Dropped into a studio to do a bit of drawing to “keep my hand in”, late last week. It meant a lovely early evening out there after a full day’s work, enjoying the low sun and warm sky.

The drawing was fun, with a reasonably good model present. I decided at some point to listen to some Hendrix blues pieces on my headphones, and things went really well – maybe partly as a result. At the left is a sketch* that lasted a little over 20 minutes (was supposed to be 25 but, oddly, the model got confused about the time and decided to get up and hunt for her alarm clock.). [Update: See earlier posts, e.g., here, for more discussion of such figure drawing.]

I think it was my best effort of the evening. It’s rough and unfinished, but I like it. My approach seems to have been a lot affected by the kind of strokes I was doing a lot earlier in the day during some inking work with pens, on The Project.


*Copyright Clifford V. Johnson, 2011.

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23 Responses to Figure

  1. Yvette says:

    Lovely- I’m always jealous of people who can draw as I apparently never progressed beyond an average 8-year-old’s ability- annoying for when I TA and need to draw something.

    Hope all is well. 🙂

  2. Clifford says:

    Hi Yvette!


    I bet that, like most people who claim they can’t draw, you can draw pretty well, either immediately or after a short time of trying the right things. Yeah, perhaps it is annoying that I say that, but I am a firm believer (and have seen lots of evidence in support of the belief) that this is one of the many learn-able and enhanceable skills that people let themselves be classified as good at or not good at early on and then never look back. (Yes, like “being good at science”, which you happen to be, parenthetically…) It’s one of those culturally reinforced things that is kind of self-supporting… The first step to breaking out of all this is to ask yourself… Who is setting the standard as to what a “good drawing” is, anyway? Then grab a pencil or pen, relax, and just let yourself go… yes, not everything will turn out the way you want it first go, but a bit repetition and practice can take you a long way to a very satisfying and immediate form of expression.

    Mere natural talent is way overrated.


  3. Yvette says:

    “Mere natural talent is way overrated.”

    Oh certainly, I read an article that said the only difference between a good artist and a bad one is a few thousand drawings, which i agree. It’s like how no one is born knowing how to do algebra right? 😉

    To explain in more detail, if I sit around and decide to, say, draw a logo or chair in front of me because I’m bored, it will come out looking similar enough to what the intended object is. The issue more I guess is I’m not a really creative draw-er because if you tell me to draw, say, a castle I will draw the same rectangle-with-two-turrets a little kid draws, and the same applies for a dog or alien or what have you. I just cannot be creative with a pen and a blank piece of paper, and heaven help me if the task were to draw something and then rotate it ninety degrees…

    I mean I’m a rather artsy individual, I do some neat stuff with a camera and in needlepoint if I may say so, and “kept at” art classes until 10th grade in high school even though I didn’t do well in it because those blank canvases would throw me. It’s just not a medium I find myself capable of creating in, right down to the point where I assure you no pulley system I’ve ever drawn for my students looks capable of working!

  4. Elliot says:

    “On the night I was born… well the moon turned a fire red”….

    Hendrix blues is unbelievably good.


  5. Clifford says:

    Hey Elliot! Wow, two of my old commenter friends in the same day on the same post… Gosh, I’m very lucky.

    And, in reply:

    “Wait a minute, something’s wrong.
    The key wont unlock the door.” …


  6. Clifford says:

    Yvette: – Ok…fair enough, but note two things:

    (1) Remember the 8-year old and the little kid you referred to in your comments, as reference to the standard you’re at? Well, there’s nothing wrong with their drawing… It has a lot of expression in it… often more than what one sees in work from people older… struggling to get stuff “right” can sometimes miss the capturing of what you see or feel in an object. It need not always matter if it is not photo-realistic.

    (2) I bet if you can practice rotating a cube through a few different angles, you’ll be much further along than you think. Much of what a lot of people do when sketching is break things up into simple shapes like cubes and balls and cylinders. Stare at the figure above and see the four balls, four cylinders, and maybe a stretched cube or two holding it all together. Much of the trick in drawing (at least, one approach) is just seeing those shapes in the most complicated of figures. With practice, and the right mood, they’ll just pop out at you and all you’re doing is just blocking in simple elementary shapes. (Also, if you look closely at the head in the figure I did in this post, you’ll see that it started out as a cube.) Next time I see you, we’ll sit and fiddle with pen and paper if you like, and I’ll show you what I mean.



  7. Mary Cole says:

    The idea of not being artistic (or rather being persuaded of being lacking in artistic talent) applies to music too. I despair when I hear people say they are not musical at all as this statement is usually then accompanied by the person saying that they were told they couldn’t sing at school! Talking of music Clifford, I like your choice of listening material to draw to.

