Nicole Mone on the importance of drawing from life

July 1st, 2010

This is part of a series of posts about drawing and how artists use drawing.  Others in this thread are here.

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Great works are not created with technical ability alone, but it is the starting line.  I like the quote from William Morris Hunt, “Imagination comes in after we have experience.”

Nicole Moné on why she believes constant sketching from life is important.

Maia (left) and Outdoorsman (right), by Nicole Moné

Maia in Profile (left) and Outdoorsman, Potrait of the Artist's Father (right), by Nicole Moné


Nicole Mone's sketch of a boy on a Metronorth train

Nicole Moné's sketchbook: Drawing of a boy on a Metronorth train.

Nicole Moné almost always carries a sketchbook – usually a Moleskine – with her, to record her impressions of sights she sees in her travels both exotic and routine.  “In my opinion,” Nicole says, “you can never draw and sketch enough, nor will you ever reach a point where you no longer need to.  Continuous observation is essential” for artists.

For those wanting to draw the human figure, Nicole feels,

“a very important exercise is people-watching.  Studying people and the way they move, observing how arms relate to shoulders, how the back arches, how the pelvis tilts when legs move a certain way… When you train yourself to notice these things, you can more effectively translate your observations into your artwork.”

Nicole uses her sketches to record ideas for paintings or sculptures, and as studies for finished works.  Along with her sketchbook, her constant traveling companions include a camera.  “I always have a camera with me as well, and often use the photos in conjunction with my sketches to create a painting back in the studio….”

But if Nicole takes photos of something, you might ask, why bother sketching the same thing?  Nicole responds that drawing

“is important to me because, while sketching, even very quickly, I am more present in the moment than when I snap a photo and move on. Sketching teaches you to see better and remember more. You absorb so much more of your surroundings while sketching and you are listening, smelling & hearing the world around you in that moment….  Sometimes I only have a few minutes, or less, to capture a gesture or some intangible that I want to remember.  There is very limited information but I’ve gotten what I wanted.”

Nicole Mone's sketchbook: ink drawings of Key West

Nicole Moné's sketchbook: ink drawings of Key West

Nicole Moné's sketch of Aaron Shikler

Let’s look at a painting Nicole created based on one of her sketches.  At the time she made the sketch (left), Nicole herself was being painted by portraitist Aaron Shikler.  Sitting for him gave her time to study him from a unique angle.  Being simultaneously a model and an artist, Nicole was able to create an unusual work of art, “The Model’s Perspective #2” (below).

I love the way Nicole’s finished painting of Shikler captures the contemplative, right-brained state that artists often enter while working “in the zone.”  As an artist, I deeply resonate with the mood of this painting.  And apparently a lot of other people are affected by it, also: The Model’s Perspective #2 has been selected for the “Inspiring Figures” Exhibition and Competition through the Portrait Society of America, hosted by the Butler Institute of American Art, following a New York showing this summer in the Salmagundi Club’s Painting and Sculpture Exhibition for Non-Members.

The Model's Perspective #2, by Nicole Moné

The Model's Perspective #2, by Nicole Moné

Nicole described her process of sketching Shikler, which ultimately resulted in her evocative painting of this mood:

“While I was sitting for a painting for my friend and mentor, Aaron Shikler, I was intrigued by the way he was silhouetted against the windows of his studio and the look of the pipe smoke in the light.  I had plenty of time to observe him as he painted.  I made the sketch to work in conjunction with a few photos that I took with my camera phone.

“As you can see, the sketch didn’t end up being the exact pose I used in the final painting, but it provided me with the memory of the scene as I wished to convey it.”

Nicole’s initial sketch is a lovely example of a drawing that stands on its own, independent of the painting for which it was made.  She used lines and shading based on artistic choice rather than strict realism.  While the sketched lines of Shikler’s body capture his position perfectly, the shaded area draws our attention to the lines of his head as he turns away to focus on filling his brush with paint from his (out-of-sight) palette.
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This sketch also provides an excellent example of how an artist makes decisions about how to compose a final painting.  For the painting, Nicole made a major departure from her initial drawing.  She decided to paint Shikler in 3/4 view instead of the profile she had first sketched.  And Shikler’s hand is central in the final composition, not hidden as in the sketch.  Nicole made these choices because she wanted to show Shikler
“directly engaged with his work, instead of reaching past the easel to an unseen palette….  The 3/4 view also allowed me to convey some space and ‘air’ around the subject by playing with the smoke lingering between the pipe and his far shoulder.”

She began to make these decisions immediately after creating the sketch – while he was still painting her.

For comparison: The Model's Perspective #1 (left) and The Model's Perspective #2 (right), by Nicole Moné

For comparison: The Model's Perspective #1 (left) and The Model's Perspective #2 (right), by Nicole Moné

After Nicole returned to her own easel, in her first painted study (above), she began to experiment with the position of Shikler’s hand, the turn of his face, and the amount of shadow she wanted him in.

It’s interesting to compare # 1 and #2, in which Shikler is leaning father forward, his head slightly more tilted.  These slight changes in body position in #2 show him at a moment when he is more engaged in the act of painting.  Also in #2, Nicole has shifted her perspective to create less distance between Shikler and his easel: the window no longer separates them.  We see more detail in Shikler’s face, so the backlit lens of his glasses is no longer key.  To me, the first painting, while lovely, is more a study of light and smoke.  The changes Nicole made in #2 make it more about an artist’s process and mood while he paints.

Autumn Leaves - Week 16 of The Skeleton Project, by Nicole Moné

Autumn Leaves - Week 16 of The Skeleton Project, by Nicole Moné

Another of Nicole’s artistic interests is the skeleton, inspiring her to begin the Skeleton Project.  She draws from her own life-sized male skeleton which she bought from a medical supplier.  For animal skulls, she uses friends’ specimen collections and gifts she’s been given of animal bones by friends and Skeleton Project fans.  Nicole wrote,

“I love skeletons; there is something deeply beautiful about the human skeleton. Drawing skeletons gives you a greater understanding for drawing the human figure. When you know the architecture underneath, drawing the figure makes more sense.”

Skeleton Project painting by Nicole Moné

Skeleton Project painting by Nicole Moné

In the Skeleton Project, Nicole is fulfilling the words of William Morris Hunt which she quoted (above): “Imagination comes in after we have experience.”  Her fantastical skeleton paintings grew out of her studies of skeletons.  Nicole has turned her drawings of “the architecture underneath” on their heads.  What were initially sketches –  tools to prepare her to paint the human figure – have taken on a life of their own in Nicole’s imagination.

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Note on Nicole’s sketch materials: She wrote, “I enjoy the spontaneity & line quality of drawing with ink pens (brands I like are Stadtler, Prismacolor and Faber-Castell PITT artist pens)  though I will often use pencil or a combination of both.”  She also sometimes uses a kneaded rubber eraser to “sketch” on a page toned with Conté crayon, removing color to reveal a drawing.

Reuben (left) and Andy (right), by Nicole Moné

Reuben (left) and Andy (right), by Nicole Moné

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