Studio Mysteries

October 26, 2009

A Studio Dialog, Of Sorts

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 1:39 am

Dear BigAss Drawing,
Just because I don’t have workable fixative, doesn’t mean I don’t love you.



October 25, 2009

Big Group Portrait, State 3

Filed under: Drawing — Tags: , , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 11:28 pm

I have spent the past month going to class and trying to beat this drawing into coherence. That’s it. It’s easier to reconcile myself to leaving LA because if all I do is scrath at this drawing, I can do so anywhere, even in Alaska. There is really no point to all this beach if I would rather be in front of my easel anyway!

(There, that seems to be working).

The thing I learned since the last time I posted about this drawing is that  sharp vs. diffuse edges make almost as much of a difference in the composition as value. I kept reducing value in certain areas until I noticed that edge contrast has an equal amount of power and focus as value contrast. Now if I want something to shut up, my first step is to examine edges rather than how light or dark something is in relation to everything else.

It’s been a beast of a project, some kind of a dark abyss that sucks in labour hours and bends the laws of physics, but it’s amazing how much I have learned from it. (But it will be a while before I no longer hate its guts).

I am still a bit away from finishing, but the drawing is starting to be a lot less of a din, which is all I want from it at this point.


I cannot, for the life of me, take a good photo of a graphite drawing.

Side-by-side comparison of the previous state I posted (the right side of the drawing looks brighter in #2, but only because there is a lamp right next to it):


October 24, 2009

A Small Celebration And A Question

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Tags: , , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 4:53 am

2002_painting_cold_windowsillSometimes, artists, by which I mean me, like to moan about how it’s ever so difficult to make a living as an artist. Sometimes, in response, life does something that makes further moaning completely untenable!

Recently, a friend from my home town in Ukraine emailed me completely out of the blue, and told me that someone she knows wanted to buy a painting. The sale has gone through, and Aleksandr Shatsky of Odessa now owns this piece, called Cold Orange, which sold for USD$500.

It’s not a huge sum, but then it’s not a huge painting, and it is a wonderful windfall considering that the sale fell into my lap with no effort on my part whatsoever.

In light of this happy event, I have decided to kick my own butt and do something proactive to further my professional standing as a fine artist. Here is a question I am putting to myself as well as to fellow artists:

What five steps can I take in order to get my work seen by, and hopefully bought by, more people?

Universe and Anya’s Brain, I humbly await your advice.

October 15, 2009

Towards A Definition Of Art As Effing The Ineffable

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 1:29 am


Ever since I saw an action figure of Roy Batty in a Santa Monica toy shop two weeks ago, I have been thinking about this character. Roy Batty is a painfully Viking-like android who goes on an existential-despair murder spree against his makers, in the film Blade Runner. The film is abrasive and has troubling sartorial issues, but the final scene, in which Roy Batty finally greets his death, makes it something very much like Art.

Roy rages in all our hearts as he confesses to a random wet dove he holds in his hand:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the Shoulder of Orion. I watched Sea-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die…”

And then the dove flies away, because the android hand is no longer capable of closing.

There are two ways to watch this scene: as an atheist and as a person with some kind of faith. The atheist would have nothing to offer Roy except the phrase “Life sucks and then you die. This fact is one of the ways in which life sucks.” A person with some kind of faith would tell Roy that death is not the end, that his life, as his death, has meaning and reason, and also possibly that he may have messed up his prospects in the afterlife by killing so many people.

I am neither type. I can’t claim that I have faith, or that I have faith in the total pointlessness of faith. Instead, what I have is hope. It’s very clear to me that the universe is a giant mystery, and that our mental equipment for comprehending it is as advanced as a snail’s equipment for understanding trigonometry. It’s also clear to me that art is part of the mystery. Our drive to make and look at art is inescapable and will not brook denial. It is built in, at a deep enough level that we can locate the reason for doing it in such wildly differing frameworks as building temples, decorating hospitals and generating the wealth of one Mr. Saatchi via the display of unmade beds.  What I am getting at is that art is unexplainable, and that it is also what we are meant to do, something profoundly necessary and right.

