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Student Perspective: Lisa Wilde on “Sacred Geometry Marathon” with Clintel Steed

Clintel Steed’s Sacred Geometry Marathon was a transformative experience for me. Because of COVID restrictions, a limited number of students were allowed to attend this Marathon and we were “podded” into two large studios. We all wore masks, including the instructor and the model.  The structure of our days was like other Marathons – Clintel would give us an assignment and we would draw from the model. We worked big, starting at 48”x48” and going up from there. Because of COVID restrictions, we could not meet as a whole class, so Clintel did individual critiques in each studio, which often became focal points of group discussion.

Sacred geometry, in two-dimensional art, is understanding picture-making through spatial dynamics. The focus of the Marathon was the rectangle (or square) of the paper and how the interior vision – what we’re creating – relates to the edges: the push and pull, the energy, the relationships and pressure. Clintel called sacred geometry “the invisible veil” that holds pictures together.

One of the many tools Clintel gave us were grids, assigning a specific grid to each drawing. The grid had to be put on your paper in red pencil so it stood out, and the purpose was to impact consciousness of your marks and their relationship to the edges, to each other and to the grid itself. The first grid, on a 48”x48” sheet, was one vertical line down the middle of the paper. Our assignment was to use pencil to draw the model in the room, with the emphasis on the room and connecting to the edges of the drawing. No tone or shading.

On Day 2, we used the same size paper, this time with a grid of three evenly spaced vertical lines. The model set-up was the same, but the focus was not to repeat what we had done the previous day. This is when Clintel introduced an idea that would come up over and over again: How can we use the guide of geometry to avoid sleepwalking through decisions?

Each day our grids became more complex and Clintel began including other elements. Day 3’s assignment was to add tone, though not tone as shadow – tone as a force, like Seurat’s drawings. I had a hard time separating this concept of tone from shadow and/or color.

Day 4 brought in the concept of dots with a ballpoint pen as our tool. The dots were all about relationships. Clintel told us that after the first mark, nothing is arbitrary – it is all relational. The dots represent the spatial relationships: the model’s head to the corner of the wall, the model’s head to the corner of the model stand, etc.  We should use the dots to help us think about how deep the space is. How do we break the picture plane? Let the structure talk to us. I found making this drawing incredibly interesting and challenging, but, as Bailey, one of the MFA students in the class said, “Your drawing looks like someone used it for target practice.” It was true.

For those of you who don’t know him, Clintel is a force of nature. Besides having deep knowledge of art and art-making, he exudes passion, intelligence, a deep-seated generosity and openness, all which create an atmosphere of energy, focus and trust in the studio.  I saw Clintel as a combination of Zen master, coach and friend. He said to empty our minds and challenged us with what felt like Zen koans: “Nothing is arbitrary.” “Get lost in seeing the relationships.” “Allow yourself to make lines that are not describing things.” As a coach, he gave us tools to push ourselves to be our best, most authentic self: “How are your lines holding the tension?” “Are there places on the edges of the canvas where the energy leaks out?” “If stuck, find another place on the page to begin the dialogue.” As a friend, he advised: “Don’t judge. Transform judgment. Ask yourself what would I do next time?” “Be willing to be at 0.” “Always be honest.”

Day 5 brought us back to tone, with the addition of shape. The grid was three evenly spaced horizontal lines and three evenly spaced vertical lines.

Day 6 – Monday. I showed up at the School early, but when no one else had arrived by 9am, I knew something wasn’t right. It turned out that a student reported potential COVID symptoms over the weekend, and the School – being proactive and taking precautions – switched the class to a virtual format. However, because the School had ample space, we were told we could have individual studio spaces to complete the Marathon if we were unable to work virtually from our home I moved my materials into a huge room on the second floor and went back to Brooklyn to get my computer. By the afternoon, the class had resumed virtually, and we had two incredible models sending us video feeds from their apartments.

During the second week, on Zoom, we did two large transcriptions, focusing on the painter’s use of sacred geometry, as well as a number of drawings from the computer screen of the models in their apartments.

Transcription – Euan Uglow’s “Curled Nude on a Stool” using an X grid.
Transcription – Euan Uglow’s “Three in One.” Clintel asked us to see how the space devours the figure, and I certainly felt that. He told us to identify what puts pressure and what makes pressure.

The last work for the class was 60”x65”, using black and white acrylic paint. The grid was a dimensional box just inside paper’s edges to help us focus on breaking the picture plane. We again worked off the screen. There was much to think about while making this drawing: Respect for the rectangle. Which lines hold things spatially? No lazy lines. All marks are intentional. Treat everything as interesting, giving all parts of the canvas the same care. Break the picture plane. Let the drawing be an experience for the viewer.

Woven into our Zoom days were regular discussions of artists’ work from the standpoint of sacred geometry. Clintel also regularly connected what we were doing back to a personal studio practice. “Next week you’re going to be back in your studio and what are you going to take with you?” “Use this to rethink your purpose in the studio.” “How do we engage? How do we reengage?”

Zoom allowed us to have individual critiques with the group in a way that wasn’t possible with the COVID social distancing rules. However, getting people to talk on Zoom takes a lot on the part of the instructor and I actually made a list of some of what Clintel said to motivate us. My favorite: “The discussion is a gift you give your classmates, but it also is a gift you give yourself. Verbalizing your thoughts clarifies and affirms your thinking.”

The Marathon – in-person and virtual – was an amazing, unforgettable experience, made more resonant by what is going on in our world right now. I feel very lucky to have been able to participate, and I want to commend everyone at the Studio School for their incredible attentiveness to COVID protocols and of course thank Clintel for his steadiness in terms of steering us through it all. I want to close with another quote from Clintel:

“We aren’t in the classroom together because this is an unbelievable time, and the fact that we are on Zoom and not in the classroom recognizes the seriousness of what is going on. But how can we be on Zoom and still have a sense of community?  COVID has changed our lives, but we need to realize that perhaps this means that even more we need to stay with our humanness.”




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