Cry yourself to sleep exhausting, I know. . . However, I enjoy your drawings. Keep posting, it is encouraging ! XXOO Nancy

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Dear Nancy, thank you for your kind message. Of course, I wish Theo were well, but it is a gift to be able to take care of her. I know she misses you too; you guys had a lot of fun together. Thank you and stay well. K. (PS – I love seeing all your pics too!!)

  2. Helen Dehner Says:

    Art in all its myriad forms provides the perfect respite from overwhelming responsibility. I came to realize this as I cared for my mother the last five years of her life. Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body dementia. Take care Karin.

  3. M Says:

    these remind me of Matisse, and your piano room is somehow Tahiti, because we make do with what we have, yes? and with your art and presence, you give her the gift of days, of sunrise ~


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