Charcoal Figures

We, as human beings, notice the specifics. We converse with others by analyzing their facial features- their eyes, their noses, their mouths- and asking questions. The unknown specificities clarify and the general aspects, what we colloquially call their “aura,” are disregarded. The beauty of the generalities surrounding the human figure dissipate into specificities.

    As I stepped into the Figure Drawing class, I acknowledged the beauty I might witness. I knew that everything had the possibility of beauty. However, I was viewing the world specifically, I saw the eyes and nose, and appreciated these features but ignored the general silhouette.

    The first day of class, we were taught the technique of massing: the creation of a charcoal shadowed silhouette.   

    Holding the charcoal in an awkward side position, we were taught to slide it across the page, creating silhouettes, but not details. I repetitively dropped the charcoal and berated myself for the lack of detail and incorrect proportions. I was completely undermining the meaning of “massing.”

    As I progressed through the traditional steps of figure drawing, I found that I could not create the detail I wanted with the cumbersome charcoal stick; regardless, I practiced repetitively, not wanting to fail or give up, and eventually a figure appeared.

    The piece in front of me was far different from the technically oriented pieces that I had predicted. This creation was beautiful, yet, opposite of my assumption. Examining further, I realized the importance of massing. Out of the massed depiction, a undetailed figure of shadow and light had emerged. Its face was a blur of depth: the nose and eyes, that I knew were no longer needed, faded into the general figure.

    I had always assumed, while looking down at papers and reflections, that the details were most important. I judged and perfected these features: the eyes, the nose, while completely ignoring the figure holistically. Methodically, the model would fade into lines my pencil could not trace and shapes my hands could not replicate. Then, the beauty of the figure and their subsequent existence disappeared.

    Figure drawing was merely one medium to temporarily appreciate the human figure; however, in that moment of concentration, I was forced to disregard the specificities and concentrate on the beauty of the general figure. I know any participant can cultivate this fleeting experience to alter their general appreciation of the human figure. Large noses and small eyes can fade, replaced by the beautiful mass of the human figure.

Grace Smith