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Massy Interviews / Nicholas Tay

On May 21st, visual artist Nicholas Tay hosts the in-person workshop “Introduction to Expressive Figure Drawing Using Light and Shadow”.

The workshop, promoted to celebrate Tay’s group exhibition at the Massy Arts Gallery, is a hands-on class created for visual artists that are curious on how to start drawing from a live model, and are looking to learn methods for figure drawing.

The event will be hosted at the Massy Arts Gallery, at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.

The workshop is by donation + open to all of our community, and registration is mandatory.

Covid Protocols: For all in-person events, attendees must provide proof of vaccination, wear a mask (N95 masks are encouraged and recommended as they offer the best protection), and consent to having their temperature checked at the front door. We ask that if you are showing any symptoms, that you stay home. Thank you kindly.

Click here to register for the event

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To address Tay’s workshop and artistic inspirations, Rafael Zen interviews the artist for Massy Arts, discussing how figurative experimentations can capture and reflect a profound truth of the nature of human experience.

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Nicholas Tay / The Human Figure as a Gateway to Empathy

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Rafael Zen – Your workshop “Introduction to Expressive Figure Drawing Using Light and Shadow” is a hands-on class created for visual artists that are curious on how to start drawing from a live model, and are looking to learn methods for figure drawing. How do you think this it may help emerging artists? Why should folks (interested in drawing) apply?

Nicholas Tay – I feel that the human figure is a gateway to empathy. It has the ability to act as a universal form we all have an ability to engage with at an emotional level.

For the emerging artist, I hope it is a way to start building a visual vocabulary of how to put down marks on paper that resonate with both the artist and the viewer.

My hope is that this figure drawing workshop will help build or at least help an emerging artist consider the components of their visual language they will use to express their artistic voice.

For artists interested in drawing, figurative art or representational art, I feel this course will be helpful to take away the intimidation of both the blank page and the nude figure. The blank page can intimidate with its infinite possibilities and I feel this course makes it easier to navigate by providing a starting point with simple steps that build to expressive representation.

Conversely, when confronted with the nude form, the artist can be overwhelmed by the amount of visual information and nuance. This course will help break down observation of the nude form into more parseable components, and simplify how we observe the human form.

This course really focuses on two key aspects of visual art – how to process what we see, and how to capture that with the marks we make.

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RZ – At the event, you will discuss the use of light and shadow to depict expressive and dynamic human figures. What role do light and shadow play on drawing the human figure? What, as a visual artist and designer, do you think is harder to master when creating with drawings?

NT – When learning to draw the human figure, we are often confronted with a series of logical processes around proportion, structure and anatomy that primarily speak to the analytical mind. I feel that though these can sometimes be helpful, and at other times, this can be overwhelming to an artist and limit the natural flow that should come with capturing the living form.

There is a time where analytical figure drawing can be incredibly meaningful, but my feeling is that for the starting artist light and shadow are a more intuitive starting point.

In my personal art experience, and in the experience of the students I’ve had the opportunity to work with, I find the “Aha!” moment in capturing realism is when the relationship of light and shadow becomes clear. When we can effectively see how the shadow shapes describe the form, and how the highlight shapes describe the form.

Once we can accurately describe the two-value statement of light and dark, all the other details of anatomy and form just seem to fall into place. It definitely takes practice, and I think the relationship of seeing and capturing light and shadow on a form provides a strong foundation to practice on.

I feel the hardest part to master in the creation of drawings is maintaining the energy that is observed from life is still accurately manifested in the finished work.

It is so easy to fall back on rendering and detail that so often deaden or dilute the initial inspiration.

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RZ – Why choosing to work with a live nude model? What does this experience provide to folks learning how to draw?

NT – For me, the live nude model is the best way to observe the most important part of capturing the figure – the living energy. When working with photographic reference, or even studies, the artist is a series of steps removed from observing the immediate energy that moves through the body as muscles tense and relax to accommodate the different points of weight and stress on a pose over time.

Through the course of a pose, the model will subtly shift as muscles engage and relax, and as breathing settles, observing this ever-changing subject, and knowing what to capture, when and how to put down a mark, is the magic of what makes an artwork feel alive.

Oftentimes, when I was beginning my artistic journey, I found that my work was technically proficient with very academically rendered realism, and this work lacked a feeling of life and meaningful emotive impact. It was only when I learned what to look for in the living model was I able to imbue my work with the level of expression that was accurate to the feeling that I was hoping to capture.

It’s true much of this will be teased out through practice, but I feel a few pointers will help deepen the process.

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RZ – In your bio, you say that “art has been a dominant part of your life since earliest memories. Beyond words or numbers, it has been the most clear, honest, and comforting means of expression”. What role do you think art plays in human development? As an artist, what do you expect when you create a workshop and gather around artistic expression?

NT – I feel the role of art in human development is to honestly explore, capture and reflect a profound truth of the nature of human experience.

Art allows us to connect, share and heal on a level beyond ego and pain. It has this amazing power to cut through the defenses and obstacles of the conscious mind and reach the core of being.

Beyond the work of art, I feel the process of making art is also in and of itself impactful to human development. The diverse subjects that art explores, and the depth at which art explores them, provides for a profound human journey that is both experienced and documented.

As an artist, when we gather around a workshop built on artistic expression, it is my hope that we can shed the trappings of our surface appearance and build a connection on a shared excitement about an idea – an idea that is laden with depth and inherent empathy.

It is my deeply held belief as an artist and art educator that what we have in common is far greater and more meaningful than the details we cling to that are used to divide us.

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