Every time I set myself up to paint a live performance I am hit by last minute nerves. I cover the floor in plastic sheeting, lay out my paints and brushes, clip the battery lights to my easel, and then, as I wait for the night to begin, I want to run away. I never know if I'll be able to do anything, let alone do it well. And it's all so darned public.
After the first effort, which often misfires, I usually forget to worry and just get on with it. I have to work quickly to get the basic shapes and movement, but the time seems to pass really slowly. I find myself watching things appear on the paper or canvas. I am drawing with paint. I try to capture the essence of whatever catches my attention and work on it until something else comes up, which is when I start another. The faster I work the less I think and censor what is happening. In some ways it's much easier than working slowly with a static scene, when there's too much time to second-guess and 'fix' the picture.
I am often asked how long paintings take, as if the length of time is a reflection on its value or quality. I can only say that each one takes me all my life. I have studied nude models in life classes, sketching people and making studies for years to be able to do what I do. Not many artists would even attempt this way of working. I often ask myself why I find it so fascinating!
After the event I just want to pack up and go home and let the paintings dry. I haven't really seen the pictures as I paint them; there is no time to focus on them individually. Next morning they always surprise me. Colours are distorted by the artificial lights, and also by my limited palette.
I just sit and look at them for a while, until I see what they need. I sort them into three piles; one to throw away, one to work on a little and one that needs a lot of adjusting. Some get overworked or just messed up while I'm working on them. Some just sing right from the start.
All I know is that I like to work with figures in motion, usually dancers and jazz musicians. The paintings seem to come from a deep and connected place that I cannot access in any other way.
To see the rest of the collection 'Quintessence by Renzo Spiteri" please click HERE
Please leave your comments below - I'd really like to hear what you think of these paintings.
The only way I can paint or draw really quickly and accurately at live events is to have complete confidence in my knowledge of the human form and how it moves. My years of studying in life classes have given me a solid feeling for anatomy and a connection to the way we humans fill space. I love working with models, male and female. Human beings are all beautiful, miraculous and unique. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time studying someone’s unique body shape and simply be allowed to stare at them without embarrassment or misinterpretation.
For the last year or so I have been working on a collection of drawings and paintings called ‘Fifty Shades of Grey Nudes’. To see the works so far please visit my Fifty Shades of Grey Nudes site. Here are some of the latest works, which have not been added to the website yet. I would like to exhibit them to coincide with the premier of the film in Malta, but we’ll see what happens.
I love to draw with paint at live events, dance and music performances. I usually use acrylic paint on dark backgrounds at night time events. Sometimes I will use pastels or ink.
It takes a huge amount of focus and energy, but the buzz I get from it is, I have realised, addictive.
Looking through my old sketchbooks the other day I found pages and pages of tiny moving figures, and I remembered doing them over 40 years ago. I was working on a college project at the time which featured clowns in strange positions. I had to draw them without models because the poses were impossible, but I wanted the contortions to look as realistic as I could. I had the brainwave of drawing footballers on the TV. This proved to be a fantastic training for drawing moving figures . I learned to capture a mental snapshot and then draw as quickly as possible before the image faded..
I have filled the pages of many books with quick sketches of people ever since.
People usually spend much more time looking at their pencil/pen than the subject. In effect they are always drawing from memory. They get so fascinated with their hand drawing they forget to look properly at the subject at all. One of the exercises I give to my students is to use ‘blind contour drawing’. They have to cover their hand so that they can’t see what it is doing, and draw a three dimensional subject as carefully as they can. At first this feels unbearable, and seems impossible. Even the crazy abstract lines that happen at first have a strange beauty about them though. They are lines of pure seeing – total connection between the eye and hand. The brain can’t interfere and process anything. This is what we are ultimately aiming for in our drawings- pure honest lines that describe what we are seeing.
My exhibition opens on the 7th May and everything is ALMOST ready.... Last minute hiccups apart, it will be All Right On The Night. If you are able to, please come to the official launch on Wednesday evening (see details in my previous Blog below). Or pop in and see me one evening, as I will be there with the paintings almost every evening from 5 - 9.30pm. Contact me HERE if you want to make sure I'll be there.....
But now, back to Drawing!!
Many people are so hooked on the outcome of their drawings that they seem to stop themselves enjoying the actual practice of it. In normal ‘left-brained’ life this is usual; we don’t want to do things that seem to be wasting our time. But it is rather like expecting to run a marathon after the first week in the gym..... drawing well takes practice and discipline.
Tearing up and throwing away the ‘not good enough’ attempts in sheer frustration is understandable of course, but a shift in attitude is much more beneficial all round. By taking a more philosophical approach and keeping in mind that the journey is more important than the destination, much of the pressure can be released.
Ask yourself why you want to draw – it’s understandable that we want other people to look at our pictures and admire our efforts, but maybe we should ask why that is so important? I wonder if, because children’s drawings are so often treated with amusement and even criticism, we harbour a deep need for our work to be accepted and approved? Maybe, because our childish efforts at self-expression were so dismissed, we attach huge importance to our adult attempts and can be crushed by criticism all over again.
By loosening up your approach you will find that what are called ‘happy accidents’ – a surprise result that seems to happen all on its own – will be far more likely and really exciting when they do. We humans seem to learn much more from making mistakes than by repeating our small successes hoping to improve, so make BIG mistakes!! Make glorious, over-the-hill disasters and really learn what your materials and tools can or cannot do..... and what have you lost? A piece of paper! What have you gained? Experience, knowledge, an hour or two of absorbing fun, and a lot of ideas to use next time!
