Drawing the Figure with Martin Pate

By: Alexis Westrick

Martin Pate started his Monday night figure drawing classes for his son.

When his son was considering a career in the arts, it became clear to Pate that an understanding of the human figure and how to draw it would be necessary. In order to build both the young artist’s portfolio and skill, Pate began to hold figure drawing classes.

At first the models were friends of his son from school. Later, Pate connected with a local dance school, and throughout the years they have introduced him to many of his regular models.

Even after his son was accepted into Ringling College of Art and Design, Pate’s alma mater, he continued to hold the class every Monday night. What began as an instructional experience, however, took on a new importance.

“I like the combination of drawing from life and the camaraderie of the class,” he said one evening as he prepared for the class.

Figure drawing is not necessarily a detailed form of art. An artist’s eye can accurately discern the shape of an arm or determine how long a leg needs to extend with a quick glance. Mastering the art of figure drawing teaches the artist to perfect that quick glance as well as to resist the urge to either photograph or second guess what they see.

Pate’s class provides the exact situation and model for artists to practice this skill.

The class takes place from seven to eight thirty at the Newnan Art House on Monday evenings. Each student pays a fee of five dollars, all of which goes to the model.

PHOTO GALLERY: Martin Pate in Action

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In order to warm up, Pate begins with several gesture drawings. These are just quick sketches using basic shapes with little to no detail.

After that, the model does a couple of fifteen minute poses, and the artists can then go into greater detail. To wrap up the class, the model usually does a twenty minute pose followed by a thirty minute pose. These poses allow the artist to take their time and consider the shape as well as the lighting of the piece.

Many artists bring small personal sketchbooks to the class, while others tote some as big as the average high school student’s desk. Pate usually works from one of these larger sketchbooks, drawing alongside his students, using picante, charcoal and chalk.

When he is not drawing, Pate walks around the room, offering assistance and advice. What instruction he does give is very light, “add more shadow here” or “lengthen that leg a bit,” in order to give the student control and room to improve.

Occasionally, Pate will give a twenty minute demo to show how he handles the human figure. He usually does this when there are new members in the class, and it provides a basic breakdown to help them get started.

When stepping into the room, a person can instantly feel the comfort of the class. The regular attendees know each other by their first names and will talk and laugh throughout the evening. At other times they will draw in silence and listen to Bob Marley or Simon and Garfunkel. It’s easy to understand Pate’s enjoyment of the camaraderie as well as the art happening in the room.

Like many artists, Pate runs the risk of staying at home too much.

“I work from home,” he explained, “so the class helps me get out of the house.”

Despite his apprehension about becoming a recluse, Pate remains very involved in the local art community. He participates in the Newnan Art Walk, and many of his pieces can be found in local galleries.

Growing up, Pate was influenced by his family of artists.

His older brother went to school for illustration, and as he said, this “fired me up.”

His grandmother was also a painter, but his aunt, however, was the one who made a huge impact on his life. His aunt was an illustrator and painter and was also involved in fashion.

While Pate and his brother were in elementary school, their aunt lived with them temporarily. He said, “I remember I loved watching her paint.”

Extremely family oriented, Pate said his favorite piece is a painting he did of his children at the Butterfly House at Callaway Gardens. He noted, “If my house was on fire, the first thing I would do would be to get my wife out, and then the painting.”

In high school he had an encouraging art teacher and was allowed to explore and have creative control over the majority of his works.

Later, Pate attended Ringling College of Art and Design, where he began a dual major in graphic design and illustration. Before he could finish his degree the school cut the dual major program, and he was forced to choose between the two.

“For me it was a no brainer” he said. “I chose illustration.” Although he took the illustration track, Pate is still glad for his instruction in graphic design, because he uses it to design logos, t-shirts, and brochures as well as his own promotional work.

His newest exhibition, Lost Edges, will be taking place from September 8th-October 19th at West Georgia Technical College.

His usual show would be composed of new pieces, but this time he is taking a different approach. He looked at work he had not finished and decided what he could have ready in time for the show. As he was going through he began to soften the edges, or as he said “lost the edge.”

The exhibition includes paintings that he has redone with this softer quality, as well as new ones. His goal is to inspire people to look back on their work and find new ways to explore it.

Pate’s advice to young artists is to draw, and to do a lot of it.

“You need the basic drawing structure for painting to work” he noted. “Draw mainly, paint later.”

Whether he is teaching figure drawing or perusing the sidewalks of downtown Newnan, Pate loves what he does and will continue to inspire others for years to come.