Life drawing with Scott Breton
Scott’s life class takes a form drawing approach to the study of the figure. In the wad of notes he gives to each student at the beginning of the course, he argues that form drawing, ‘recording the subject as mass in space,’ is ‘the most efficient and powerful way to investigate the visual world.’ This is because, he argues, equipped solely with line, form drawing challenges the artist to explore ‘the relationship between the apparent two-dimensional shape of objects and their perceived depth in space.’ Effects of light and atmosphere can hang from this sturdy, knowledgeable frame.
This all sounds very daunting, but I want to express in this post how generous Scott is as a teacher, and how gently his well-structured course guides the student from simple but meaningful positioning lines, through many different ways to begin a figure drawing, to knowledgeably constructing and rendering the figure. Taking this course arms you with a whole belt of tools to approach any pose a model can throw at you.
The course moves between four ‘gears,’ a useful metaphor because students are encouraged to move up and down through the gears in response to individual poses. Each gear aims to separate different thought processes in drawing, and Scott assists students to move between gears more smoothly until they are able to begin to integrate the different but interdependent concepts. Scott is very systematic, and believes in the clarity this kind of break-down enables: once identified, each type of ‘mental process’ can be individually flexed and improved and fed back into the whole.
In your first class, you begin with core measurements—the angles across shoulders and hips, the positioning of the legs. Each mark is intentional, descriptive and geared to focus you on recognising and accurately recording important landmarks of the figure. My favourite bit about these early lessons is that Scott artlessly removes the pressure to produce a good drawing. Performance anxiety swiftly set aside, you’re able to relax and concentrate on the learning. As the weeks progress and your fluency with these early concepts grows, your drawings naturally mature and begin to resemble hominoid forms, and, even better, once you begin to really try to make a good drawing you find that your brain is making informed decisions and quite complex connections—and with enough practice, your pencil can keep up. What Scott teaches is not a style or a step-by-step method, but a system of thought and a host of ready tools that gradually let you interpret the figure before you of your own volition.
Delacroix (p. 321) would approve:
‘What master can impart his own personal sentiment? All that can be gained from him are his recipes. The student’s natural inclination to adopt as quickly as possible his master’s facility of execution—which is the fruit of long experience—corrupts his art and, so to speak, merely grafts one tree upon another of a different species.’
More recipes await those who have scribbled their way through the form drawing course. With these handy means of notating the figure at the student’s disposal, Scott encourages drawing from imagination with the aid of the model. Truckloads of mind-bending fun ensues: drawing the figure at ninety degrees from your viewpoint, and studying the figure for a solid minute without drawing, to impress the pose upon yourself, and then drawing it without looking at the model. At all stages Scott reintroduces earlier concepts to fortify the work as individual students need: reminding them about gesture lines, for example, and treating gesture in more complex ways. And, of course, he is always ready to go over tricky bits of anatomy, and willing to introduce anatomical explanations to interested students throughout the course. If you need a solid anatomy fix, you can take his anatomy sculpture course during this class too, though you won’t be working from the model.
Most of the teaching is one-on-one, with Scott working his way around the room and addressing each person individually. The class begins with a half-hour warm-up of drawing from the casts (a nice selection of Davids, Mikes, flayed figures and pregnant ladies), and with explanations and demonstrations of the night’s tasks. Scott is never at a loss for new ways to break your brain, should you need a challenge, but he’s also very kind and attentive and has set you up to make real progress at a pace that’s comfortable to you. Wednesday nights, 6.30pm. All the cool kids are there.
Delacroix, Eugene. 2010 [1822-1863] The journal of Eugene Delacroix. Trans. Lucy Norton. Phaidon: London.