Category Archives: Part 4

Part 4: Project 2: Exercise 1 – Quick studies

Okay… so I managed to find a local life drawing group in King’s College Cambridge called Cambridge Sketchers. They hire a room and a professional model and have timed poses. But no teacher and no sharing or comment so this is all my own work.

However, I have no control over the length of poses so had to go with what’s on offer which was: 1 x 5 minute pose; 4 x 1 minute poses; 4 x 5 minute; 2 x 15 minute; 25 minute; 20 minute.

1 @ 5 minutes pencil on A4 in sketchbook on my knee

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I tried to use my idea of shapes starting with the hips as a sphere and building outward.  Plus using a line to roughly connect the head with the heels and then relate everything to that.

There are lots of things wrong with it (as with all of these… so I’ll just pick out a few things for each – and then try to find something that works… ish!!).

The curve of the shoulders is too great… though roughly divided into arms, legs, torso and head there’s no real definition of limbs… the model had more weight… the head’s a tiny bit small.

But the overall shape doesn’t make me gasp. It’s roughly human and in proportion.

1st of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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Barely had time to look (I like looking before I draw) and no time to block off the body. Just had to be bold and go for it!

The legs are much too short for the body and the stomach is much bigger.

But… there are things I like about this more than the other one.

The quality of marks on the torso and head are much looser. And the arm crossing the head captures the feel well… in fact the shoulders up is the best bit!!! They work aesthetically and capture something of the model.

2nd of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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This time I decided to spend some of my sixty seconds looking and then try to draw the model in a few lines getting the proportion right.

The good thing is it looks like a person and the shape (for a human) is just about right.

But… it’s not the model!!!!!

What I’ve drawn is some ideal that must be in my head?!

3rd of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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I liked the idea of looking, and I thought fewer lines worked but this time I thought I’d better try to draw the model in front of us… and still try to get the proportions and shape right.

I didn’t have time to do the head or legs…

Again, I think fewer lines works better and it’s nearer the model. The breasts and foot are the simplest lines and most effective. And the proportions look about right.

The bit I worked on (if it can be called that in 15 seconds) using shape – a sphere for the bottom – starts to work but is dead and wooden.

4th of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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I started with shape (rectangle for the torso) on this one determined to fit the whole body in but lost both the head and feet.

There’s nothing I like about this… maybe her right knee?

The legs and bottom half of the torso are in proportion but nothing like the model.

1st of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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I went back to trying to use shapes to construct the form and then add detail on top of that.

My main criticism – there are lots of things to criticise! – is that it feels heavy and overworked. The lines laboured.

The legs are too small (again!) and the attempt at detail doesn’t add anything.

Her left foot is beginning to work.

2nd of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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The same fault with the legs (too small) and the back leg is in some weird position… splayed back and sideways!

Three things I like about this: the elbow foreshortens towards the viewer and is beginning to work; the hand falls nicely on the body; and the right foot is roughly in the right position.

I have attempted a face – even if I’ve managed to lose most of her bunched hair!

And again it’s very wooden and heavy.

3rd of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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This is all relative… but I really struggled to get the left knee bent and the foot on its toes… and didn’t succeed. The shape of the thigh is all wrong, but I’m not sure how to mend it.

Again I used light geometric shapes and then added human detail… I don’t think it’s very effective… the legs are still too short (a little better), she carried a lot more fat, her left arm looks disabled below the elbow!.. and the marks are heavy.

However, the right hand wrapped around the body looks accurate.

4th of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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It’s strange but 5 minutes I found harder than one – it was time to think but not time to do anything!!! With one minute at least you had to be intuitive… look and draw. And the marks were looser.

Apart from the legs still being too small I like this the best of the 5 minute drawings. It has a tiny, tiny bit of looseness even though the lines are heavy. And has captured the feel of the model much better.

Ignoring the proportion to the rest of the body the left leg is starting to work. It’s got a curve on the back of the thigh and the foot, though lost, is in the right position. And even the squiggle for the knee suggests the folded skin well.

