Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sneak attack

She did not see it coming. Neither she, nor her little girl had a chance. Even the security guard, happily chatting with his colleague, was completely clueless. I doubt he had noticed me, and even if he had, he would never have suspected that I was not just sitting there sipping my mocca. Months ago he had once spotted me, when I was careless, and asked what I was doing there. Just drawing, sir. And I showed him my sketchbook. Just drawing. Right.

I am not sure what made me choose her among the crowd at the Dufferin Mall. Maybe it was her walk, which explicitly involved her hips and shoulders in a rhythmical movement that waved through her body, ending in her beautiful dark brown hair. Or maybe it just was her child, holding her hand, riding the same wave. Two is so much more challenging than just one...

Cat Stevens sang that the first cut is the deepest, and I could not have expressed it better. With a quick confident stroke I made it to her spine, and as soon I felt I tapped her life force, I left her for a while to move to her daughter. Young and playful as she was, she escaped the first few slashes, and it took me three or four more strokes to get that wonderful feeling of life surging through my fingers, hands and upward. Knowing that I had gained control in a few seconds, I moved back to the mother, securing her bouncing hips and, as in one movement, her shoulders, along her arm back to the girl to catch that jumpy curly style of energy. It was over in less than a minute, and the last thing I remember was the soft feeling of her hair and a loosely falling coat. I will keep my trophy.

All that reminds me of that beautiful lady and her daughter is a quick scribble in my sketchbook, or a 'gesture' as it is usually called. Gesture was introduced by Kimon Nicolaides in the 1930s as the primary impulse of subject matter, the emotional response, the unifying element or, more poetic, what the wind is for the trees that it bends. His "The Natural Way to Draw" has been required literature for art students ever since. My instructor Nina teaches to approach the gesture inside out, starting at the core and working from there to the outside, like a sculptor sticking his clay onto a wire frame and I believe there is wisdom in these words.

I still feel myself being distracted by relative details like folds in skin or drapery and other external features, so I really need to urge myself to go for that spine, which gives our brain hands and feet, and to search for the hips and shoulders that make us rock and roll. And yet, I feel this is only the beginning of the story, since the gesture is so much more than just an anatomical skeleton. Years ago, when I first met Nicolaides, I concluded that gesture is that which cannot be drawn, and I still believe this is essential.

As for now, I will keep studying the gesture, through the daily work in my sketchbook. I'm not alone, as this is required practice for all Max the Mutt students. We are with many, lurking from the corners of Toronto malls, subway stations, busses, streets and parks. We want you, your impulse, your energy, your gesture. You will never see it coming, and it is over in a minute. At most. You will never be safe. Nowhere. Your life will never be the same...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's magic!

I must admit I giggled too, as my first association was that of Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, but our Animation Director asked us to show some respect, as the two men in this documentary were Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two legendary animators who were part of Disney's dream team, dubbed the 'Nine Old Men'. 

Frank and Ollie talked about their working on an impressive range of classics, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) till The Fox and the Hound (1981), and the documentary was interspersed with short fragments of these movies. 

And then, there was silence. The audience, a happy bunch of somewhat noisy young people plus yours truly, ready to start their education at the Max the Mutt School of Animation, had fallen silent on seeing Snow White's funeral, with weeping and sobbing dwarves all over the place. 
A fairy tale princess. Dwarves. Silence.

I had come to this place for the quality of its art education, and until then, I did not really have a strong preference for one program over the other. However, at that moment I made up my mind. If a fairy tale princess and seven dwarves, more than 70 years old, can silence a bunch of chips-eating high school kids in the 21st century, then I want to be an animator!