I would say this to Roy Batty as he soaks in the misery of imminent death and precipitated pollution:

“Roy, the problem is not that you saw these wonders and will now die. The problem is what you did in between those two events. You refused to acknowledge your own fear and dressed it in robes of entitlement, instead of being grateful for all you got to see and have.

You took revenge for your life being finite and short, and in doing so, you wasted it completely. You saw untold wonders across the galaxy, and you responded by spending all your free time afterwards killing people. What you should have done is tell them what you saw. Your vision is wasted because you, and no one else, wasted it.

I hope your soul goes somewhere after you die, and I hope that somewhere is a kind place and will be willing to forgive you for your foolishness, but that’s all it is – hope, which is not the same as certainty. What I am certain of is one thing and I am certain of it a lot: if you shared with others the wonders you had seen, neither you nor the wonders would vanish. They would transmute into something else, and become part of the great ongoing clusterfuck of life, because that is what life requires of us, self-aware monkeys organic and artificial. Life requires of us that we live it so that it is shared with others.”

I am hopeful, rather than faithful, about consciousness moving on after death. But if  I am certain of anything, it is this: when we capture the memory of the attack ships on fire off the Shoulder of Orion, or the starry night, or the beauty of a trashcan as the fluorescent office light falls on it, we take the finite material world and make it eternal. And then we pass it along to others, and neither we nor they are alone in the universe any longer.

The way plants grow, and how DNA causes various kinds of animals to happen, and the way tides come and go, all have really excellent functional reasons. “Those are the ONLY reasons,” say the atheists and the scientists, “these things are nothing but Laws and Mechanics and Equations.” But if so, why are they also Beauty? Beauty that no capital letters in the world have the power to express fully, so beautiful it is? Why does it all make us want to draw in our breath, and stop, and marvel and then race off to a keyboard, a camera, a canvas? The world is so indescribably beautiful, and it keeps being so ALL THE TIME, so how can it not be more than just the stones and the bones? When it’s ALREADY more? “But it’s only in your head,” say the atheists and the scientists. “So what?” says Hopeful Artist. Just because it’s in our heads, that makes it not real? That makes it not matter? It *is* real. It does matter. It matters to you who sees it, and therefore it matters, period. And if you tell others of what you saw, it will matter even more, and in the act of making it matter, your souls will touch and become one. The tree will make the most gorgeous sound as it falls because you two are there to hear it together. Then the tree’s fall is not waste or oblivion, but wonder, and memory, and the fire with which we burn. Maybe that’s why it is all so, even at the terrifying expense of jacked-up chimpansees running around with free will – so that nobody would be alone. So that the tree would matter to somebody. So that the fire is set off within us. So that there is light.

I guess what I have faith in is art. Because art is a conversation between souls. I forget who said it, but I am convinced he or she is right.

Now that I’ve thought about it, what I want to do the most, with regards to the dying Roy Batty, is stand next to him holding an umbrella and his hand. Wet Roy Batty is a thing of almost unbearable Beauty, but I would still do it. The world has more than enough to make up for that small loss.

October 8, 2009

Legs! 3-for-1 Leg Sale! Get Your Leg Here!

Filed under: Anatomy, Drawing, Rey Bustos — Tags: , , , , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 7:57 pm

2009_analyticalDrawing_3legs This fabulous leg bonanza is an exercise we did in Rey Bustos’s Analytical Drawing. Rey has taken to calling me his groupie, and perhaps this accusation is somewhat grounded in reality. In the spring term, I took his 3D Anatomy/Ecorche class, in the summer I took his 2D Anatomy, and now I’m taking Analytical Drawing to top it all off. Not only that, but I elbowed my way into the Analytical class as one of only 3 part-time students, because this course is in the full-time program, and I had to whine fight to get in.

I am very happy I did, if only for this exercise alone. A lot of figure drawing teachers tend to teach a style (their own) and a shorthand for indicating anatomical information (also their own). Before I knew anything about anatomy, such a teaching approach was useful to me as a student, albeit in a limited way. I could put visual information into a drawing that helped the viewer recognize human features in it, even if I didn’t know what it was that I was putting in.

