Thursday, November 22, 2007

Making FUN!

I missed the gestures in life drawing this week, and, while shaped like a Venus, the model was so persistently "vertical", she could have given David's contrapposto a run for its money!
What do you do when you get no tilts, no tension, no character, no visible energy from the figure in front of you? Well, I say look at all the people drawing around you: they hunch, they squint, they calculate, they look up and down, they dance from side to side, they move fast, think fast and are entirely alive.
So forget what you were supposed to draw, rethink the possibilities and make your own fun!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Searle's Paris

The "Paris Sketchbook" arrived on our bookshelf by airmail - as a wonderful surprise. It was intended for my husband, so, being its secondary (if illegitimate) safe-keeper, I've been marveling at its drawings after hours.
In fact, I hesitate to call them drawings because they are much more. As I see them, they are energetic notes on a thriving post-war Paris, unselfconscious personal reflections, and tiny tastes of music, poetry and romance. Above all, they are a glimpse in Ronald Searle's bright mind and a testimony of his extraordinary life.
Here are some of my favourites (on lifestyle and nightlife), with selected words by Kaye Webb, Searle's then-wife and travel companion:

" 'I THINK EVERY WIFE has a right to insist on seeing Paris', wrote Sydney Smith to Lady Grey, in 1815.
There is little doubt that his sentiments are endorsed by the ladies who can be seen throughout the spring and summer ogling the shop windows in the Faubourg St. Honoré and sitting, exhausted but still animated, on the pavement outside Café de la Paix. Their sensible English and American heads are all adorned with French hats which, on a swell of remembered gaiety, they will wear once in their native town before slipping into a hat box against the 'suitable occasion' which never comes."

"Of the endless stretch of cafes lining the Champs-Elysées we chose to record Fouquet's. Not only because it seemed to us to have the most character but because, it is said, Edith Piaf was discovered there one night as she sold violets and sang for sous."

The Lido.

"Toward morning the market grows more business-like. At dawn, buyers from houses and restaurants come to do their bargaining. By breakfast-time they are replaced by the smaller fry; the little restaurateurs, the enterprising housewives. These are followed by the tragic and the destitute. Beggars who turn over the sodden piles of refuse in search of scraps for soup. Crippled ex-servicemen offering bunches of faded parsley given to them in pity by the merchants. Hungry-looking women asking for five francs' worth of vegetables with which to make a meal. It was at this hour that I remembered that Les Halles stands where there was once a graveyard."

"The Square du Vert-Galant is on the extreme point of Île de la Cité and we chose to imagine that the ancient poplar, which is at the foot of the steps below the centre of the bridge, was a sapling in the days when the King courted here. Perhaps it even witnessed his anguish in the days after his lovely, and loving, mistress had been poisoned in a nearby cherry orchard, and had died before he could reach her."

Café des deux Magots.

"[At Club Saint-Germain-des-Prés] The dancing is the main entertainment. On the evening we visited it, the 'stars' were a lively American girl wearing no make-up, and a tall, thin, collapsible negro. These two never talked to each other and rarely smiled. When they stopped dancing to wipe their wet faces, they immediately separated."

"[The habitués of The Club du Vieux Colombier] cling to 'pure' jazz which is served up to them around midnight by an enormous negro. Bouncing every pound of his seventeen stone and streaming with perspiration, he sang brilliantly while a group of delirious female youngsters sat gazing up at him from the floor, wriggling and jerking with every beat."

"The Bal Montagne" is a dancing establishment not generally visited by tourists. Its most numerous clients appeared to be women who preferred to dance with each other. The band played perched on a platform against the ceiling, the cabaret was limited to a naïve dramatic recitation followed by a bawdy song and dance routine from a female impersonator."

"Down a side street we found a normal-looking pig complacently advertising a charcuterie.
Ronald set his stool up outside a shoemaker's. He was unseated twice by crocodiles of sight-seeing schoolgirls being hurried rapidly up to the purer atmosphere of the Sacré-Coeur, and was finally scared away altogether by the two young women in the picture, who refused to believe that his interest lay entirely in the pig."

(From the first American edition of the "Paris Sketchbook", by Ronald Searle and Kaye Webb, published by George Braziller Inc., in New York, 1958.)

If you'd like to see (a lot) more of Searle's work, please visit Matt Jones' wonderful Ronald Searle Tribute and Chris Beatles Gallery's Searle Section (and make sure to look at the rest of their amazing art!)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Young and Old

Both order food, but what different demeanor!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Extra Life

I studied Classical Animation at Sheridan College just before the recent "redevelopment" of the program. Everything was transitioning: the line-test room quickly became a computer lab, we sat through trial curricula of vacuous theory, and above all, we had "new and improved" post-produced student films to make.

Amid the novelty, one thing remained unaltered: life drawing. We had a weekly class, as well as uninstructed sessions every evening - those were called Extra Life. The term itself sounds funny now, but back then it echoed in our minds as a type of warning of the trouble coming to those who weren't especially extra. It was, as far as anyone was concerned, the measure of how much (if not always how well) one could draw.
The truth is that we were all too busy worrying about style, marks and making it on "The Wall" to enjoy the drawing itself. Very few, if any, understood that Extra Life offered not a chance to measure one student's work next to another's, but to record one's personal insights, discoveries, progress and... fun!

