Three-Hour Portraits

I’ve mentioned a few times that I want to get better at drawing portraits this year. But how does one manage this when the first half of each day is devoted to painting the figure and the second half is all about still life? There is also a fair amount of time spent on preparation and clean up. One must be very strategic. In my case, one takes a weeklong workshop with Anthony “Tony” Ryder, draws classmates at portrait club on Thursday nights, and begs friends to model on weekends.

The teaching artist Tony Ryder is a contemporary of Juliette’s in that same wave of artists who galvanized the atelier movement and made skills-based art training more accessible. Juliette and Tony both learned from multiple teachers, hopping from one studio to the next for about ten years. Tony spent the last six years of his training in the tiny town of Bellevue, France studying under Ted Seth Jacobs, a lion of American representational art. Today I don’t have to piece together my education because their cohort of artists streamlined it for me. They opened ateliers,  developed four-year curricula and wrote books that represent the best of all the many parts of their education.

Some of Tony Ryder’s work:

Tony came to teach at Gage Academy in December from his atelier in Santa Fe. In this workshop he described techniques while demonstrating drawing from a model for three hours each morning. I can barely listen to music while I’m drafting and this guy can explain concepts of light and shadow to a room full of people and still finish a lovely piece in three hours. After lunch, we students drew from the model and received individual critiques from Tony throughout the afternoon. I’m used to drawing and painting from the same model for weeks but in this workshop we had a new model every day and I had only three hours to pull a “finished” drawing together. It was exhilarating to switch gears.

Here are a couple of my drawings from the class:




I learned a lot during that week. I had never spent much time drawing portraits before, outside of those connected to full figures, but I have pined to study the face and the particular subtlety of expression that comes from portraiture. I got a lot of practice in that week of the workshop but I had to work fast forfeiting refinement for completion. I saw how this kind of exercise done consistently would be a  great way to become familiar with portrait drawing and prepare for working on longer high-finish pieces.

I don’t have a wealth of free three-hour time blocks in my weeks (who does?) but practicing at least once per week did seem possible and moreover, crucial. I drew in graphite on white paper during the workshop, but I noticed later while reviewing Tony’s drawings in books and online how he makes beautiful use of toned paper heightened with white chalk. Toned paper makes the work go even faster because it fills in the midtones so you don’t have to shade as much and the ability to draw in highlights with white chalk quickly gives your drawings a sense of form. For me that’s a relief because I would much rather spend the limited time refining the drawing than shading.

Since December I have made use of any spare time by sketching faces. On Thursday nights one classmate volunteers to sit for the rest of us in a studio where we can control the pose and lighting. I posed for portrait club one night in January and learned first hand how tough sitting still for three hours can be. Every artist who works from life should model at least once to understand what you’re asking another human to do.

As a side note, here are some of my classmates’ portraits of me:

And finally, here are some of my recent three-hour portraits drawn in charcoal and chalk on toned paper :


(Featured image at the top: A detail of my drawing “Kyung,” 2016)