Alive not Like Life

Franciso Lezcano
Franciso Lezcano
Francisco Lezcano, sketched in the Prado after Velasquez

A recent dive into a box of old sketchbooks from decades of practice, I came upon a drawing sketched in Madrid on a winter afternoon, long ago. It was drawn in the Prado, copied from the Diego Velásquez painting The Boy From Valleas (Portrait of Francisco Lezcano).

It has been a long time since I made the trek to the hallowed grounds of classical painting and portraiture where so many artists including Manet had ventured to see the works of the Spanish masters, chief among them, Velásquez and Goya. for Manet, a new railway had made…


Drawing from Not Quite Life In the Age of Corona

There are no more life drawing sessions.

No more community drawing sessions with an ever-shifting tribe of artists, students, and other enthusiasts gathering for the ritual of drawing the human figure from life. No more costume figure classes at the art college, with models dressed as detectives and gun molls.

At least not in person.

Like so many experiences, in this COVID moment, real-life figure drawing has been replaced by the virtual. Online figure drawing, a variation of something we once did in real life. …


I am often on the lookout for opportunities to spark my drawing practice. Sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping my eyes open. On this day, I was heading into the school from the parking lot to teach a class on ink drawing one chilly dawning morning in late November. A gnarly tangle of bent branches and twigs caught my eye at the base of the Burdock trees that border the lot. The so-called invasive species trees harbour hundreds of robins in winter who enjoy the plentiful berries.

Places we rarely stop and notice: parking lots, bus stops, subway platforms…


Let’s say you are sitting in the subway, minding your own business, scrolling on your phone. You look up and someone is scribbling in a journal, glancing at you surreptitiously. If that someone is me, there’s nothing for anyone to be concerned about. Except for: will I finish my sketch before you get off at the next stop?

I draw people in everyday life, people on trains, people in coffee shops, people waiting in line. I carry a sketchbook with me everywhere I go. Over time, I’ve used all kinds: Moleskines, Muji notebooks, or dollar store journals. …


Like a massive slab of arctic ice, the cloud is suspended against a distant pale blue backdrop. My eyes scan the horizon, taking in the massive shape over nearby rooftops. I experience it as a cohesive, expansive whole, stretching wide across my field of vision. I have painted hundreds of these skies. With each new sky comes a new experience.

With tangible weight and limitless depth, the sky seems to be in an ongoing process of disorganization and reorganization. I want to capture it, express it on paper. …


We are in an open life drawing session in the city. The room is packed. Both experienced artists and beginners of all ages come here to make drawings of a life model. Some artists look purposeful, intent; sharpening pencils with X-Acto knives or stroking warmup patterns onto the page. Others idle nonchalantly or chat casually with a neighbor. The model, a lean an agile man in his seventies stands on a broad raised platform, readying himself to perform a series of short gesture poses. Overhead spots cast a light that suggests the drama of theatre. We open sketchbooks, or flip…


It can get downright deadly. We sense the tension and danger: shakedowns, ransom calls, double-crosses and heists.

I teach a figure drawing class in a college animation program and entire sessions are dedicated to drawing models dressed in character, onstage. This week we are doing Film Noir with two models: The detective and the femme fatale. Ed a stoic, resigned gumshoe in a trench coat and fedora, and Deb the mysterious, seductive lady in red, act out a series of short poses. They create a tableau of poses with props and expressive gestures: standing still, alert back to back with…


Sometimes I use the Three Pose Approach in figure drawing sessions. In it, you apply three very diverse drawing strategies that may allow you to relate to the pose and ‘get’ the pose onto the page. The intention is to keep ‘reframing’ the drawing experience and achieve fresh insights. The three actual approaches may vary. There are even more than three approaches. But I limit it to three specific strategies in one particular session, Three being a good number — not too much, not too little for one exercise.

The Three Pose Approach is a misnomer just as is Blind…


They look back at us. They look back with eyes that are wary, bold, wondering, assertive, doubting. Artists paint and draw the face and eyes they see in the mirror, but what they seek to show, is a hidden mind looking back out through those eyes. Look to the Italian for the self-portrait, which is l’autoritratto.’ Rittrato is picture or portrait and ‘auto’ is derived from the Greek — self, same, spontaneous; directed from within. …


Among the greatest portraits, there are certain ones that fascinate me: portraits with presence.

These paintings depict both famous and everyday people who may look back at us with a penetrating, meaningful stare. Or they might look down or away, in an intriguing way. I feel that I recognize these characters. They seem fully alive and have both a fascinating personality and an interesting history. I want to know the story in that gaze. I feel presence.

What is in this presence, and how did the artist achieve it? Does it only have to do with the handling of the…

Tim McCormack

Tim McCormack is an an artist and teaches Figure Drawing in the animation program of Sheridan College www.timmccormackdraws.com

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