Life drawing helps you prepare for taking exams. Right… Ok. Of couuurse, it does, Soph. Before you cast your doubts, just let me entertain this hope for one moment, and hear me out.
I’m not a great essay-writer at the best of times. I just get stuck in a web of definitions I’ve spun myself into. I study Psychology – well, PBS – with some Anthropology on the side. Neither are subjects well known for their precise definitions. I also struggle to make my essays coherent unless I’ve spent ages planning them and thinking them over - which, given the busy schedule of procrastination I maintain, is hard to find time for. Exams are even worse: I just falter. I just can’t. I just can’t start. I don’t know where to begin. And I panic. And there’s no time for that. I can’t start again, can’t stop and start the clock when I want. I can’t go and have an Aztec-spiced Choco tea (my new favourite thing) and come back to write the essay. The clock is ticking, unforgivingly.
It’s actually quite like doing a painting during the holidays compared to sketching in life drawing. Yes, I know, that is a very artistic comparison to make, and quite a far leap. Yes, I know, artistic activities – for me at least – are clearly more interesting, more enjoyable and easier than writing an essay. And I’ve only been to about four proper life-drawing classes in my entire life (not doing Art A-Level is still, clearly, a huge regret for me). Still, bear with me.
When I’m doing a painting, I plan it meticulously before, to get to know my object of study. For example, last summer I painted a tiger. Before even putting paintbrush to canvas, I spent ten hours sketching the photo of the tiger, getting to know the contours on its face, the black outlines of its eyes, its white fluffy chin. Then I planned it out on the canvas. I laid out the colours I want to use, and spend ages mixing them until they were just the right shades. I built the painting up slowly and painted every hair and every whisker in fine detail, even cutting my paintbrush so it was small enough. After four days, I was happy with the result (I could have even spent another couple of days, but I was heading to a music festival – classic me). My point is that it was finished when I said it was. There was no one rushing me. I could plan as much as I liked. I could have as many cups of tea and packets of biscuits as I liked, and think the painting over as much as I wanted.
Image Credit: The Old Man with the Hat, Sophie Buck
Life drawing isn’t like that. The model poses. 10 minutes. 15 or 20 if you’re lucky. Everyone around you is sketching, rapidly, forming incredible images on the page. Before your hand even begins to move, bodies are born. Arms, legs, shoulders, lit by the light. All of the sketches are different. One man uses inks and wax resist on A2 pieces of paper laid out on the floor. Another uses charcoal and pen in an adorned A4 notebook. Some draw the whole form of the model. Some even add in parts of the scene – the table, the wall. One woman focuses on just the mysterious eyes of the model. Before you know it, the pose is over. Everyone has something incredible to show for the time. But your page is blank.
There isn’t time to spend ages analysing and planning. You just have to begin. It doesn’t have to be perfect, nor ‘finished’. It just has to be recognisable as what you’re trying to represent, to say a key point, and to reflect your style. Those who see is know you did it under timed conditions, so they aren’t expecting it to be perfect, only an insight into what you can do. Sounds a bit like an essay in exam conditions, right?
Over the course of the two-hour life-drawing session you improve at starting, working quickly and forming a recognisable image on the page. I still have a lot to learn, and a lot better to get. Even so, even during one life-drawing class I felt I’d improved. I always thought quick sketching wasn’t for me, because my style involved more careful planning, and sketching under timed conditions was too stressful. Still, compare two sketches I’ve done in the last year. One I spent 5 hours on, the other I spent 15 minutes on (‘the old man with the hat’, and ‘the broken human’, respectively). The former is definitely not 20x better than the latter; they’re different, with different strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it’s good to see what we can do under pressure; and what we achieve, given the time constraints, can actually be quite impressive.
Image Credit: The Broken Human, Sophie Buck
In essence, by dismissing life drawing as something I couldn’t do, I was saying that I couldn’t do written exams either. I do recognise that drawing is different to writing, in that, unlike with writing, when drawing you can go over areas, rub things out and build things up, a style I’m definitely more suited to. Moreover, through various poses in a life-drawing session, you get multiple chances as such ‘essay-writing’. Still, the comparison is important to make.
Having tried out life drawing, I’ve realised how fun and exciting it is, and how much I can improve even over an hour or two. I’m still dreading exams, but at least now I’ve found a way to both de-stress and ‘prepare’ for exams (at least that’s what I’m telling myself). Sadly, Arcsoc no longer runs life-drawing sessions though so I’ll have to go elsewhere. Even if this new procrastination/preparation idea doesn’t work, at least I’ll be better at sketching by the end of it. So, struggling with writing under timed conditions? Try life drawing.