That was five years ago. Even if now I get most of my practice at local cafes, I accepted an old classmate's invitation to a session of life drawing. As I hurried to make it in time (just like in school), I could almost hear the old echoes resurrecting. But they were given no such chance; it turned out to be the most delightful evening, full of refreshments, upbeat Nino Rota and a wonderfully creative model.

Things were reeeeeally cooking!

Here's to Gerry, Werner, Rick and Gerard!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


'I saw a woman
who looked like an Indian
Goddess wearing Gap!'

I drew her once. Then I drew her again, quickly, to remember.
The one below is of a worn down commuter who might as well have existed 20, 50, 100 years ago.

Friday, November 9, 2007

CLARITY: Ideas before drawings!


"SONYA, will you go up and say something for us?"
"A wonderful individual..."
"But you accent all the words equally!" exclaimed Tortsov, "You cannot squander your accents recklessly! . . . Say the word: individual."
"Indi-vidual," came the crisp reply. . . .
"Now you have two accents and the word has broken down in the middle." . . .
"Individual," Sonya said with great effort.
"That is not a vocal stress but a blow on the head," was Tortsov's joking comment. "But why do you feel you must cuff your words around?". . .
"Besides, . . . when you have sliced your word 'individual' into two parts you treat the first half with disdain by almost swallowing it, and you hurl the second half at us to explode like a hand grenade. Let in be one word, one idea, one meaning. Let its composition of sounds, letters, syllables be one melodic line. . . . That line will have form, definition, wholeness and integration to it. It will be better than a piece of wire broken up into bits, scattered around separate from each other. Now try bending the phonetic line of the word 'individual' into a variety of tones."
The whole class began to hum with a confusion of sounds.
"You are doing it mechanically," interrupted Tortsov. "You are producing dry, formal, inanimate sounds, only externally connected with each other. Put some life into them."
"But how?" we asked in bewilderment.
"First of all, by giving to the word the meaning with which nature endowed it - the thought, feeling, idea, image - and not by reducing it to a simple series of sound waves striking the ear drum.
"Make a painting with the word so that the individual you are drawing, that you have in your mind's eye and are describing to the character playing opposite you, will be clear to him. He will sense whether the human being behind the word is beautiful or deformed, tall or short, agreeable or repulsive, kind or cruel." . . .
Sonya made another try but still could not meet the test.
"Your mistake lies in the fact that you first say the word and only afterwards try to understand what it means. You are not drawing from a live model. Try doing things the other way around: first call to mind someone among your acquaintances, stand him up in front of you, the way a painter would, and then tell us what you see in the retina of your inner eye." . . .


When Tortsov came into class today he said to Sonya with a laugh:
"Well, how is our 'wonderful individual' today?"
Sonya answered that the wonderful individual was very well, and as she said it she accented it perfectly.


This was an abridged section of a Chapter titled "Accentuation: The Expressive Word" from Stanislavski's "Building a Character".
Although this passage stresses the importance of clear communication within acting, I find its meaning to be equally representative of the importance of clear communication within drawing. It is directly linked to something Walt Stanchfield - another important teacher - once wrote: "One should have a goal in mind when starting a drawing. And remember, a good beginning is a sure way to a good ending. This does not mean you shouldn't settle for where those lines may lead you - you must guide them toward your goal - which is a good gesture or story point."
The key here, I think, is the great similarity between Stanislavski's phonetic lines "bent" toward a specific definition and Stanchfield's drawn lines guided toward a precise story point.

Although I seem to understand the notion of clarity in theory, I, like Sonya, have difficulty with the practical approach. Here's a drawing I did recently, done in a couple of minutes, during what felt like a rare moment of "clarity".

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


To paraphrase its creator Enrico Casarosa, SketchCrawl is simply "a day-long drawing marathon" - a sort of intense visual record-keeping of the happenings in one day.
When I was back in Toronto, seeing Enrico's painted drawings of palm trees, exotic tea gardens and hidden public staircases felt magical and foreign. And the idea of so many people invading the streets with their pens and sketchbooks kind of made me chuckle. Is there anything more paradoxical than a small army of artists?
Anyway, I'm here now and I live on a boulevard lined with palm trees, I've enjoyed the Golden Gate gardens and I've climbed up, UP, UP! the Filbert steps. Man!
Last Sunday was the sixteenth
Sketchcrawl - my third - and for me at least it was very much a crawl. So much so that I only did one drawing! But to be fair, I spent a lot of time talking to James and Pat, and hanging out with Emma and Erin.
Here's the drawing and its painted "adaptation". I did some preliminaries in Photoshop, and I painted the final in gouache, to produce VERY different results.

One, Two, Three... GO!

Oh my! You're here already!

Hi. I'm Dani. I've been trying to introduce myself to you for a few days now but I simply couldn't think of a good way to do it. (I spend most of my time drawing you see, and I happen to know very little about introductions.) I thought of starting at the very beginning and show you some of the scribbles I was doing at the age of six; mostly princesses and the occasional bear. Perhaps you'd like to see a little later? I also considered telling you all about my drawing heritage and how I came here from Bulgaria, through Canada, and how that changed everything. But we don't know each other that well, so this too I'll save for another time.
I even read about the etiquette of introductions, which by the way was very, very complicated in the 1920s, if rather obsolete today.
Nothing would quite do.

Except that now you're here and just like that, we've met!
And I've been saving something to show you!
I hope you like it.