Mind control; thought control

A very typical boy illustration of a “smoking gun,” albeit better executed than most.
From the sketchbook of one of my former students.

I’m particularly fond of teenagers and especially that creature-in-crisis, the teenage boy. I’m currently the proud owner of a 16-year-old model, and I’ve taught others in my studio. And of course you know that I’ve been assiduous in telling my students to draw, draw, draw—to draw in class, to draw on the bus, to draw on dates. I don’t care what they draw; I don’t care where they draw; I just want them to draw.

So imagine my shock and dismay when I read in Salonthat a 16-year-old high school student in Egg Harbor City, NJ, was arrested after doodling in his notebook. The boy drew what has been variously described as either weapons or a flamethrower hand (which is the second most-common trope among teen boy artists, after guns).
Another drawing, same kid.
Having clearly never before seen a teenage boy, a staffer called the local cops, who—instead of rolling their eyes—searched both the school and the kid’s home with sniffer dogs. There they found chemicals which when combined could create an explosion, and pieces of electronics which when rebuilt could have been used to make detonators.
Boys of that age live in a
comic-book universe.
(I am glad they didn’t stop by my house, since they would have found electronic parts and chemicals strewn all over the kitchen, this being our week to refinish the kitchen cabinets and repair the light fixtures.)
This would all be the makings of a ridiculous story, except that the boy was sent to juvenile detention while the so-called crime was investigated.
(Read more here, here, here, and here.)

I’m not much of a believer in gender differences, but having taught a lot of teenagers to draw and paint, I know there are distinct differences in what they draw when they’re not being ordered around by the likes of me. Teen girls draw archetypal faces and bodies (often in Regency clothes). Teen boys draw weapons and fight scenes. This is universal, and I’m shocked that anyone working with kids doesn’t know this.
Last year I had a sweet kid in my studio, SH, who has graciously allowed me to share some of the gun doodles from his sketchbook. SH is every mother’s dream kid—handsome, kind to others, involved in extracurricular activities, a competitive swimmer, camp counselor, and having excellent manners. But when he was bored, he drew guns—just like every other boy I’ve ever known.
This is a typical girl drawing of the same age, again better executed than most.
By my daughter.
Drawing is a form of thinking as well as communicating, and in the hands of most people is primarily therapeutic and cathartic, rather than descriptive. A kid who draws a flamethrower is dealing with the stress of sexuality in a time-honored manner. A kid who draws a monster clawing off Mrs. Addlepate’s face has in fact found an excellent way of dealing with the stress of Mrs. Addlepate’s inanities. On the other hand, the kid who is prohibited from expressing his frustration, his zeal, his intelligence, his adolescent hormones and his pain is a kid who’s more likely to quite literally “go ballistic.”

A brief foray into indirect painting

“Adirondack autumn grove,” 12X16, oil on canvasboard, 2012
(please excuse the reflections; my camera isn’t back yet)
I had a few minutes in my studio the other day and was contemplating some “fails” from the field—plein air paintings that didn’t really work. Now, I have stacks of these, and they don’t bother me in the least… they are the pictorial record of experiences and impressions, rather than finished paintings. But occasionally I find one I want to touch up.
Just as it came from the field.
This one was done in the company of Marilyn Fairman last autumn, and while I liked the overall composition, the structure somehow got lost in the moment (it happens).
With changes marked out.
I decided to seek and restate the darks using a transparent glaze. I first learned to paint indirectly— using many thin layers of paint and medium to achieve one’s desired visual effects—and it’s a technique I generally reject in my dotage. Nevertheless, there are times when such indirect painting is the fastest way to fix a painting. This is almost always when the problem area has to go darker; although one can glaze with zinc white, it’s usually just easier to repaint the offending passages with your usual muck.

As often as I say I don’t make up my own medium, sometimes I do…
this time with a small amount of paraffin wax added to kill the gloss.

I’ve been studying the Maine seascapes of Winslow Homer, in particular his use of the dark diagonal, and it seemed it would be just the thing to fix this painting. After noting the passage I wished to make darker, I mixed a palette of three transparent pigments: Indian yellow, transparent earth red, and dioxazine purple. With these I was able to quickly make the shadows cool and the highlights warm.

Transparent glazing colors–Indian yellow, transparent red oxide, dioxazine purple .
The whole repair took less than five minutes. Now, I don’t know if this qualifies any longer as a “plein air” painting, since I adjusted the values in the studio. Nor do I care. The issue is whether it satisfies the viewer, and I’d say it is now closer than it was on that lovely autumn day.
Merry Christmas to all my dear friends!

