Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Portraiture Class at the Frist Museum

For Valentine's Day, I arranged for the fella and I to do a couple of activities at the Frist Museum in Nashville. One of our activities was a portraiture class offered this past Saturday. Let me begin by saying this: I am so impressed with the quality of programs I've experienced thus far at the Frist, that I recommend any of their offerings without reservation.
It was a chilly day as we made our way to the museum on Saturday morning; the cherry trees haven't bloomed quite yet, but the fella was willing to pose with the giant head statue before we went into our class. The class began at 10 a.m. which meant an 8:30 a.m. departure time for us; whew, I was tired.
We started to snap a selfie in our classroom that morning, but one of the workers offered to take it for us. It's not bad or anything, but I think I might've preferred the selfie.  When we arrived in our classroom, we filled out name tags and positioned ourselves in the back of the room. Neither the fella nor I feel very secure about drawing, so we definitely did not want to be up front. Our day began by introducing ourselves to the rest of the class. There were about 20 of us taking the class and the fella and I seemed to have the least amount of experience in the entire room - not kidding! There were two professional artists in the class, three art teachers, and everyone else who pretty much described themselves as artistic people who had drawn since childhood. At that point, I started to think, "What in the hell have I signed us up for?" I mean, neither of us would characterize ourselves as people who draw or necessarily artistic people. I'm crafty, but I don't really see myself as artistic. Of the 20 people in the class, there were only two men. Most people were around my age or older, but there were a handful of younger students. I was glad to note that I wasn't the oldest or the youngest even if I were the most novice. The fella probably appreciated not being the only man, even though I assured him that coming with me to this event had given him instant cache among the other students. I imagine many of them went home and told their spouses/significant others that they should have come to the class too.

I sort of wish the class had been described in more detail on the website. If I'd known it had been geared toward people with lots of art experience, I probably wouldn't have signed us up for this one. Likewise, if I'd known it was geared toward people like me with little drawing experience, I would have felt much more comfortable. While our teacher did a great job of addressing our varying skill and experience levels, it would have made her life easier had the description on the website resulted in a more evenly matched group of students.
The staff handed out drawing boards, sheets of different kinds of papers, a handout about drawing heads, bodies, hands, and faces, and a muslin bag of supplies to each of us. In the muslin bag, we had a collection of pencils in varying degrees of hardness and blackness, two different kinds of erasers, a pencil sharpener, and a blending tool. Later in the day, we'd also be given some sticks of charcoal and a couple of other charcoal pencils. I mean, I didn't even know what all of the supplies were they'd given us, but it was fun to have that little bag of goodies. It makes me think that I'd like to take my drawing supplies around in a little muslin bag too. (Maybe I could use an extra one from my Cocoa Daisy subscription for that purpose!)

After we'd introduced ourselves and been given our supplies, we headed down to the gallery for a tour and some sketching exercises. Since the fella and I had already participated in the Frist Art After Dark experience earlier in the month, we felt pretty good about seeing the House of Alba: 500 Years of Art exhibition. What I liked is that we focused on totally different pieces than what we'd discussed at the other seminar. Our teacher only talked about 5-10 minutes as an intro and then we were off to individual pieces and exercises.

One of the first pieces we encountered was a portrait of the Duke of Alba and his wife. Our instructor asked us to quickly sketch (in like 5 minutes) the rough outlines of each of those figures. Mine totally sucks, but I'll share it here with  you anyway. I felt very out of my element and kept trying to cover up my sketches so no one could see them.

Then, we went over to a painting of Vulcan at the Hearth and were told to try to sketch different heads of the characters in the painting. The purpose of this exercise was to practice sketching head placement for different kinds of figures looking in different directions. Oh my gosh, this was incredibly hard. I was feeling pretty low at this point and thinking that the rest of the day was going to be rotten. The teacher came over and helped me with a couple of placement issues, but I think her expectations of me were pretty low at that point too. The fella and I weren't really talking at this point since it was quiet sketching time, but I glanced over at this pad and felt even more discouraged. Dang it if he weren't drawing better than me already! I'm sort of embarrassed to share these sketches here, but I'm hoping you'll notice some improvement by the end of the day.

Next up was an attempt at sketching the figure of Mary Queen of Scots and the hands of a later Duchess of Alba, respectively. I thought Mary was a bit easier to draw in terms of the figure, but I couldn't get the face to work out at all. Hands intimidate me to a ridiculous level, so I tried to sketch the easiest looking hands I could find in the gallery. Lol!

I found this sketch that I did and don't remember what the original piece was or who it was supposed to be - lol. I thought I'd share it with you anyway though.

Finally, we were taken to a room that had multiple paintings of the same Duchess of Alba. I chose to sketch a pencil sketch of her when she was just a bit younger than me, but there were several options. Since it was just a face, it was pretty hard. I still really struggle with how to draw individual features. All of my female faces end up looking pretty much the same.