I like the hand too.

Fewer better marks would be my note to myself!

 1st of 2 x 15 minute poses, pencil sketch on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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When I got this home and looked at it it was a shock… it is grotesque. Like some German Expressionist painting of the 1930’s…

Only I was trying to be real!!!

I had enough time to draw and focus on some detail, and enjoyed it. I moved from one point of view to another and wasn’t aware of the distortions of the whole body till I finished, and even then it just looked poor… not laughable.

At home it was a fresh look.

However, having got over the shock and a little laugh at how ridiculous it looked I thought I’d have another look and try to learn something.

So… there are three drawings here… the head, the torso and the legs. Which matched my three points of view/field of vision. I could see the head, I could see the body… and I could see the legs. But only one at once… not all three at once.

Individually, I think they’re quite interesting with the face/head the weakest.

I like the shape of the body – it captures something of her. No internal details but the folds of flesh and hanging breasts look real, in terms of shape. And the crossed legs bend away into space nicely.

So, for my next sketch I decided I would try to match the body up… and if I was going to complete this exercise I’d better use some different media. It also occurred to me that different media have different voices (like instruments) so might change my style of drawing. Maybe there was something about the pencil work that was restricting me – I still felt this was fairly tight.

I decided to try charcoal. Specifically a new stick of compressed charcoal that I’d found the night before as I liked the creamy blackness it left on my fingers. And the only ‘hard’ black I’d used before was conte – I thought this might fall between conte and soft wood charcoal.

 2nd of 2 x 15 minute poses, compressed charcoal sketch on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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Wow… I like this much better… and I can smudge. The paper has quite a fearsome bite so it won’t go far, but it’s an extra tool and very freeing.

I loved working with the charcoal. A gorgeous black line that could draw, smudge and spot… made lovely flowing lines.

I’m just going to say nice things about the body… I think it’s in proportion, the foreshortening on the leading leg works well (I particularly like the flap of skin under the thigh), the bottom is nicely dimpled, the arm and knee look right and the head’s about the right size.

There’s not much internal detail and the model was bigger than this. But this is the first sketch that as a beginner I’d say… yes, that gives me something to work on.

My thought now was I hadn’t got any background and the textbook said to sketch background so in the last few seconds I invented the skirting board!

 1 x 25 minute pose, fine grey art pen on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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It’s come out black on the photograph – but is grayer in real life.

I really, really like the guy on my right by the door… and the woman sketching on my left. It may just be me, as I’ve shown friends and I think by their polite nods they just see a messy squiggle!!!!

But for me – it’s captured the quality of him drawing and some of his focus. So, till I get professional objective feedback I’m going to give myself a mini star. Not for the physical accuracy (there is none) but for the looseness and how it’s captured (for me) something of his attention. I’ve never really captured anything other than ‘visual reality’ before so that’s quite exciting!!!

Of course, as it’s so objective I could be horribly wrong!!!!!!!

I thought this would be hard to use – but it’s like talking to a bubbly but incisive and flowing friend. It’s lovely to use, gentle and accurate at the same time.

What I’m beginning to realise is how different the personalities of the different media are!

Anyway… I like the background… her leg’s a bit wrong and her hand is too small even though it’s furthest away… her bottom’s wrong.

But I’ve attempted some detail in the body which adds a lot to it being a person.

And I like the fact she’s in focus and the sketchers (who are actually very focussed) are out of focus. I know we’re not making preparatory sketches here, and it wasn’t planned, it just made me smile.

  1 x 20 minute pose, fine black art pen on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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Different from grey… sharper… more acidic!

And it’s produced a different sort of sketch.

The neck is too long but the body’s beginning to work and the flesh, though not wobbling, has finally got some weight. The flappy skin under the forearm, the leg turned out and even the size and position of the foot all feel right.

The face is a tad too small and I could spend a whole 25 minutes on the face. So it’s weak – but it’s recognizably a face.

