on drawing, shooting and the Florence Academy

Rather than spend another hour watching Downton Abbey (because I can’t seem to get my brain on work this evening), I’ve decided to finally update my blog. I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time now, about how drawing and shooting are basically the same thing. It’s been a month and a bit now since I’ve started my time here at the Florence Academy of art in… Florence, and in short, it’s been the most mind-blowing experience I’ve ever had in drawing so far. Some background for those who don’t know my past in shooting – I used to shoot in the Singapore team for a time, wasn’t that awesome, but I did get the chance to fly to places and shoot with people from around the world. The point is the intensity of the training that we were put through being in the team – you were expected to shoot for at least 5 hours a day, 7 days a week. and you were trying to shoot a full stop from 10 meters away, which meant that a wee mistake went a long way. Like a hair’s breath of a difference, and that’s a huge difference. Same thing here with what we’re expected to do in the Florence school, we’re expected to work on our Bargue copies for just 3 hours a day 7 days a week (preferably 2-3 times more than that) and a 0.5mm mistake in the quality of a line stands out like a hobo at the queen’s birthday dinner. What’s the point of all at anal-ness? Everything.

We try to be perfect even though perfection is impossible, and yet we try and try harder. In the end, we’re training both our bodies and our minds to become better. It’s never just about hitting the same hole 100 times in a row or making the perfect Bargue, that’s not the point. The point is to learn, and there is no end to learning or to getting better. When I first started this course, I thought I could see beyond regular seeing, which was what the Drawing Academy in Denmark did to us – they changed how we saw, and we started seeing everything as being connected. But obviously, there’s so much more to Seeing than I thought, cocky little fool that I am.  I’ve been properly humbled at this school, and all I think about now is how much of an amateur I am at all this. So back to shooting. Back in the day, it came to the point where I would be making a shot, and I wanted so badly to make it perfect that my body would betray me, and I would blink or shut my eyes at the very moment that I squeezed the trigger. And of course, the shot would be shit. It took me a very long time before I could slap myself out of that mode and shoot in a way where every shot was a process and not the result. Thinking about the result never gets us anywhere, it just makes us .. unstable. Your head gets disconnected from your body, and your mind stops working together with the rest of you. Once that starts to happen, it’s only a matter of time before it all unravels, and soon we’re disillusioning ourselves and telling ourselves that it’s okay, as long as the results are good. No. It never does anyone any good in the long term. That was when my shooting went into a downward spiral, and I knew that it was time to move on. I miss it, but I’ve not had the will power to push it further than it needed me to go, and I regret doing that. I hate giving up on something. So I will not let it happen to me in drawing. Just like shooting, there are times when I’m so focused on making a line perfect on the Bargue that at some point I do blink or shut my eyes at the most crucial moment, and I have to stop, erase, and redo it. It’s when I have to make a straight line curved but still straight, or a half tone shape look vague but precise. I rush too much because I want to get it right, now. and that’s when I muddle it and I spend the next 1-2 weeks working on the same line or shadow shape because it’s just never right. But if I had just concentrated on the doing and not the result more, I might have done it much sooner. That’s the bit that I still have to learn. It’s all very easy to talk about, but so incredibly difficult to do, and more so to keep it constant.

So these days I do the things I used to do when I shot. I do breathing exercises when I get unstable, and I start concentrating on connecting my body and my mind before I work. That’s when I begin to learn so many new things while making that copy or when studying that model. Simona (one of our teachers) said something really good at the beginning, when she saw that I was rushing my Bargue. “The moment that we think it’s finished is the moment that we begin to learn.” Because we “finish” things to the point of our abilities, and so often we forget that our abilities are not as great as we might think they are. It’s when we teach ourselves to become our own teachers that we start to really learn, and I love that so much about this school, because the teachers are all so different and so great, and all of them cultivate this sense of teaching yourself to become your own teacher. Truly wonderful. Of course, we learn so much from our classmates too, because everyone came from different backgrounds, so everyone saw and learned differently. Now I think about every line that I’m making on a drawing, constantly asking myself, is that curved line really so curved? Does that really look like what you’re seeing in front of you? Are those knees really so far below that pelvis? The Bargues have taught me that so far, and there’s still more to figure out. Like I said at the beginning of this ramble, it’s been fking mind-blowing. Just like when I was shooting, all I ever think about these days is drawing and how to draw, and when I close my eyes I see shadow shapes and when I wake up, I think my alarm sounds like a drawing and it sounds like a really bad, crude drawing. And the best thing is, I’m only at the beginning of it, and there’s so much more to learn, so much to get better at, and it will change me forever. I left shooting with a different way of breathing and a different way of holding my concentration, (and also a long sighted and astigmatised right eye). Who knows what I’ll leave this school with. So far it’s made me more ocd and stricter on myself (lots of mental self-slapping for 8 hours a day, ouf, I’m so catholic that way. maybe just in that way.) Like Daniel Graves said when we met in his office – the materials we use will always change us. So to end this long and rather preachy sounding ramble, I’ll put up some drawings I’ve done at the school so far. They’re not that great, but hell, One does not simply walk into Mordor.

1st long pose – 5 weeks (charcoal)

Portrait of a model (pencil)

Model studies (pencil)

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of my Bargues, I kept forgetting because they’ve always felt so much like training material rather than something to be considered …a drawing. But I might put up a progress series for the current one I’m working on for the next post.

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