Playing Scales on a Piano = Drawing from Life and Reference

This past week was what I termed a “learning week”. I set aside all the ideas bubbling in my brain for future work and simply got back down to basics. Learning. Practicing. It was a great time to take a break from laser-like focus and enjoy viewing and capturing what was right in front of me.

As well, drawing from reference is a great way to add vocabulary to this language of imagery we use in communicating with the viewer.

What would be the best way to show this pose? How would the figure look turning to the left instead of the right? In studying the figure, I look for the clearest and simplest way to show the pose while also capturing the energy of movement. Even stationary poses have their dynamics. In a pose, I can see “lines” that intersect through the arms, legs, and torso of the figure that is a wonderful challenge to capture and explore. Initial lines are a gesture upon which the frame and muscles are built.

I even recently discovered that in ballet, dancers are encouraged to “have a good line”. The reason they extend their arms and legs in certain positions is because it’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye. A hyper-extended knee, while not technically straight, contributes to keep the line flowing in the body of the dancer. Take ballerina Sylvie Guillem, for instance.

This process is very much like playing scales on a piano. It’s repetitious, yes, but it’s also fundamental for making a performance piece communicate with the perfect blend of technical excellence and human experience. The pianist indeed spends hours, days, weeks, and even months working hard in that cramped practice room to transform fumbled fingering into a confident cadence that has the power to move an audience to tears or laughter. In the same way, mastering the fundamentals of things like anatomy, composition, values, etc. gives the artist an expressive freedom that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

This week, I will attempt to take this singular appreciation for the figure and apply it to other subject matter. We’ll see what happens!