Monday, November 8, 2010

An Interview with Artist Will St. John

And thus begins GCA's student and teacher interview series! Every few weeks a student, teacher or alumnus will be featured with their artwork and a one-on-one discussion concerning their life and art. 

This week we sit down with student and part-time teacher Will St. John. Will is an exceptionally talented draftsman, painter and sculptor in his fourth year at the academy. Will also co-instructs the Saturday "Structure Drawing" class with Colleen Barry, which has a focus on understanding anatomy and the workings of the human figure through direct study of the live model, ecorche, the skeleton and master works.

Was art a part of your life when you were growing up? Can you remember your first introduction to art?

My mom is a librarian, so when I was a kid I used to draw after school from these copy books she had in her library; there was a particular one of mythological creatures that I was really obsessed with. Each drawing  was broken down into basic shapes, ovals and squares, and you would elaborate on them until a centaur would appear, or a dragon. It was a bit like the Bargue book come to think of it. I remember copying and drawing out of those books and really enjoying it. After that, I was lucky to have an art teacher in high school who believed that drawing was important, and he introduced me to a local life drawing class, which was extremely helpful.

Did you attend any art schools before GCA?

After high school I went to college; not for art but for creative writing, here in the city at the New School. I took some drawing classes in college but it wasn’t really geared towards what I was interested in, so I started taking classes at the Art Students League. Then I went to Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia briefly and Studio Escalier in France. The level of instruction was really excellent there so when I came back to the States I wanted to find a teacher who had a similar method. That’s when I found Jacob and Water Street Atelier; which then became Grand Central Academy. It has taken a while to end up here, but I’m glad I finally did.

What do you feel has been integral for expanding your understanding of the human figure to a higher level?

Sculpture, more than anything, as well as the study of anatomy. I feel those two go hand in hand. If you’re doing anything for a long period of time, such as drawing the figure, or doing block-ins... you improve, but you also fall into habits. Sometimes you can gloss over things that you are doing wrong, or that you don’t understand. For me, sculpture revealed gaps in my understanding of the figure that I might not have recognized otherwise.
   I feel like it has also helped my understanding of the 2-D concepts taught here at the GCA. Oftentimes Jacob would tell me, “Imagine that your drawing is a sculpture, and you are reaching through the picture plane with your pencil.”  I tried to do that, and I sort of got there, but until I tried sculpting I couldn't really differentiate between the experience of copying patches of light shimmering in front of my eye and building form on the page.

In your opinion, what are the top drawing and painting exercises, besides cast drawing and figure drawing, that students should be investing their time in to improve as Classical artists?

I think making copies of Old Master drawings and paintings has really helped me improve, especially when I took the extra time to analyze them anatomically. Robert Beverly Hale's Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters is really great for that. There is so much complexity to these simple looking drawings, and Hale does a great job of explaining them in ways you would probably never think of. Again it goes back to understanding the thing you are drawing instead of just copying the appearance of things.

I also think that drawing from your imagination can be really helpful, and I don’t just mean dragons or whatever. Think about the pose that you drew from the model all day, and while going home on the train try drawing it from your mind. You can even try rotating it conceptually and visualizing it from different viewpoints and angles. Just see what you can do from imagination or from memory; what you can’t do is usually what you don't understand. It makes the gaps in your knowledge apparent, so you can then focus your attention on those problem areas when you're back in front of the model.

Do you have any last piece of advice for art students reading this interview?

I think it’s really difficult to do but extremely helpful to humble yourself by taking your painting/drawing and putting it next to something really good, something you really admire. Look at it and compare; see what differences there are between what you are doing and what they were doing. It’s really one of the hardest situations to put yourself into as an artist, but it will show you where you need to improve.

You can find more of Will's work at his website: .

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