But once I learned all my fancy anatomy learnin’, the shorthand and styles of the teachers stopped working for me. Now on top of actual information about actual, real form, I was also memorizing arbitrary information and arbitrary ways to convey it. I found that when a teacher taught me to find anatomical goods myself, I could do it, but when they said, “here is a formula for a leg, just use it,” I couldn’t reconcile it with the actual leg in front of me or what I recognized in the leg and wanted to portray.

Another interesting problem I developed after learning anatomy has to do with style. Again, I used to have my own style of conveying what I see. But what I see is now different from what I used to see! That’s knowledge for you. It messes up your whole system of dealing with the world. Now my habitual stylistic flourishes don’t work anymore and I haven’t developed new ones yet.

This is where the triple-leg bonanza steps in. This exercise came after we spent several weeks learning the skeleton and muscle structure of legs, and did a bunch of ecorche drawings. Now, when the class sits down to draw from the model, everybody’s drawings tend to look like skinless people! The stylistic breakdown has occurred. We think about bone and muscle, about what’s inside the leg, so we draw that instead of the outer form. It’s a normal stage in the life of an artistic anatomy student. This exercise is designed to move us past that and to help us develop our own new way of drawing the leg – informed by what’s inside, and showing evidence of what’s inside, but actually depicting the visible, outside form. And doing so in a visual language that is uniquely ours, a recognizable individual style that arises out of an individual perception.

It’s very interesting how the Renaissance not only brought the individuality of the viewer into the picture, by using perspective and showing an image as seen from a specific vantage point, but also made it impossible for artists to be anything other than individuals in how they went about producing images. Once you learn anatomy, you can’t draw to a predetermined canon. You have to find a way to articulate what you see, because you can’t unsee it in favour of an externally imposed system. If you draw from anatomical knowledge, you are forced to develop your own pictorial language, and the hand that is visible in the drawings becomes as unique as fingerprints. That’s a huge difference from anonymous workshops making works that also look anonymous (like Egyptian frescoes, for example).

So back to the triple-leg threat: the exercise was to draw specifically a skin-possessing, normal-looking leg, and we had to do it from imagination rather than live model or reference. Because we drew from imagination, we had to rely on internalized information and cement that memory further. Because we drew a normal leg rather than an anatomical chart, we had to grapple with how to show anatomical information in a realistic drawing. But why the three legs, you say? Why, why, why? Well, that’s where we got to play with style. Leg #1 had to be a roughly normal leg. Leg #2 had to have the muscle articulation dialed up a bit, going from a mellow interpretation to someone more jazzy, like Raphael, who would emphasize musculature while still keeping the overall gist of the drawing relatively grounded. Leg #3 is in Michelangelo territory – a beef festival! You can see that my natural sensibility is somewhere between 1 and 2 – my heavy metal leg is not especially loud or bumpy. Some people created terrifying and magnificent bump landscapes with their Leg #3, and it was a lot of fun to look at them.

The exercise result is a boring and weird-looking drawing, but it’s a fantastic journey that trains some very important mental muscles. The idea of this exercise can be applied in other art exploration – take a material or a subject, and do a range of pieces that explore just how far you can push the technical aspect of something, or the intensity of a stylistic approach, going from subtle and quiet to roaringly insane. Or in my case, mildly louder than before.

October 1, 2009

More Drawing Bits

Filed under: Drawing — Tags: — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 5:26 am

I’m starting to like the details of this drawing a lot. That’s because details are the easy part! The hard part is wrangling them all into a whole. Before all these learnin’s, I’d just draw until it looked done. Now I have more specific demands for the piece, I want it to do this and that, and NOT do that and this.

In multi-figure compositions, clatter and din are the biggest obstacles. There are all these players that have to be orchestrated into sounding like actual music, and quite frankly, it’s a little like herding cats.

Slow going, but it’s getting there. And the separate bits are shaping up.




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