After spending about 4 hours sketching in the gallery, we headed back upstairs to our classroom. I couldn't believe that those hours had passed so quickly! I've never spent 4 hours drawing in my life, so this was definitely a new experience. Back in the classroom, we did a series of 1 minute figure sketches of a live model designed to loosen up our hands/bodies and to help us focus on seeing the model as a collection of shapes. This was also designed to help us focus on the whole rather than on details. Unsurprisingly, this part was both fun and easy for me in comparison to the gallery sketching. I loved the loosey-goosey no rules aspect of sketching in just one minute increments of different poses. I loved not having to think about the details of her face or hands. I loved being able to put just a few lines on paper in a haphazard fashion and be able to eke out a likeness to an individual Up until this point in the day, this was my favorite activity even though the time constraints were a bit harrowing. Our teacher came by my seat and praised my quick sketch approach. She said my lines were nice and fluid and seemed very natural. Maybe she was just trying to find something nice to say, but it worked. I found myself glowing with praise and kind of unsure how to respond. (It made me think about how important praise is to my high school students; I probably don't praise them enough about specific growth when I think about it.) 

After that exercise, we took a 30 minute lunch down in the cafe of the museum. The fella ordered the Italian panini, and it looked fabulous. (I forgot to take a picture until he was almost finished with it - ha!) I went with the chicken salad on croissant, and it was quite good too. Sandwich combos were about $9 each + the cost of a drink. Unfortunately, my museum membership didn't result in any discount there.  I was pleasantly surprised at the amount and quality of the food. If I had it to do over again, I'd order just the half sandwich + side for about $6. The whole sandwich was just too much for me to finish at lunch, and I'm not a small eater. Lol! 

After lunch, we headed back up to our classroom for an afternoon of sketching. You'd think I would have been exhausted at that point, but I was actually really pumped about what I'd learned and been able to practice. The fella and I had chatted at lunch about our morning and both agreed that we could see progress from where we had begun the day. Again, we hadn't had much time to talk during our actual class, so it was nice to be able to see if we were both enjoying it and getting something out of it. While we chatted on occasion with other members of the class, most of our time and energy was spent on our actual sketching and not interaction.

After lunch, we had two different models who posed for us in different sessions. Each session was about 25 minutes long, and we were really supposed to focus on the placement of her body moreso than specific facial details or anything. I'm glad, since I felt more comfortable with that, but I also wish I knew more about sketching facial features. The young girl who was our primary model was adorable and had great curves to sketch.

After sketching with just pencils on plain, inexpensive paper all day, our last exercise was to work with charcoal. I have to say I was quite intimidated at first, especially since I'd never worked with charcoal before. The way our teacher explained it was pretty straightforward, and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. We made one charcoal piece featuring the young girl who'd modeled for us most of the day and one piece featuring the older woman who modeled for us at the very end of the day. This activity definitely made me want to invest in a few charcoal pieces and play with these techniques more.

After our day of drawing was complete, our teacher praised us as we left and encouraged us to keep at it. She pointed out that she could see how much we'd grown in our skills in just one day and that she thought we could really develop our skills if we kept at it. I appreciate her trying to be encouraging, and I'm really glad I couldn't see the work of most of the other students. What little work I did see made me feel very insecure about what I'd drawn, even though I agree that I'd improved dramatically by the end of the day. I wonder how long it'd take me to reach a level where I felt confident about something I sketched... That might make an interesting challenge, actually.

We left the classroom area and ventured over to the new exhibit the Frist just opened on early Soviet photography. While I enjoyed looking at some of the special effects that the avante-garde photographers experimented with prior to WWII, the overtly propaganda filled photography of Stalin's regime wasn't really something I enjoyed. I'm glad we walked through the exhibit, but it isn't one I'd cared to spend much more time exploring. As we stopped to take a selfie in the breezeway of the upper galleries, a friendly museum goer offered to snap our picture for us.

AFter leaving the Frist, I accompanied the fella to look at some furniture stores in Nashville. He's in the market for a new couch for his basement, but we didn't find anything great that day. Then, we stopped for dinner at Genghis Grill in Hendersonville. I like the concept of it - you choose the meat, the seasoning, and the vegetables for your dish and it's grilled to order individually - but I didn't love the taste combination I created with the spices and sauces. Next time, I'll probably follow one of their recommended flavor recipes even if I do my own thing with the veggies and meat.

All in all, it was a lovely and exhausting day. I'm really glad that we were brave enough to go to this class and to experience it. I'm proud of us for improving throughout the day and not giving up when we felt a bit overwhelmed and out of our league. And I loved having the fella all to myself the whole day. If you ever have a chance to take a class like this one, I say go for it!


  1. Kudos to you and the fella. It's hard to do things we aren't great at, especially in a mixed levels group. Have you ever looked at Karen Grungerg's website I think you would appreciate it. I hope to see more sketching from you.

  2. what an awesome day! figure drawing has always been difficult for me. you did a great job!

  3. I think you were very brave to do something like this and I can see that you improved over the course of the day. Thanks for sharing your learning experience!