Of sidekicks and teenagers who sleep in class

He’s fifteen… I asked him.

I had the good fortune to have lunch yesterday with two of my former sidekicks, Marilyn Feinberg and Matthew Menzies. A good sidekick is a beautiful thing, and these two are among the best. In some ways, they’re polar opposites: she is a middle-aged intellectual; he is a rather rowdy teenage boy. 
I love teen boys’ oversized puppy paws.
Matt went straight from our lunch to speak—as a grown-up, second-year RISD student—to Brighton High School’s AP art class. I was pleased but not surprised to hear that he emphasized drawing, for Matt drew in all his classes. In a nutshell, this is why he’s such a fine draftsman today, and it’s a pity that his school now discourages students from doing so.

This one I know is fifteen. He’s mine.

I frequently draw in church, because it helps me to concentrate on the sermon. In recent weeks a group of teenagers has caught my eye—the teenagers who “concentrate with their eyes closed.”

Along with drawing in class, looking as if you’re sleeping is absolutely verboten in high school (evidently, the students are all expected to look as if they’re on a Synchronized Learning Team). In church, however, the congregation isn’t a captive audience, and our preachers work to retain interest, so lounging, drawing, and other out-of-the-ordinary behavior is tolerated.
Really too far away for me to see their faces in detail. 
Having taught Sunday school as well as watched teenagers in church over the course of many years, I’m convinced the kids are actually hearing more than most adults credit them with, since they always seem to perk up when it gets interesting. Anyway, the proof is when teenagers continue to come to church as young adults. That indicates that their teacher was someone who worked to earn their attention and respect. 

Not a child at all, and a totally different setting:
a bailiff at Monroe County Hall of Justice.
But there was something boyish in his oversized solidity.

You might think drawing a sleeping kid would be easier than most surreptitious figure drawing, but these kids actually wiggle as much as their attentive neighbors (another clue that they aren’t really sound asleep). I usually have about five minutes, tops, before my subject moves, and I plan accordingly. No great detail—if I get the gesture and measurement right, I’m happy.

The Quality of Light

“Michelle in incandescent light,” 36X24, oil on canvas.
(Photo credit, Brad Van Auken)

Last week I went to a figure group which used incandescent spots and Odalisque poses. Here I never set up with either, and haven’t since I studied with Cornelia Foss. When I returned to my studio after my trip, I was wondering whether I was missing anything, so yesterday I decided to set up with a spotlight.

Students like spotlights because at the beginning painting with them seems easier. Most of the major color and value decisions are made before one ever picks up a brush. There are only two fundamental colors to worry about—the color of the light and the color of the shadow, since all of the natural, accidental, reflected tones are blown away by the color of the spot.
The problem is that one can go a certain distance quickly, but then can go no farther. I painted the above in three hours. It was impossible to find any real color range. Gone were the delicate blues and greys and olives of Michelle’s skin; she was rather like one of those Thomas Kinkade lighthousesthat are apparently on fire from within. To be honest, I cheated with the warm midtones—they didn’t even exist. As I said to Michelle, “I am painting what I want to be true, not what is actually here.”
With incandescent spots, the pattern of darks and lights is spelled out by the lighting itself, and one need not work for it. That seems easier at the beginning, but it makes new discovery next to impossible. This is especially true in all the variations of the Odalisque pose.
Make no mistake: the history of the Odalisque is erotic. The word comes from the Turkish ‘odaliq’, or chambermaid, which in the west was understood to mean a harem concubine, and to refer to the whole sensualized artistic genre in which the model lies on her side on display. (If you doubt this, just do a Google search of Odalisque and imagine the models writhing.)
The art world has historically been deeply misogynistic. Art has been made by some very competent women— Artemisia Gentileschi, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Judith Leijster, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter, and so many others—but art is generally made by men and purchased by men. The Odalisque is sexual objectification, but a higher-rent version of it than the porn available on the internet. Sometimes it is done brilliantly, but it’s certainly nothing I’m interested in perpetrating (and I wonder sometimes why so many women are acolytes at the feet of its proponents).
For the next three weeks we will be working on one long pose, and I have set high-school student MB the task of creating the pose, having assigned her five artists to study: Goya, Manet, Degas, Modigliani, and Freud. That will give us nine hours to paint in this pose, and that’s an opportunity not to be missed. I should note that the times are slightly changed to accommodate MB’s schedule.
Friday, December 7, 2012: 3-6 PM
Thursday, December 13, 2012: 3-6 PM
Friday, December 21, 2012: 3-6 PM