Don’t Rush to Follow the Lines

Caleb Duarte leads a figure drawing class for the Poppy’s Professional Development Track.

painting workshop

It started with a conversation: everyone standing around the kitchen, drinking their respective coffees and teas. Then it migrated over to the main room. We had to bring in fold-up chairs as the usual comfy chairs everyone knows at the Poppy were placed in an art-piece, stacked against, with, and on top of each other as a sculpture in front of the red double doors.

We sat in a circle in the main room and continued the conversation. Caleb explained to us what we would be doing ‒ drawing a figure, a nude figure, that of his partner and their son. He also explained that by the time people reach the age of seven, they begin to compare their art pieces with that of others, and eventually go on to copy those that they see, losing their sense of original, care-free, wondrous creativity. For this project, we were asked to allow ourselves to create from the place we created before we turned seven. We first set up our spaces, taping sheets of paper with masking tape onto a wall whose paintings were protected by a larger white sheet.  Then Caleb walked around with a box of chalk, and each participant reached into the box, pulling out a chosen color. Purple, teal, green, gray. “Good choice,” Caleb told me after sensing my hesitation with the stubby, green chalk in my hand.

I smiled and turned to the paper I taped to the wall. Realizing it needed two more pieces of tape at the bottom, I set my chalk down on the black table in front of the chair sculpture and walked across the room to the tape. As I was peeling just the right amount of tape off of the roll, our models entered the room, wrapped in a blanket. They stood on the black table in front of the sculpture and a rainbow of cloth slid to the table. Caleb grabbed the green piece of chalk I placed on the table and brought it over to a paper on the wall he prepared for himself. He instructed us to draw the shapes of weight of the models before us, and with that, rubbed the green piece of chalk in circles over the gray-tinted paper.

My chosen piece of chalk now in the hand of another, I walked back across the room to pick a new color. Taking what I thought was blue, I strode back to my paper only to discover the gray weight the models’ bodies had on my gray-tinted, taped page. I smiled to myself and continued to rub the gray chalk onto the page. Thinking I was done, I looked back, restless, for instruction, and realized I had only depicted the weight of one model. In a scurry to continue, I had completely disregarded the smaller model posing for us.

Soon, instruction came, and Caleb approached us with pastels. With a green pastel in my hand, I followed Caleb’s instructions to draw the contours of the models without looking at the page, to just allow our hands to depict the lines perceived by our eyes. Lines and curves ran off of the page I taped to the wall and onto the protective layer of white hiding the wall’s paintings.

The models moved, posing every ten to fifteen seconds in a new form. We, instructed to be blind to the paper, drew the shapes we saw. That task was finished, and Caleb walked around gifting each participant black paint and a brush, instructing us to paint the shapes we saw in the negative spaces of our page. Images of body parts appeared as my left hand delicately brushed black on the spaces in between the lines I had blindly drawn. We didn’t have to fill in every negative space. “Only what you choose,” advised Caleb.

Then, the models resumed one posture for fifteen minutes, and the participants were given another chance to fill in the blank spaces on their page with more lines. Next, white paint was poured for each participant, and we were instructed to again fill in the negatives of the page, considering our new shapes.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I continue making more lines? Should I start filling out the page with white? What were other people doing? Some were painting, others were still drawing. It was up to me. I picked up a blue pastel and continued drawing lines on the page, deliberately allowing lines to veer onto the paper behind my taped page, the paper hiding the paintings of the wall.

When each corner of my page was filled with a line, I picked up my white paint and approached the piece but hesitated, not yet placing my brush to the page. It was too soon. I stepped back and looked at the lines on the page. What did I see? What lines were there? Was I able to make out any form from the blind contours my hand rolled onto the page?

I began to paint what I could identify, and within those fifteen minutes, I stopped hurrying. Gently, Caleb turned off the music and instructed us to stop. I stepped back and looked at the shapes and the colors of my page. I turned and looked at the shapes and the colors on the pages around me. All our pastel lines in different colors, depicting our different points of views and the different angles with which we saw the models. The black and white paint on each taped-up sheet unified us to the same models we held in our eyes.

“Would you use more color?” Caleb asked, as he bent down to clean the left-over black paint on the tray next to me.

“I’d use more white,” I admitted.

It was over and the conversation continued, each person moving toward whatever it was that was next in their lives: a meeting, an email, cleaning, painting. It was over, and with a digital copy of my creation, I felt ready for the next instruction.

During Caleb Duarte’s rotation as Artistic Director from February 2015 until August 2015, he held several informal drawing sessions for the community.

– Aleksandra Bril, Red Poppy Art House Writer