For being alive

For being alive

An almost first attempt at figure. After I sketched about a dozen marble statues in the Art Institute I felt brave enough to try for a finished figure drawing. This is a graphite study for a painting. I am still working on a painting, and if it will come out decent I will post it here.

A couple of words about the title. “For being alive” is a half a line from an English translation of a Russian poem by Osip Mandelstam. The poem was written in 1909.

For my guests who read Russian, here is the first stanza:

Дано мне тело – что мне делать с ним,
Таким единым и таким моим?

За радость тихую дышать и жить
Кого, скажите, мне благодарить?

And a translation by A. S. Kline:

What shall I do with this body they gave me
so much my own, so intimate with me?

For being alive, for the joy of calm breath,
tell me, who should I bless?

This is not a bad translation, better than many I come across while trying to bring my husband to the magic of Russian poetry. The mood and quiet intimacy of the original poem was nicely preserved. Unfortunately the music and the cadence of Mandelstam’s wordsmithing are lost in translation, as is the case with too many poems of that period. I guess there is no helping that.

9″ x 12″ (23 x 30 cm) graphite on paper


21 thoughts on “For being alive

    • Oh, Leslie! You are such a cheerleader for me! Made me blush! … I have also posted the drawing on the Figure forum of WetCanvas and have gotten some very helpful suggestions. I will need to work on her mouth to make the outline less defined, her sternocleido-mastoid muscle to flare it out at the top of her neck, and smooth the unflattering lump on her breast. Gotta love folks at WC!

      • Yes I am a cheerleader. I know you are shooting for photo realism and I rest my exuberance. I rather liked the stress you placed on the mouth and the extra emphasis to display strain in her neck and jaw. I thought you exercised artistic license, there, and I got all excited. Lumpy breast? I kind of liked that because it caught my attention in a sweet spot and threw my eye up to her elbow, up her arm and into the strain of her neck.

        • I love you, girl heart! No, it was not me exercising my artistic license, it was my ignorance of underlining anatomy, LOL. But don’t tell anybody! I like artistic license as an explanation much better!

          At the same time after having this little exchange with you here, I am not that sure I want to make all these changes. I will probably fix the mouth because too many people, almost everyone, question the outline and expression. But I will think some more about her neck and breast, they may stay the way they are. Thank you for talking to me like this – artist-to-artist, it really helped to articulate things in my head.

  1. Sadly, the only Russian I know is a little bit of Russian Mat. I’ve always wanted to learn it someday in addition to more Spanish.

    Figures seem difficult to do in sizes smaller than 11×14″ but you’ve done your typical fine job of being able to fit more detail in a smaller size than I’d think possible. I particularly like the gradients on the torso and arms.
    It reminds me of Michael’s work (Michaeleric from WC) given the subject matter and pose. 😀

    Is this on Stonehenge? It has a similar texture.

    Something else I just noticed: use the Desaturate command on graphite drawings in Photoshop or Gimp. I never noticed it before with my old monitor but the new one picks up the subtle difference between Real Grayscale and Grayscale Drawing That’s Secretly in Color. Or I could be wrong and it could be that uploading it changed it a little.

    • Hey, Sam! So good to hear from you! You haven’t posted on WC! in several weeks, must have gone in hiding… or had finals or something…

      Ok here, one thought at a time. Russian Mat is a phenomena, it is poetry in itself. I am not joking. It is a developed sub-language, and an original and articulate usage of it is highly respected both among delinquents and intelligentsia. Famous Russian poets have written large works using Mat alone.

      My paper (9×12) turned out to be too small, I felt boxed in and constrained, wishing for a few more inches at least length wise, her hips have such beautiful curves. I will know better next time. It is Bristol Smooth, I just worked my darks to death. And I too thought of Michael while working on “appendages”, chuckling to myself that he’d sure appreciate them :D.

      My curiosity is picked up, how did you see that this is a “Grayscale Drawing That’s Secretly in Color”? The drawing is certainly in graphite, but I scanned it in a color image mode. My dorky scanner does whites better in color mode, don’t ask me why. Thanks for the heads up about Desaturate command. I found it and applied it, but was not able to see any difference on my monitor. I need a better monitor, I suppose…

  2. I find it amazing that a language can develop its own sub-language out of just those kind of words. There isn’t really any sort of English equivalent, all we have are things like the cluster F-bomb which is just… not that versatile.

    Over time, I’ve found that I prefer more square formats over rectangles for many things except figures. 8×10, for example, seems a better ratio for a portrait than the taller 9×12. I have no idea why we ended up with 8×10″, 8.5×11″, and 9×12 as common ratios for paper but it sure makes framing hard.

    For some reason I’ve always been pretty keen on recognizing different shades of gray and black, picked up if they have a warm or cool tint or whatnot.
    I actually think I read somewhere that color is better for scanning graphite.

    • Thank you, Francis! I like the graphite version better than color, amazingly enough. At the same time I am more experienced with graphite, even it is only by a few months. The watercolor painting of her is my first try of doing figure in color. I have a lot to learn, obviously, and hope to get better with practice 🙂 .

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