It’s strongest feature is that the model has a presence and the drawing a slight spookiness.

So even given all its failings technically it’s beginning to capture something else which I like.

I also like the girl in the background who I moved from another part of the room and put in. It’s starting to dawn on me, emotionally inside, that I don’t have to copy reality. I can compose the picture…

Obviously, the main learning, is drawing people so I’m always going to try to draw them as accurately as I can. But they are so much more than a physical shape and I’d like to put humanity into them. To make them alive.

Conclusion

I think what I’ve learned most is that life drawing is a different way of looking. You can stare at a tree but staring at a person is qualitatively different. Even though a stranger… drinking somebody in for two hours is a weird process.

I’m going to call it artistic looking.

It will greatly help all my drawing – especially people – as I think it will help me draw the whole person not just copy the mask they’re wearing.

Allowing it could take years to find the technical skill to match the aspiration!!!!

Talking of which – I’m going to try to go to this group on a regular basis as even though there’s not a tutor I think I can move a long way just by practising. And two hours a week would be a good start.

 

Part 4: Project 1: Exercise 2 Emphasising form with cloth

(1) Charcoal sketch with model: A4 in sketchbook. In sitting room… window light from the left of the picture. Sketchbook on the table.

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This was weird.

As it was a friend I was aware they were doing me a favour and didn’t want them to have to sit too long/worried about their comfort.  So, though I tried not to rush I was aware our conflicting needs and that the benefit was all mine. I got a body to draw while they had to sit unnaturally still and be stared at!

It was totally different from the time pressure of drawing people in the street (they’re constantly moving and it’s not costing them anything) or a professional paid model (where there’s no pressure about how they’re feeling.)

The sketch is patched together from three viewpoints: head and shoulders, torso, body and legs.

As a whole picture it doesn’t work – I tried to draw the outline but had to constantly change it to fit the whole body in. And the end result looks like the model has been squashed onto the paper!!!

However, it does capture something of the person I know. Which is the weird bit. Technically it’s very flawed but ‘humanly’ (at least for me) I can see Janet.

Which is pleasing!

I decided to draw a pencil sketch of the photograph next.

Two reasons… firstly my tutor encouraged me to take control over my studies and not feel I could only/had to do exactly what was in the exercise… to widen my work and extend my work and experiment… to work in series and secondly, so that I could use the camera (single viewpoint) to get the shape of the sitter right.

I could then go back and try to redo the charcoal sketch on a bigger bit of paper on an easel. So I had the physical freedom to stand up and use my body. And I’d have enough room to fit the whole figure in.

My hope was that the final piece would be technically better and still capture an essence of my model.

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(2) Pencil sketch on A4 in sketchbook. In day by the window from photograph of model taken at the time. Light from the left… sitting at a table.

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Again… this was very interesting.

I started with the outline but quickly realised that was going to cause me problems again,  so had the idea of using geometric shapes. Simplifying the body to two hinged cuboids, cones for the legs and a tilted egg shape for the head.

As it was a photograph I only had a single viewpoint.

And I wasn’t worried about the sitter! But neither was I connected or thinking about the person I knew. This was a technical exercise.

The idea of getting two hinged cuboids and adding the head and legs worked well. I could then start adding detail and getting the relationship of different points… knee to elbow to next etc. This led to a much better shape and much less re-drawing. I had started with the head which I had to move.

When I’d done this (I’d intended to use different pencils but stuck with the HB) and was happy with the shape I started adding shadows and highlights for the creases of material, hanging or stretched on the body.

Close up the folds looked funny – and were difficult to see on the photograph. But when I’d finished, and without a sense of how it would look from a distance, I sat back and it worked. The highlights and shadows gave me a feel for how the material hung off the body.

Finally, I added a 6B for the darkest shadows and chair legs. This gave the drawing contrasts and really brought it into 3D focus.