Your NEXT drawing is ALWAYS going to be better...... and the next one, and the next one......
After all the left and right brain theory about the opposing effects of logic and creativity (see my last blog post) have gone over your head :-), here is what I have concluded; that drawing is actually better if you can do it using no brain at all!!
This takes a bit of practice, because the only way to draw without processing is to have complete confidence in your technique and total disregard for the end result. It’s only paper, after all.
When I was at college I wanted to draw figures in contorted positions as part of a project I was doing. It was to be a mobile hanging and I needed them to have their arms and legs arranged so that I could cut out the figures and then hook them onto each other. My friends weren’t that accommodating (or flexible) ...... I came up with the idea of drawing moving figures very quickly, and then using them as the basis for my drawings. I had the brilliant idea of drawing footballers on the TV, and spent hours doing just that.
Along with the anatomy classes at college and my continuing love for working from live models, I now find that I can work really quickly as long as I manage to switch off and just let it happen. The trick is to watch the figure for a while until you have a feeling for the way they are moving – sometimes I really feel that I am dancing the flamenco, or playing the guitar (I can’t do either) – and so the drawing kind of comes from the inside out. Once I have that connection, I can take a mental snapshot and then draw it out before it fades, not looking back until I have finished.
I am very lucky to be allowed to draw and paint at all sorts of wonderful events and venues in Malta. Every year I set up my easel at the Malta Jazz Festival in mid-July and just paint non-stop for three evenings. I can also go along to the Malta Arts Festival dance, music and folk-singing shows. The weather is perfect for outdoor performances and the settings are spectacular.
Last week I was asked if I would like to paint a lovely performance “Mu-Danzas Boleras” at the prestigious Manoel Theatre in Valletta. Would I! I was given a box next to the stage – which I covered in plastic sheeting and had some real fun drawing with watercolour and ink.
I am asked sometimes why I don’t make life easier for myself and just draw from photographs – but where would the challenge or fun be in that? The end results might be more realistic perhaps, but they would not have the sense of movement and energy that I revel in. All I have to remember to do is disengage my brain (it’s getting easier with age) because otherwise I get in my own way and can’t draw a thing. And then afterwards I have to stop myself from trying to ‘correct’ them, as that tends to deflate them, and me, too.
I have to admit that sometimes I have a passing fit of nerves as I stand, brush in hand, thinking “you’ve done it again, set yourself up for a really public embarrassment”.
But I take a deep breath and remind myself of the Buddhist teaching “If you never get to know the nature of fear, you will never know fearlessness”
and Albert Einstein’s “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”
A very important theory which became popular in the 70’s was that the brain worked in two quite separate ways – the left side dealt with logics and learning, the right side with creativity and intuition. More recent research has shown that we actually use different areas, left or right, depending on what information we need. Both sides of the brain communicate new abilities and then process the information in different ways to add to overall intelligence and efficiency. However, defining the tasks of the brain into ‘left’ and ‘right’ does help to explain many of our difficulties with learning to draw, and with creative thought in general.
Our left brains are incredibly efficient at getting us through life as quickly and easily as possible, dealing with thousands of bits of information every second. The onslaught of today’s super fast technology means that we have to continually filter unnecessary ‘stuff’ all the time. The right brain has been more or less overridden in many people; apparently modern man’s left brain now actually weighs more than the right side!
A child’s repeated right-brained ’w’ questions “why, where, what, why, who?” slowly peter out as it learns the answers and files them away in its ‘hard drive’. Information is wired in with practice and repetition, and it then becomes unconscious reactions, such as walking, chewing, driving, speaking……. It leaves us free to concentrate on the content. The brain’s natural urge is to create shortcuts, to save us time and to make life easier so that we don’t have to continually re-think everything.
The problem with learning to draw is that the brain cannot find anything to refer to other than our teenage drawings, stored away in the left brain, which – unless we were encouraged and helped to draw as a child, or had a natural aptitude – we developed in a symbolic way. Teenagers will often draw a repeated image of something that interests them, and it can become quite sophisticated, but a symbol is useless when we want to draw realistically.
To draw well, we need to find ways to activate the right brain, and encourage it to ask all those ‘w’ questions every time we want to ‘see’ anything as it really is, instead of the left brain’s superficial overview and dismissal. We need to be able to see everything anew every time, as everything we attempt to draw is a new problem. Every petal on a flower is different to every other petal, every leaf on a tree, every eye, every –well, everything! – is completely unique and fascinating. This is probably what Picasso meant when he said that he wanted to learn how to draw like a child; not that he wanted to draw in a child’s naïve and symbolic way, but that he wanted to see the world through a child’s eyes- a continually new experience.
So, to activate the right brain in other ways, and also to improve your drawing and creativity, try using both sides of your body more – combing your hair, brushing your teeth, dialling the phone, even writing and eating with cutlery in the ‘wrong’ hands. Doing this feels uncomfortable, but notice how your brain is trying to make new connections, and how much more interesting these tasks become! Release your right brain from its non- creative prison!
Seminal books on the subject are “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and “Drawing on the Artist Within”, both by Betty Edwards.
I love to paint - and draw - and help others to discover their creative side too.....
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