I just made a big leap in my understanding of figure and portrait drawing so wanted to share previous sketches and paintings before the new work. Above is a photo of the “figure drawing wall” in my studio. I’d covered this wall with black non-fade bulletin board paper to avoid reflected light when I’m at my easel (that stands just to the right of this photo). Then I hung black metal grid panels that I got super cheap on Craigslist and use little magnets to stick the drawings to the grid wall. Now it’s easy to add, move or replace drawings with better ones as my skill improves and I can hang framed paintings from it with grid wall picture hooks.
Below are assorted figure and portrait drawings from past Friday Figure Drawing sessions. Click on any image to go to slide-viewing mode and click through them using the arrows on each side.
Charcoal on paper
Pregnant Mama, conte on paper
Woman with headdress, charcoal on paper
Charcoal on paper
Fallon in Elizabethan Collar, Pencil drawing
Top Knott, charcoal on paper
10 Minutes, charcoal on paper
Hat Guy, Conte on Paper
Conte drawing from first 20 minute session for underpainting
Brian in conte, 1 hour, trying to see the planes of his face
An artist at a portrait workshop I attended was using one of these cute retro-looking red metal pencil sharpeners. I knew she was a student at Sadie Valeri’s Atelier and was surprised that she wasn’t using the traditional sharpening technique that Sadie demonstrates on this video. I told her I failed miserably when I tried that approach and was grateful for her recommendation to order one from the manufacturer, Classroom Friendly Supplies.
I received it quickly, watched their how-to videos and started sharpening my charcoal and graphite pencils. I got some nice, long points (see above photo) but also went too far several times, breaking the lead and having to repeatedly take the device apart to get the little chunk out (they have a video showing how to do that too). Once I figured out that 5 was the maximum number of handle rotations needed to get just the right point (fewer if it wasn’t too dull) I stopped breaking/wasting the lead. Some of the breakage might also have been from the lead being broken inside the wood casing from having dropped the pencils before.
When I discovered the opening on the sharpener was too small for my Conté pencils I inquired about Classroom Friendly’s large-hole sharpener and they offered me a complementary one in exchange for posting an honest review on my blog. I accepted and received the black and white model above. This large-hole version can sharpen both large and regular diameter pencils so is really all I would have needed. One difference between the two models is that this one has a stop that prevents extra long leads and associated waste from not stopping soon enough. In the photo above you can see the nicely sharpened Conté pencils.
One day I will learn to sharpen pencils properly by hand, but until then, these Classroom Friendly Sharpeners are my new good friends, making quick work of sharpening a dozen pencils before going to figure drawing and easily portable to bring to class.
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:
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!
I took a wonderful Alla Prima Still Life workshop from Sadie Valeri recently and really enjoyed the class. She is such a generous and knowledgeable teacher. I really appreciate the way she is able to verbalize what she’s thinking as she demonstrates and how organized and thorough her teaching style is. I got this one nearly done before the end of the day and finished it up at home from memory.
We started the day by doing a lemon study on Canson Vidalon Vellum. What a great idea for a painting surface for studies–so much cheaper than using panels or canvases. Taping it to a board with a piece of white or grey paper underneath works great. This was a limited stroke painting, done quickly as a warm up to practice laying in colors in little color chips, side by side.