I was pleased with this (especially the hands) and it taught me to think of the body in a different way… as volume.

On the downside it doesn’t capture anything of Janet and is ’empty’… in terms of ‘meaning’ or connection.

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(3) Charcoal and putty rubber sketch on A2 (separate sheet of paper) on easel with photograph pinned at the side and charcoal sketch open on chair nearby. At night, light from daylight bulb on floor to right of drawing.

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Working at an easel was great.

I loved it as I could stand up and was not pouring over a table. It was very freeing and easy to stand back from the sketch. Technically it was difficult keeping a steady hand without resting on the table and being charcoal the marks didn’t always go where I wanted them!

Using the same idea of ‘volume’ for the figure there was even less re-drawing and wrong marks on this.

I drew it all first – then smudged and used the putty rubber as the final stage. This worked a bit, but you only got one chance at a clean highlight as if you re-smudged and used the putty rubber again you got grey not white.

Again it was very hard to see where the actual highlights and shadows fell (maybe I could blow up bits of the photograph?) and the gradations (light to dark) were very important as were the absolute values of the shadows.

Maybe if I’m using a putty rubber a paper with less bite (shiny???) might work – then I could move the charcoal around and it might lift off more easily?

It’s nice how just a suggestion of the environment (the chair) works really well. You don’t need much context.

On the whole I’m quite pleased with it and it’s beginning to do what I wanted… it’s captured a little of Janet and is technically more accurate.

How does the fabric help evoke the essence of a living being beneath the surface?

How the cloth falls depends almost entirely on the body beneath it. We automatically adjust for ‘flowing’ or ‘stiff’ material.

Imagine a heaped pile of clothes on the floor… no living people. No living being underneath the clothes.

Then dress different friend in the same clothes in sizes they choose (ignore their faces and hands). Everybody would look different and carry an essence of themselves both physically and psychologically… the clothes would ‘hang’ completely differently… both because of the different body shapes underneath, and whether they chose to wear the clothes tightly or loosely, but also because everybody holds their body differently, has different postures.

In my exercise my first sketch captures the essence of the person beneath the clothes, the second captures the physical form (but could be a mannequin) and the third begins to marry the two.

So, fabric (even without pattern and colour) really does evoke the living being underneath it. And that’s what we’re used to reading. In real life there are very few occasions we see totally naked people… even fewer that we would stare unchallenged!

This exercise has changed how I ‘see’ clothes.

I start naked in the morning and put on clothes… I had always seen them as separate from me. Other people were themselves… and put clothes on top. But now it feels like clothes are an extra layer of flesh… or feathers on a bird… they are part of us not separate!!!

What difficulty did you encounter when approaching the cloth/figure as a whole?

As mentioned, drawing the outline first was a very bad idea.

Looking at a figure from close to you have three or four points of view, so when you sketch the ‘outline’ your three points of view don’t match and you’re constantly changing one bit of the outline to try to fit with another!

The two solutions I found are (1) A photograph of the whole person is a technical way of getting a single viewpoint – I think this might be useful to learn how to draw whole bodies and how everything relates. (2) Constructing the person from the centre out by using geometric blocks of volume in space. Then relate points like elbow to chin to knee. And then once you have your shape using your ‘eye’ to fill in the detail.

 

 

Part 4: Project 1: Exercise 1 Drawing fabric using line and tone

fullsizeoutput_53c20 minute line drawing using fine art pen. Barbour jacket on back of chair… eveining. Inside by french window, light dimming.

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15 minute charcoal drawing with 5 minute putty rubber. Barbour jacket on back of chair… afternoon. Light cloud. Inside by french window with door open.

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How easy did you find it to create volume in the folds of fabric?

Not easy!!!

I think what I learnt by the end (and there was a progression through the drawings as I failed and tried to understand why and try something new) is that there is both a pattern of shapes to folds… and a tonal structure.

Patterns of folds

You can suggest a single fold by a highlight, shadow and tonal gradation between the two. Sometimes even a dark line next to a light one will suggest a fold.

