When I was in college, I had the opportunity to take some classes at the Art Center in Pasadena, one of the top art and design schools in the nation. My college had an association with the school which allowed me to sign up for classes there.
The art center is a fascinating place, especially during irregular hours. It never closes; someone always seems to be there. I'm thinking there has never been a time when the building has been completely locked up; there's always a student working on a project to come open the door for you.
The building is set over a ravine and surrounded by foliage in the hills above Los Angeles. The scent of dirt and dry leaves, mixed with the faint chemical smell of spray mount, greets you when you walk into the building. The halls are stark white, wide, paved in slick concrete, and lined with floor to ceiling windows crisscrossed with industrial black metal beams. In spite of the windows and large spaces, an unnatural light fills the building. The hollow commotion and the sleep-deprived faces looking down at the footsteps of the person in front of them makes the building feel like a tomb. The students awkwardly carry over-sized portfolios, trying not to whack each other with them as they round the corners. The huge metal staircases send eerie footsteps reverberating through the space. Along the walls are life-sized outlines of concept vehicles, made with black shiny tape. Occasionally some color intrudes in the form of illustrations awkwardly stuck on the wall from a nearby class.
I took a figure drawing class there on Saturdays. The class was long; it took up half of the day. It was intense. I never knew, before taking that class, how much practice it takes to accurately capture the motion and form of the human figure. It's a skill that if you don't keep practicing and spend a serious amount of time developing your talent, you will lose it. I've lost it--it's been 12 years--way too long.
The class was held in a cavernously large bottom story room. The exposed metal beams and vents above faded into the shadows. Below were seats scattered about, each small bench attached to an easel, surrounding a well-lit platform. New age music floated in the background. Our model would come in, disrobe, strike a pose, and our instructor would yell "Go!" She gave us a minute to catch the angles and motion of the figure. At the end of the minute, she would declare "new pose," and the model would shift. The students would fling the current sheet on the newspaper-sized pad of paper over the top of the easel, revealing the next page to start another minute drill.
After half an hour or so of minute drills, we would move on to 5 minute poses. Then 10 minute poses. Break for lunch. Then we would return to do longer, more detailed poses. At the end of the class we would have long poses to practice special techniques, like incorporating color and water into the bones of the drawing.
I learned a great appreciation for the human body from this class. I have a lot of respect for it's imperfections.
Toward the end of the course, our instructor took the time to speak with each of us individually, to critique our portfolios and offer advice. She and I sat together and looked over my drawings and the other paintings and prints I had at the time. It was a hodgepodge of random art projects.
I still remember what she told me--mostly because it had absolutely nothing to do with figure drawing, and had a lot of applications to life in general. She said that Michelangelo created his masterpieces by chipping away any piece of the stone in front of him that didn't belong.
I've been chipping away, trying to find what's essential and what's expendable in my endeavors ever since, in art and in life.
I am happy to report that Moose Tracks and Rocky Road have made the cut.
It should also be noted that there will be no nude figure drawings of my firefighter. He doesn't have the balls. Hahahahah. Hehehe. Ho. (Okay, I'm done now.)