After posing nude for a couple of hours, our wonderful male model dressed in a pirate costume, complete with plastic sword, with sea shanty and pirate songs playing on the stereo. He was such a delight, with a warm smile and a white beard ending in a long, skinny braid. I used four Conté Pencils in white, black, sepia and sanguine on black pastel paper for this long pose (90 minutes).
I’m finding more ease with life drawing lately as I apply the techniques I’ve been taught over the years but that hadn’t “clicked” until now. Finally I’m willing to do a little measuring of lines, shapes and angles instead of “just going for it,” which is fun, but always wonky (not that my drawing isn’t still wonky, even when I do my best to measure—but I’ve also learned that “wonky” is what gives work our own style and I like my wonky.)
Three resources that have helped me learn to draw better:
- The book Sketching – from Square One … to Trafalgar Square that explains better than I can, techniques to improve your drawing.
- Sadie Valeri’s excellent student handout that I got when I took a workshop at her studio, which she has generously given me permission to share with you: sadie-valeri_draw_block-in_08-2013-2 (PDF Download).
- Sadie Valeri’s free video demonstration of how to do a “Straight Line Block In.” All of her videos are excellent, free or paid. She is one of the most generous and clear teachers that I’ve studied with. She is brilliant at lifting the veil between the subject, your eyes and your brain so that you can see what’s really there and draw it.
Here are the ways I practiced some of these techniques in this drawing:
- first determined whether the subject is wider or narrower using a skinny stick (e.g. a bamboo skewer or knitting needle) held at arm’s length to compare both directions so I know whether to place the drawing and the paper in portrait (tall) or landscape (wide) orientation.
- marked where I want the top and bottom of the drawing on the paper (to avoid decapitation or leg/foot amputations).
- measured the size of the model’s head with the skewer, marking the size on the stick with my thumb and then moving down his body, measuring how many heads fit from his chin to the lowest part of his body (e.g bottom of foot). In this case there were 5 heads.
- divided the space between the top and bottom marks on the paper into 5 equal sections, using the sepia pencil so it wouldn’t show much.
- noted where on the models body each of those “head” divisions were (e.g. chin bottom, right knee top, left knee top, right foot bottom, left foot) and indicated that on the paper. I also noted how many “heads” wide the subject was at the widest part and marked that.
- sketched the head in its section.
- held up the skewer along the angles from the top of the head out to the sides to find the shape of the imaginary “envelope” that the pirate’s body would fit into and drew those lines lightly on the paper (see Sadie’s handout).
- broke that envelope down into smaller and more exact shapes, looking for negative space shapes and angles to help find the shapes that made up his body parts.
- continued doing the same, ending with the feet, which I didn’t quite finish as time ran out.
- drew the whiskey bottle (which was actually empty) during model breaks.
The model asked to take a photo of my drawing at the end of class. That was a first…and a great payoff to practicing the tools!