  8. Elliot says:

    I remember having an art project in first or second grade. It was to draw a face. I drew an extremely small face on the paper. My teacher came and said I need to draw “bigger” then proceeded to take my tiny face and turn it into the eye of a much larger face on the page which she drew.

    Then she said “There. That’s what it should look like.” (paraphrasing)

    For the most part, all my visual artistic endeavors lean towards the abstract and non-representational.


  9. robert says:

    Jimi’s blues – I remember listening to ‘Red House’ as a spotty teenager with my father (a classical buff and far more musical than myself) idling in the background. I was only too aware that this was not his ‘bag’, and feared he might also be taken aback by ‘maybe her sister will’. But no – ‘the first chorus could have been Louis Armstrong, the second could not, rather more of Miles Davis to it’ I was totally blown away. As was he, I like to think.

  10. anonymous says:

    are you really a ‘good’ theoretical physicist? when do you do science? and why don’t you write about it? sorry if this offends you, but i find it hard to believe you can do so much else but still be a ‘good’ theoretical physicist…

  11. Yvette says:

    Clifford, it’s date! See you in Amsterdam- and you know me, I’ll hold you to it. 😛

  12. Clifford says:

    Hi anonymous.

    (1) I write about what I wish to write about, when it suits me, and on nobody else’s schedule.

    (2) I simply don’t care what you think about whether I’m a “good” theoretical physicist or not.

    (3) The fact that you would think that I care, so as to write such an idiotic and rude comment is rather comical to me. You seem to be upset that I don’t fit the tedious stereotype of having no other life than physics. That’s both hilarious and pathetic… (as is the fact that you don’t even have the balls to even give a real (or lamely faked) name…)

    (4) If it bothers you that much, go away. I’m not forcing you to read what I write, nor do I work for you. In short, deal with it, or go elsewhere.



  13. Clifford says:

    Hurrah! Meaningful contributions: –

    Hi Mary – yes, music is another good example indeed.

    Hi Elliot – well, her “bigger” advice was good, but yes, the “should look like” part was probably less than helpful…

    Hi Robert – yes, Red House was one of my favourites for a long time, along with Hear My Train A’ Comin’…

    Hi Yvette! Ok, it’s on!!


  14. Elliot says:

    I wonder how Richard Feynmann was able to squeeze some physics in, since he was busy both as an artist and playing the bongo drums.

  15. Clifford says:

    You know, Elliot, I guess a better reply to the lame comment could have been:

    “No, I’m not a ‘good’ theoretical physicist, I’m one of those ‘evil’ theoretical physicists.”

    Drat. Missed that.


  16. Elliot says:

    Hey with all the dark matter and dark energy, being an ‘evil’ theoretical physicist could be the way to go.


  17. Claver says:

    Wow! And wow. I feel inspired to draw!

    But, is that the South American continent she’s cavorting with? 🙂

  18. Claver says:

    There is a joke somewhere (Phd Comics?)… with reference to ‘tangents on curves’. Seems something is afoot!

  19. robert says:

    This post keeps ‘drawing’ me back. I did life classes years ago, sketching away in the company of assorted bohemians (and one or two other undercover boffins) The nude is such an unforgiving subject; even Botticelli was hard pressed to keep all Venus’ limbs in the right places. In the end I took to still life and stuffed stoats and wiled away many a happy evening. As for the anonymous input – I can’t drive away the image of a then razor-sharp Michael Jackson demanding to know ‘Who’s Bad?’.

  20. Elliot says:

    If it’s South America, she is probably “Chile”.


  21. Clifford says:

    Hi robert, Claver…

    I’d say the nude as a subject can be endlessly rewarding, as opposed to unforgiving. Capturing the human form just presents endless challenges, and so it is quite marvellous. I found it was helpful to lock oneself away with some good anatomy books for a while and study the major bones and muscle groups…You’re not going to remember all of it, but that’s ok. It is just good to know what mechanisms are going on under there to create all those different forms… Then you can sort of forget about all of it and simply enjoy the challenges. Then it feeds into all forms of other drawing you do, so it’s a reward in that way too. As I said in the post “nude”:

    There is something about the human form that is just perfect for developing certain skills. For a start, it is very familiar -everybody can recognize the human form, given that they see them all the time- and also, it can be twisted and turns into so very many forms, each with a world of meaning. What greater challenge is there to the skill of visual representation and interpretation than such a form with those two key attributes?


  22. robert says:

    Thanks for that Clifford; so much more inspirational than the chap who pointed me towards the stoats way back – not that there is anything amiss with a mustelid as a model.