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Calvin & Hobbes on artist statements. Cartoon by Bill Watterson, July 15, 1995
“Hey, that was a good artist statement!”
It’s a sentiment you don’t hear very often, and yet it’s what we found ourselves saying after reading the statements below. Artist statements don’t have to be a source of fear (for the writer) and boredom (for the reader)! See a few examples of strong artist statements below, and below that, a discussion of what makes them good.
Andy Yoder, sculptor: “Many people take great comfort in the bathroom towels being the same color as the soap, toilet paper, and tiles. It means there is a connection between them, and an environment of order. Home is a place not only of comfort, but of control. This sense of order, in whatever form it takes, acts as a shield against the unpredictability and lurking chaos of the outside world.
My work is an examination of the different forms this shield takes, and the thinking that lies behind it. I use domestic objects as the common denominators of our personal environment. Altering them is a way of questioning the attitudes, fears and unwritten rules which have formed that environment and our behavior within it.”
Nancy McIntyre, silk screen artist: “I like it when a place has been around long enough that there is a kind of tension between the way it was originally designed to look and the way it looks now, as well as a tension between the way it looks to whoever is caring for it and the way it looks to me. Trouble is, the kinds of places I find most appealing keep getting closed or torn down.
What do I want to say with my art?
Celebrate the human, the marks people make on the world. Treasure the local, the small-scale, the eccentric, the ordinary: whatever is made out of caring. Respect what people have built for themselves. Find the beauty in some battered old porch or cluttered, human-scale storefront, while it still stands.”
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Dawn Benedetto, jeweler: “Poppi is my fun and clever alter ego. It’s a line of jewelry that doesn’t take life too seriously. The glass and sterling rings are my invention and are unique in that they stretch to fit most everyone. Poppi adds a splash of color to jeans or an extra spark to ignite a little black dress; heck, it’ll even brighten up a trip to the grocery store.
If nothing else, it’s a statement. Poppi laughs. Poppi flirts. Poppi screams. Poppi says it all without you saying a thing.”
Diana Chamberlain, ceramicist: “I work in porcelain for its suppleness, delicacy and strength. Porcelain’s willingness to be transformed, both in form and texture, makes it a perfect medium for exploring the iconic meaning of dress and the concept of shelter.”
Margaret Cerutti, painter: “Capturing the light is everything! As a plein air painter, it is always the light that I remember most about any location. It is my inspiration.
Its elusive quality can transform a figure or a landscape in just a matter of seconds. I strive to convey that sense of place by capturing its fleeting magic.”
Alison Sigethy, glass artist: “Getting outside is good for the soul. Through my artwork, I try to bring the outside in. While I make no attempt to portray actual plants or animals, I do want my creations to look like they could have lived or grown somewhere. Living with beautiful objects that pay tribute to the natural world reminds us to slow down and helps us reconnect with nature.”
Charlene Fuhrman-Schulz, sumi-é artist: “My subject matter is nature, whether it is a traditional landscape or a bird and flower painting. I use traditional materials, ink and brush on rice paper, to capture movement and life — making the brush dance and the ink sing. Everything is captured in the spontaneous dance and movement of the brush as it meets the rice paper. There is no going back and correcting when painting with ink and rice paper.”
Pete McCutchen, photographer: “I decontextualize. Then, I reconstruct.
Looking past the obvious, close observation and engagement of the subject is my process. The challenge is to see beyond the distraction of the conspicuous to capture its unique self. Some of my subjects are quite beautiful, others less so. My goal is to inspire those who see my work to look more carefully at the world around them, to discover beauty in unusual places.”
So what makes these artist statements work?
What these artist statements do
- keep it short
- grab the reader’s interest with the first sentence
- introduce the author’s personality and enthusiasm
- give a hint about the why of the artwork
- use the first person (I, me, mine — this is not a strict rule, but it does seem to help the author write a more straightforward, readable statement)
What these artist statements don’t do
- summarize the resume found elsewhere on the website
- give a physical description of artwork photographed elsewhere on the website
- sound generic
- use “art speak”
Some questions to think about when writing your statement
- What keeps you coming back to the studio, day after day?
- What’s the best way someone has responded to your artwork (comment in a guest book, at an exhibit, etc.)
- What questions are you asked most frequently about your work?
- What’s your artist story? (as opposed to your biography and CV)
- Who is your art for?
Telling your story, and your artwork’s story, increases its value. Here are some other blog posts you might be interested in: