Life drawing

It’s life drawing, but not as we know it

It’s been a few months now since ATYN stopped running sessions in Dundee and there’s no word yet when they’ll be starting again beyond “new venue to be revealed in 2017.” After a while I started hunting around for any replacement sessions nearby, but nothing clicked – Letham Life Drawing on Wednesday nights clashes with work, and while the St Andrews Art Soc sessions sounded promising I heard nothing from them after getting in touch. What’s a figure painter to do?

Well, here’s an answer, but brace yourself. It turns out… there are pictures of naked people on the internet. GASP!

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Life drawing, 19 July 2016

In the immortal words of Rastamouse, the rhythm is cool and the weather is hot, hot, hot – or at least it was on Tuesday. With everyone and everything getting sweaty and sticky during the day, the prospect of getting naked all evening never looked so appealing, so I couldn’t help but envy the models at ATYN unburdened by fabric. Not me though – even if I have found myself considering being a life model lately, there’s no getting past the sheer blandness of my body (or should that be dadbod?). Maybe in the future if I can shed a tyre or two.

Anyway! When it comes to life drawing I usually work standing up at an easel, but not this time. For one thing, said hotness made the prospect of standing up & drawing vigorously for two hours rather unattractive. But I also had quite a different medium in mind from the usual charcoal…

Rewind back to a fortnight ago when I was talking about the ATYN sessions with a colleague at work. While enthusing about the models, music and mellow mood, I lamented that I couldn’t make use of the licensed bar, what with me having to get up at 5am the following day and being 39 goddamn years old. As I was saying this, I found myself thinking… hold the bus. Is there another way I could make use of the bar? Is there an opportunity here I’m missing? Could there be another use for booze beyond the bevvy? After all, I’ve sketch painted with coffee before…

A spot of tea break Googling revealed Karen Eland, a painter who specialises in coffee & booze paintings. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the range of tones she was able to produce, with her work featured in the Telegraph. Didn’t see any life drawings in there though. Hmm.

Back to Dundee, and my art materials for the evening were watercolour pads, brushes and a small bottle of Hardy’s Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon (online searches suggested this was one of the darkest red wines, cheap too at £1.50). I’d done a quick test with it at the start of the day just to see what one or two coats of it would look like, but hadn’t actually painted anything with it until the first pose. Off we go!

5 mins, red wine
5 mins, red wine

Nice! The wine made a lovely even pale tone, like a warm watercolour wash, that dried quickly (ish) enough to get another coat on where I wanted darker tones. It took two or three minutes for the first coat of wine to dry, so there was enough time to get a second one down with the 5 minute poses.

5 mins, red wine and pencil
5 mins, red wine and pencil

With this 5 minuter I drew a 2H pencil line on the light sides of the body, then used wine for the parts in shade. I think this worked particularly well, the use of pencil meaning that the wine didn’t have to do all the work.

30 mins, red wine
30 mins, red wine

This was the longest pose, half an hour, and in retrospect I wish I’d worked on A3 for this one rather than A4, since it didn’t take very long to finish. Still, it meant there was plenty of time to build up numerous layers and add more detail than the shorter poses allowed.

During the break I sidled over to the bar to see what drinks I could use at future sessions. When I explained to the barmaid what I was up to she poured two tiny cups of liqueur used for cocktails – how kind! One was blue, a similar consistency to wine, while the other was a strikingly bright red and seemed altogether syrupy (tasted it too). So I put them to use…

20 mins, red and blue liqueur
20 mins, red and blue liqueur

Lovely colours – I liked how the blue worked like a gentle watercolour against the brightness of the syrupy red. Alas, while the blue dried quickly enough, the syrupy consistency of the red liqueur meant it stayed wet for the rest of the session, the rest of the evening (oh, the fun cycling home whilst keeping this painting flat!), the following day – and it’s still wet now, two days later, in a shiny sticky way. Don’t think I’ll use that again, but the blue liqueur bodes well for future painting, perhaps alongside red wine?

All things considered, I was pleasantly surprised with the results given this was my first ever time painting with booze. I had wondered beforehand if it would just be an attention-seeking gimmick on my part, but the consistent tones from the wine were ideal for quick painting – trying to do the same with actual watercolours would have taken time to mix up to the right consistency. With wine, by contrast, all I did was stick my paintbrush in the bottle then apply to paper, and cleaning the brush took nothing more than a quick slurp (the brush, I hasten to add, was new and hadn’t been used with any other real paint before). Simple!

If you’re tempted to give it a go – and you should – then you’ll need watercolour paper, not cartridge. Wine has the same consistency as water, so you don’t want it soaking through the paper. Any paintbrush would be fine,  and if you want to suck the brush dry make sure it’s a new one! As to the wine – a spot of searching suggested that these are the darkest reds, and Shiraz is commonplace enough to buy in cheap little bottles. That, and a little bit of time, is all you need.

Next? I’d like to do more with wine – not just figure work, there’s landscape potential there, the subtle tones of dusk. I’m also going to see what I could get from darker beers – porters, stouts, especially those with chocolate or coffee in the mix. I might also try heating some wine on the hob to reduce the water content, potentially leading to darker tones with the first coat. Beyond that, who knows? Dark rum? Sherry? Port? The darkest whiskies, perhaps… ah, that could be taking things too far. Mind you, imagine painted sketches of distilleries painted with the very drink they distill…

Music! Had a cracking blimey-I’d-forgotten-how-good-this-is moment when Gonjasufi’s Sheep came on – I’ve got the album it’s from but not played it for a few years. It’s quite something, the bass rumbling nicely around the room, and I’ve still not heard anything quite like it in the years since.