Strangely, it takes a naked person to learn how to see. Actually, make that a nude model. Salvatore Victor, who teaches figure-drawing classes at “Studio C” behind Art Ellis Supply on J Street in Midtown, says that by observing a figure model in the classroom, aspiring artists can learn how to observe in a way that helps them understand what they’re drawing. Just make sure to befriend your self-critic.
What can you learn from figure drawing?
I teach people how to see. In the process of learning to draw, not only do they learn mechanical skills, but they also learn visual skills, and, really, they learn a lot about themselves.
What’s the point? Observation skills?
My thinking is that the better you see, the better and more mature your drawing is.
Somebody who comes into my class and has never drawn before, or somebody who’s drawn for a while and hasn’t taken a class, when you first come in and you draw a figure, you’re limited in your seeing. You may see it as flat. You draw in symbols, and you don’t see what’s actually up there. And then, after taking classes with a really good drawing instructor, then you start to see what’s really in front of you rather than what you think is in front of you.
So, you can see things that you didn’t see before?
The nice thing about figure drawing, drawing a human being, is that we’re all human, and we know what it’s like to be seated. We’ve all sat down before. We know what that feels like to sit. We know where the weight is. If a figure makes a movement in a particular pose, unless they’re incredibly flexible, everybody can pretty much feel what that feels like. So, not only am I asking you to see on a visual level, but I’m asking you to feel things. You use all your senses when you draw.
How’d you get started?
I’ve been drawing figures since 1983. I studied under a guy who taught it, a guy named Joe Trana. An amazing draftsman. I took classes from him and later taught a little bit in Florida and then came out here and started teaching a couple years ago.
What do you try to teach?
I mainly teach figure, because it’s extremely complicated. But I will sometimes throw in a still life just to break things up.
This is all done with nude models?
It’s one of the ways. It’s an old way of learning to draw; it’s very classical. And the human figure is very complex.
What’s complex about it?
As compared to drawing a box or a cylinder, No. 1, it’s a human being that breathes and moves. There’s a lot of plane on a figure that you have to be able to see. You’re talking about something that lives and breathes.
Are there models that do that professionally?
Of everybody that’s ever worked for me, I’d say a majority are professional, so they go around and model for colleges or art classes around the city. Some people do it as a full-time job. Some people do it as a part-time job for extra money. It’s difficult work. I have tremendous respect for people that model. It’s extremely difficult.
Are there ever awkward situations or inappropriate things that happen?
Not in my classes. As far as I’m concerned, when a model comes in my class, it’s a really safe atmosphere. Never had a situation. If there was, she or he has carte blanche. If they feel uncomfortable, they let me know, and it gets taken care of.
What kinds of people take your class?
I’ve taught people that have never drawn before or taken a class, very beginning students, and I’ve taught people with master’s degrees. I have a lot of artists take my class.
What do you tell students who are struggling?
I talk about the fact that it’s process. I can remember when I first started, so I can share what I went through. I have a pretty good understanding of the psychology behind drawing—what happens, the internal messages that go on—and so that’s stuff that I work on with students. There are plateaus. The more you do, the more you draw, the more you see, the more mature your work becomes, and you’ll see improvement. It’s extremely difficult, but it’s extremely rewarding at the same time.
What are internal messages?
People have a tendency to try to make something perfect, and so whenever you try to make something perfect, you sort of limit yourself. So, there’ll be a lot of self-criticism, and when you start to criticize yourself, and it becomes so overwhelming, it stifles you. I see it all the time. The point is that it’s a process. Your work just gets more mature and more mature and more mature. And it’s not something all of a sudden you’re just going to get it one day, and you’ll be this fabulous draftsman or fabulous artist. It’s an ongoing thing, and when you allow yourself that freedom, and you become more friends with your self-critic, then you allow yourself to make mistakes. And you need to make mistakes in order to grow.