Occasionally I sit in on an a dance class to draw the figure in motion. One day the piece in process climaxed in a willowy cluster of legs on tiptoe supporting a dense mass of torsos topped by a flurry of faces, arms, and hands. This looked like a painting. I brought a camera next time, and took several photos, including the one below.
A 24″ square canvas seemed about right.
The first pass takes about ten minutes; it roughs in the shape of the group and how it will drive against the edges of the canvas. This sense of action is the basis of the piece, and determines everything that follows.
The second pass comes a day or two later, when the first is dry, and takes half an hour. Here the principal shapes are roughed in. Baseboard and wall molding suggest the space widening as the dancers advance.
The third pass, after another day or two, takes an hour. It blocks in the mass of the group and indicates color.
The fourth pass firms up detail decisions about shapes and tones. But there are problems. The biggest of these is that the group floats indecisively in the space. The most direct solution is to reduce the canvas from 24 x 24 to 22 x 22, taking the excess mostly from the top and right side. This will bring the hands and arms closer to the edges and energize the negative space around the group.
Finishing takes the better part of a morning. It can be handled pretty freely because most of the compositional decisions have already been made. It’s largely focused on color, firming up shapes, and strengthening contrasts. Limiting the flesh tones to light, medium, and dark, and the blacks to a deep off-black and black, makes the masses of bodies and limbs more coherent. Getting rid of the ceiling and firming up the tone and color of wall and floor emphasizes the negative spaces between the figures, and the gestures of the hands and feet.