It’s easier from a distance, as in the 20 minute tonal charcoal drawing of the jacket. Here the context of the jacket helps you ‘read’ it (pocket, arm, flaps) and light or dark areas that run down the material. The more complicated shadows like the pocket that have a tonal change that give it reality so the smaller creases (a highlight against a uniform grey area) read like a crease.

The line drawing gave me some lovely patterns but not volume, though interestingly the area with least work (but the shapes are right) is the nearest to working.

However, in the ‘close ups’ you don’t have any help, it has to read as a section of folded cloth.

By square 7 the folds are beginning to work but it’s not until they are organised properly (speak to each other as folds in material)… in 8… that it looks like a piece of cloth.

In short, there’s a sort of ‘language of folds and creases’ and how they fit together, and you need to get that pattern right for it to work.

Tone of folds

This is easier in that where you have a shadow or a sharp turn, such as the pocket or the crease around the arm, the tonal change is big. But where there is a gentle turning there is a more gradual change in tone.

The technique seems to be to get the changes in tone right… to a glance there’s a line of highlight next to the turned away material which is darker, but in reality there’s almost always some form of gradation. If it’s too abrupt it looks like a hole, or just unreal – as in 2 and 6 which are poor.

If it’s right it starts to look like real folds as in 8.

Conclusion

To show volume in folds of fabric you’ve got to get both the shape and pattern of the folds and the tonal changes right.

This is harder when you have material in close up with no clues as to how the material is lying and nothing to keep your eye moving.

Footnote:

I unintentionally made this harder as apart from the natural light and dark caused by the folds, the jacket has light and dark areas caused by wear. Which add a second layer of difficulty as they are working in a totally different way to the folds of material.

Also, I think having an olive-green jacket (tonally a mid dark grey) made the tonal changes harder to see and draw. The material absorbed the light – and I was also, in effect, drawing the tone of the material as well as the light and dark caused by the folds.

A lighter material would have shown volume differently – more clearly – and I think it would have been much easier if I’d used a piece of white material.

 

 

Part 4: Research point

This is an ongoing research point through the whole of Part 4 comparing contemporary and historical figure drawings, so I’m going to write an introduction now and look at two painters and then add two more painters before each project.

Introduction:

We read people everyday and are great at postures and faces. Even if we are wrong we have ‘first impressions’, sit in cafes and create narratives for strangers and make decisions about how we speak and act based on how we ‘read’ people.

So, it’s no surprise that people and faces is the most common subject throughout art.

This brings me to my first question… a snap of a stranger’s mum is boring… we don’t care… yet ‘Arrangement in Gray and Black no 1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1871 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler is iconic, and a work of art.

Even if we equalised the size by blowing up the snap to 144 x 162 cm it would not be interesting.

However, even an amateur snap of a famous person would garner interest.

My answer is simply that there has to be something useful for the viewer, whether that’s intrinsic in the subject (a famous person) or added by the artist.

So, what does the artist add?

Everybody has a persona… mostly we’re in our own mental boxes (especially with eyes fixed on phones!)… but people, even glanced across a tube, have an emotional impact. And that’s magnified a hundred times when we’re introduced to somebody and really look and connect with them.

An artist can introduce us to another human with persona… we can gaze and read them and their life as we would meeting an interesting new stranger.

What else… they can comment on society – whether in French realism (Honore Daumier, The Washerwoman) or William Hogarth’s satire; illustrate the human condition like loneliness of living in Hopper; they can market (we all put on a smile for selfies and edit our Facebook profiles to manipulate our public presence) – before photography and photoshopping it was down to famous portrait painters like Dosso Dossi. The rich and powerful general in Alfonso l d’Este, 1528 is a public statement meant to impress and secure his public status; sell an ideology like medieval Virgin Mary paintings and Russian State approved portraits of the 1940’s; they can be a visual ‘interview’ capturing the ‘real’ famous person; allow the male gaze to linger on female flesh in the name of ‘art’; capture an intimate emotion like the love of a mother for her newborn baby held in a glance; or like Whistler’s portrait of his mum be an aesthetically pleasing composition.

