What Would Rubens Do?

Leah by Patricia Watwood, pencil on toned paper, 18 x 14, 2011.
Leah by Patricia Watwood, pencil on toned paper,
18 x 14, 2011.

I have just finished two big projects. Foremost, my show Myths and Individuals opened at the end of October at Saint Louis University Museum of Art. In two months the show will open for it’s New York City venue at The Forbes Galleries. As soon as I came home, I had to finish a new painting for the ACOPAL exhibit at the Butler Institute of American Art–which runs Dec 18, 2011 through Feb 27, 2012. I promise to tell you  more about that in my next post, but here’s my review for the last ACOPAL exhibition.

So, here I am, between projects, and in that place my painter friends and I call “Post Paint-em’ Depression.” Whenever you are completely finished with a body of work, a show, or a big project, all the adrenaline and deadline pressure is gone, and you are left with an empty studio and the inevitable self-examination of where you are on your artistic journey. It’s not always a comfortable place to be.

What I like to do in this time of “in between” is to go back to the beginning. For me, it starts with drawing. I agree with Ingres that “drawing is the probity of art,” and that all artistic investigation can begin from this simple touchstone. It doesn’t get more pared down than a pencil and a blank piece of paper. This is a great place to reacquaint myself with my artistic core–where I started, where I’ve come, and what I’ve learned along the way. The goal is to clarify what is most important in making art. For me, this also means working with a model and drawing from life. I don’t set any other boundaries for myself. In fact, I like to check my more conceptual and intellectual ideas at the door, and allow myself some unstructured, non-goal-oriented time to just explore with my pencil in hand.

And, while drawing with my model last week, I started a long conversation with myself about “What is drawing, anyway?” (You’d think after 15 years, I’d have worked that out, but really it’s complicated!)

Andrew by Patricia Watwood, pencil and white
chalk on toned paper, 16 x 12, 2011.

I thought about the many different styles of drawing with different priorities, and then asked, “How do I discern what is the most essential characteristics of my drawing?” By what standard shall I decide when my drawing is done? Is correct? Is good or bad? Every artist determines their own answers to these questions. Drawing is an amazing discipline precisely because it is at the same moment very simple, and infinitely deep.  It is instinctual and open-ended, and also very conceptual.

To help answer my questions, I think one question: “What would Rubens do?” Rubens is one of my favorite draftsmen–so personal and affectionate, combining form and structure with energy and gesture. Gorgeous contour, and enough value to show form and light, but not a tonalist by an means. He is pretty nearly perfect as a master teacher if you are looking for one to follow. So, I looked at Rubens and was reminded of his lovely balance between contour and interior volume. I saw how careful description of gesture creates mood and emotional connection. I saw how his painstaking care in rendering a facial expression and subtle forms marry integrity and excellence with the humility and mystery of nature.

 This drawing by Rubens shows how deftly he could create with just pencil on paper.
This drawing by Rubens shows how deftly he
could create with just pencil on paper.

So, while I am drawing, getting myself into a muddle, trying to dig my way out, I will ask “WWRD?–What Would Rubens Do?” and the Old Master will give me a hand out of the mire.


P.S. Here are a couple books I’ve been poring over:

Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series)

Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier by Juliette Aristides

For more painting instruction from Patricia, check out her latest DVD, Figure Painting: Realistic Skin Tone.

Related Posts:


Drawing Blog
Patricia Watwood

About Patricia Watwood

Patricia Watwood has studied painting with Jacob Collins at the Water Street Atelier, and also with Ted Seth Jacobs at Ecole Albert Defois. She earned her MFA with honors from New York Academy of Art.

Watwood paints nudes, figures, portraits and still lifes in the classical tradition. Her paintings draw on allegorical, mythological, and narrative themes. She continues the classical pursuits of representational painting, with an eye on the contemporary world. The recurring theme in her paintings is the spiritual human presence. Watwood states, “Formal training is the indispensable underpinning of my practice. I seek to follow and build upon the artistic intelligence and traditions of the past, and bring them anew to my own generation.”

Watwood has exhibited in group and solo shows in New York, Paris, Houston, San Francisco and Long Island.  Her work is represented by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco. Her figurative paintings have been included in several museum shows, including “Enchantment” at the Hartford Art School, “Slow Painting,” at the Oglethorpe Museum; “The Great American Nude,” at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences; and in “Representing Representation VI,” at the Arnot Museum. Her work has been featured in numerous art publications including International Artist, and a recent cover article in American Artist magazine.
Watwood also does portrait commissions, and is represented by Portraits, Inc.  Her recent projects include a portraits for Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, and the former Mayor of St. Louis, for St. Louis City Hall.  Watwood is currently teaching at the New York Academy of Art, and at the Teaching Studios of Art in Brooklyn. 

Watwood and her husband and two daughters live in Brooklyn, New York.

3 thoughts on “What Would Rubens Do?

  1. Rubens is a favorite of mine, too. A question I’ll start asking myself is Wat Wood Patricia Do? Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself — but in all honesty, I do take clues and learn from your works.

  2. “Wat Wood Patricia Do?” ok cheesy– but funny!
    Patricia would add more emotion! When I was drawing this morning, I picked a pose that seemed to “tell a story”, about the model and my view– I like to draw from a pose that contains some evocative mood, and eludes to a narrative. “Connect. Only Connect!”