My Friend, the Skeleton
Findlay’s drawing classes are attended by a real human skeleton. Well, technically, everyone who goes to class brings their own skeleton with them. However, a skeleton without a body’s accompanying organs is a little more unusual.
“Phyllis,” as she has been named, was the subject of my first big project in drawing class. Unlike the first drawing class I took, this one is blessedly free of still lifes and representational accuracy. The focus is on abstraction. I went through several phases of drawing this skeleton: gesture, value studies, purposeful distortion, and finally, a large, semi abstract drawing.
Gesture drawing involves capturing the gist of an object with big, sweeping strokes, avoiding detail. It’s a good way to begin translating an object of reference into a 2-d drawing state. Value studies, however, involve getting closer and more personal with different areas and bones. This is where I had to pay attention to lights and shadows. It was also my first time using a white charcoal pencil on gray paper.
Have I mentioned how much charcoal pains me? Just thinking about it makes my skin crawl. I make weird faces when I have to draw with it, and I even try to avoid handling my own finished charcoal drawings. I can’t stand the stuff, but I have to use it all the time in drawing class. This adds a layer of discomfort to most of what I do. Yet I cannot deny its unique blending abilities and the strong, dark black you can make with it.
In any case, I was extremely relieved to learn that I could do my distorted drawings in ebony pencil, which is much smoother. The directions for this part of the project were to zoom in, to distort or to combine different parts of the skeleton. I found myself drawn to joints and to ribs, which I think look a bit like fairy wings.
Fairy wings? That sounded less strange in my head. Regardless, something about the way the ribs flow make me think of wings every time I look at them.
It was from these drawings that I chose a subject for my final piece. I did a small value study (still in ebony pencil, thank goodness), then set about suffering with charcoal for my big drawing. Polydactyl Pterodactyl, as I playfully named it, floats somewhere between a bug and a jellyfish, while retaining a skeletal feel. Despite my quarrels with the charcoal, I had fun with this project.