Friday, January 13, 2012

The Cast

If you really want an exercise in patience, determination and skill, then do a cast drawing or painting.  As far as academic drawing goes, the cast is meant to test your ability to see - to see light and shadows and their relationship to form.  The problem with my university-based education in art is that we did the classic exercise of drawing a sphere, and that was it.  After the sphere, I guess we were just expected to understand light and shadows, and depict those elements flawlessly in the rest of our work from that point on.

Torso of Satyr

Take this drawing above, for instance.  This is the third time I've drawn this sculpture.  It is obviously a sculpture of a male torso (actually, a torso of a male satyr), which can be found at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art.  I frequently go there to do some sketching, and this is one of my favorite sculptures to sketch.  What makes it so appealing to me is that I am always seeing something new and different with it.  I've also found that my drawing of this torso has improved each time.  It looks pretty good here, but if you were to look at the actual sculpture and compare it to my drawing, it doesn't look that impressive.  The shadows, angles, and proportions are not perfect by any means.  But it is so much better than my first attempt almost a year ago, which I drew from a different angle:

Torso of Satyr

And... this is the problem with a liberal arts education in art.  In college, this sketch is probably as good as it would get.  It would have been a single exercise, never to be revisited again.  And this is why I would discourage anyone from getting an education in art at a typical liberal arts university if you are truly serious about learning the discipline of drawing and painting, and becoming a master of it... but that's another blog for another time. 
The work I do today is the result of self-teaching, reading lots of books, studying the techniques of the old master artists, and working to evolve in my ability to draw and paint.  Not that I have perfected anything... I am certainly still learning.  This is the beauty of being an artist - constantly learning new things and improving in skill (provided you keep working).  A prayer of Michelangelo was "Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish."  This is a profound sentiment, because it actually petitions God to allow us to remain imperfect.  And to embrace that imperfection so that we may continue to want, but that we work toward what we want.  It is too easy to ask God that we may be the best at what we do.  It is much more fulfilling to work toward becoming the best, and then thank God for the opportunity to become it.
I finally did my first cast painting, and it goes without saying I am not completely satisfied with the outcome of my effort, but it was a good exercise and experience.  I had it partially completed last week, and when I came to a stopping point and cleaned up, I walked away from it disappointed.  There was a certain angle that was off, and I knew it was too late to correct it.  Usually, my inclination when this happens is to scrap the painting altogether and start over.  But I decided to keep it and continue working on it with the hope of finishing it as best as I could.  Now that it is finished, the error in the rendering is still hanging over my head, but it will serve as a reminder to pace myself and to be certain that everything is accurate before moving on to the next step - whether in a drawing or a painting.  As I said, patience is one of the many things in which cast drawings and paintings test you.  But the work of being an artist must go on, and hopefully with each failure, and new lesson learned, the task will become slightly less daunting.
Cast painting
oil on canvas
20x16 inches


  1. Are you getting instruction somewhere? or are you doing it the hard way and teaching yourself?

    (I suppose I should read the blog and find out...)

    These days there are quite a lot of good schools in the US teaching classical realist techniques. Not so many in Europe.

    I know there is no way I could have made the progress I have without this sort of instruction.

    1. I attended a liberal arts university and majored in studio art... which was just about as unfulfilling as it sounds in terms of getting a satisfactory art education. But that's all the formal education I got, and I graduated in 2004. So everything you see on this blog has been the result of reading the classical drawing and painting texts (Aristides, namely), watching videos, sketching at the museum, among other things to learn the discipline of classical realist drawing and painting (which is what I didn't get in college).
      I would love to attend a real art academy, if money weren't an issue. But I know of at least a couple of very prestigious academies in Florence. Angel Academy of Art and Florence Academy of Art to name a couple. Angel Academy is my dream-come-true school. They have 3 really excellent videos on Youtube that show the process of their curriculum. It looks so unbelievably difficult, but so rewarding. Again, if only money were not an issue.