David Woodie prepares an engraved copper plate for printing in the printmaking studio at the University of Alaska Southeast. Woodie serves as an adjunct drawing professor at the university.
Story last updated at 10/7/2009 - 11:37 am
I have become graphite on paper. In a series of sittings over the past few weeks, drawer and painter David Woodie stared me down and transferred my likeness onto paper.
After initially pursuing Woodie a few months ago for an interview, he consented, also suggesting that I sit for a personal portrait. The chance to participate in Woodie's creative process was an opportunity that could not possibly have been turned down.
As a now accomplished poser, I can tell you that holding still is not as easy as it looks. Even a low-stress reclining position can be less than comfortable when it lasts longer than a couple of minutes. Luckily, Woodie allows his models to break whenever they need to give their muscles a stretch and a rest. When I was in his studio I never held still for more than five to ten minutes at once.
I chose a pose that included a prop - my violin - the clutching of which eased the modeling process tremendously. An awkward feeling can come from purposelessly holding an arm in a certain place for more than a few minutes at a time. Holding the violin in a familiar position gave purpose to my lack of movement and took some of the potential strain from my muscles. The act of conversing with the artist also drew the mind away from any discomfort.
When Woodie's compositions include the human figure, he occasionally draws from photographs but he prefers working with live models. He can spend numerous hours on a drawing or painting, which means that a model must maintain a pose until Woodie has finished making his final marks.
But the cost of hiring a model pays off in Woodie's final product, creating a likeness that seems as if it wants to walk off of the page.
"There is so little information on a photo compared to what you get with your eyes," he said. "Unless you want it to look like a photo, you've got to have a model around."
Many of Woodie's paintings have been in the works for years, and he often calls on the same model over and again until he is satisfied with the outcome.
"A photograph is an instant," he said. "A painting is a long exposure. A drawing or painting could be hours or years."
On his first draft of my portrait, Woodie worked for about an hour, then asked me to shift my pose a tad and started on a second draft. After another hour he finished his second draft and our session for the day was over. When I returned the following week he started on a third drawing, which ended up being the final product. Another couple of sessions later, the drawing was complete.
As I studied the finished work, the artist told me that the splitting image of myself was not myself at all.
"That's not you," he said. "That's me dressed up like you."
Woodie approaches portraiture in this way, by figuratively "dressing up" as his subject in order to gain a greater understanding of them and better imitate their portrayal with his pencil or paintbrush.
In Woodie's drawing classes, he often employs models for his students to draw. He said people don't realize the value of drawing from a live model until they have been in a life drawing class and experience it for themselves.
"A bowl of fruit ain't the same thing," he said.
Libby Sterling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.