Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Curbside Offerings and Loosening Up

Driving down Highway 70 a few miles from my road late this afternoon, we passed an astonishing sight:  a row of rather formal cloth-draped Queen Anne-looking dining room chairs standing on the grass at the curb in front of a strip mall.  I whipped my head around long enough to note the dingy, flower-printed cloth, the ruffly skirt part, and the almost-human shoulders on the chairs.  There was no place to turn around and go back, and worst luck, I had forgotten my sketchbook at my friend's house.

As soon as we got home, I found a sketchbook with some empty pages, and  I drew from memory the chair shown above.  Memory drawing is not my forte, never has been.  I always draw what I see.  I have a rule engraved in my head from my first drawing class in college that says "Drawing is Seeing.  To draw well you have to look."  And yet, one of the best and most interesting figure drawing artists that I know is my friend Loy who always draws without referring to a model.  If she can't figure out how to draw a hand, for example, she closes her eyes and puts her own hand in the position she wants to draw, and the way she feels tells her how to draw.  My husband can draw machines and cars and planes completely from memory.  My friend Pat barely glances at something or someone and draws wonderful interpretive drawings in seconds on her iPad
So I cautiously let go of the rule-- a temporary suspension, I told myself-- and ventured into the scary unknown of drawing from memory.  All the chairs I had seen had been facing front, but I wanted to explore what the backs might look like, so I tried the drawing on the left.  Then I got a little crazy and drew the row of chairs, and they reminded me of Victorian ladies sitting in a row.  I added the grass and the curbing.

And then I couldn't stand not knowing how the chairs really looked.  So I drove back to the place of the chairs.  They were gone from the curb, but the little second-hand furniture store in the strip mall was still open, and I could see the chairs just inside the door.  I went in and drew the second chair from the left above.  I was surprised at how different the chairs really looked from my memory of them.  But the feeling and life of the chairs that I had drawn from memory actually seemed more expressive to me than the carefully drawn one.  A woman came up to me as I was sketching and started telling me the price and showed me the rose velvet upholstery underneath the soiled cream-colored covers.  I slid my sketchbook into my bag and talked to her and got interested in some of the other chairs she had on display.  She was just closing, so I left.  When I got home I had only one sketch of one of the real chairs, so I dared to drew in the other five chairs from memory and with reference to the one I had drawn in the store.

Most interesting to me was my observation that I felt like I was somehow cheating when I drew from memory.  Time to start playing around with different kinds of reality.

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