If I ever get fired from my job, it’s probably because of this project (with the whole “throwing things at students’ heads” and all). It’s far and away my favorite project I teach every year–it’s unique, it’s a LOT of fun, and it develops (or reveals) my students’ drawing skills. It’s our Robert Longo project.
First, if you’re not familiar with Robert Longo, he’s an American artist who first gained widespread fame with his Men in the Cities series. He’s gone on to do an incredible amount of impressive work, generally large-scale and done in graphite or charcoal. You can see an interview with him here (look out for some bad language by the artist).
If you were too lazy to click on the link above, here’s another chance to see some pictures of his Untitled (Men in the Cities) drawings.
Perhaps the best (brief) description of his working process can be found in an old article here, and another quick explanation with some great pictures here. In other articles and biographies, there are descriptions of people dancing and dying, people gyrating, write-ups about their general awkwardness, or whatever else.
I prefer, however, the urban legend shared with my by my art history professor in college: Longo would hire models to come to his studio, ask them to dress in formal wear, then do a few inconspicuous figure drawings. After those were finished, Longo would offer the models copious amounts of cash if, you know, he could just throw dangerous objects at them as hard as he could. Look at those drawings again–makes sense, right?
Is the story true? Evidence tells me it’s not, but I hope I’m wrong. Is it the story we go with when I present this to the class? Absolutely. They love the idea of throwing stuff at models, particularly after going through a couple weeks of figure drawings, is always appealing.
And of course, my kids always bring up this scene from Dodgeball:
The look on their faces when I tell them WE are going to throw stuff at each other is one of both disbelief and excitement. And I love it.
We pick a day, and everyone shows up in their best clothes–shirts and ties for the guys (suits if we’re lucky), and nice dresses for the girls–we’ve even had a couple of prom dresses make an appearance. Some of the more ambitious girls will wear heels, and though I get nervous about that when they are jumping and dodging objects, we haven’t had any broken ankles (yet).
This year’s collection of objects to throw:
3 Tennis Balls
2 Disgusting Sponges from the Ceramics Room
Ball of Yarn
Paint Palette (they work great as frisbees)
Stuffed Animals–1 Goat, 1 Santa Claus
Rolls of Tape
Miscellaneous Other Stuff
From there, it’s just a big game of dodgeball! We line up, firing squad-style, and throw one at a time. The model tries to dodge the throws, over-exaggerating their movements for the best poses. We set up multiple cameras, as I’ve found we have a better chance of capturing the best shots when we do so. And did we ever get some great ones this year . . .
After that, students select the photos they want to draw. We make choices on composition when cropping and arranging photos, then it’s just up to our drawing skills. Some grid, some freehand, but we just try to emphasize detail and shading while keeping a blank background (in the Longo style). I’ve done every size, and can’t really recommend one more than another. Huge drawings are always impressive if they are done well, but it’s obviously quite a trade-off with the amount of time involved.
And, of course, we will finish with a few of our results. Pretty well-done.