These are external, but we can also see ourselves in paintings… or in the space between the painting and ourselves.

That old man is like I’ll be… my arms will be wizened like that one day; that plump middle-aged guy is like me now; we can see ourselves (in looking at others) as we might be seen. In life we usually only see ourselves from the front… and this is often edited by adding a smile, a pose or a thought.  We construct our view of ourselves, create a self-image, such that when we accidentally catch ourselves in a mirror it’s a shock. Can that really be us?!!!

But by looking at others in paintings they hint at how we might be seen by people in ‘real’ life.

Face and figure before Project 1:

For my first two paintings (before Project 1) I’m going to take Hopper as a contemporary painter and Giovani Bellini as a historic one.

Chair Car, 1965 (oil on canvas)

This could be on the tube today… an isolated person and somebody looking. Technology has changed, and we’d be crammed in like sardines… but the feeling is exactly the same.

I have been that person on the train… reading the book or looking.

I can sympathise and recognise myself. Maybe even muse on the nature of existence in the modern world?!

 

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Young Woman at her Toilet, Giovanni Bellini, 1515

From reality to fantasy.

This is, if not openly pornographic, then certainly voyeuristic. Nobody has a face like that (only professional models with top photographers, a personal makeup artist and photoshopping). The face and countryside are idealised and romanticized… this is not a real woman it is an object to be viewed.

At the time (I surmise!!!!) it was accepted by men as standard – who knows what the women thought?!

Now, it raises all sorts of questions about the male view and nudity in art.

However, sex and fantasy are as old as man and it satisfies my first criteria… it has a value for the viewer!

Face and figure before Project 2:

If you think of nude painting Lucian Freud is probably the most famous contemporary artist. The nude is a tricky area to navigate and I’m just about to start a life drawing group so this seems appropriate.

And my tutor said some of my sketches were like his early work.

Small Figure, 1983-4 (oil on canvas)

Small Figure, 1983-4 (oil on canvas), Freud, Lucian (1922-2011) / Private Collection / Photo © Christie’s Images / Bridgeman Images

Thinking about John Burger’s excellent programmes on Ways of Seeing, is this a naked women… or is it a nude?

Is it a ‘sight’ to be looked at or ‘the woman herself’.

To my eye it looks like a bit of both.

Nude: She’s prone, passive… we can be a voyeur on a private moment. And I can’t imagine anybody lying like this on the sofa… her flesh is exposed to view. And something about it looks studied.  So, it’s a constructed picture. I don’t get a sense of the soul of the woman.

Naked: It’s not obviously titillating, she’s not aware of the viewer, she’s not offering herself in any way… her flesh isn’t a model of ideal beauty and we get an idea of the individual on the couch.

It’s nothing like the classic European nude but something about it still makes me uneasy. Maybe I’m invited to stare… and not for all the right reasons. It’s not a love poem… I don’t get any feeling or connection or understanding of the subject.

And, I can’t see how her being without clothes adds to the painting. Had she been clothed in the same position it would have been an equally interesting painting.

So, I feel the nakedness is not entirely innocent. It’s not a blatant nude but I’d still say it was more nude than naked!

 

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CreditPortrait of a Hanseatic Merchant, 1538 (oil on panel), Holbein the Younger, Hans (1497/8-1543) / Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, USA / Bridgeman Images

Hans Holbein is renowned for being one of the best portrait painters of his time. He painted the rich and famous… I can’t see any of them posing naked?!!!!

So, he seems like a good comparison in being so different.

I know hers is side on but this guys face reminds me of Lucien Freud’s painting. Both absent from the painting thinking about something else. Skill wise this is a masterpiece -it could be a photograph.

But me this is imposing – there’s no humanity, no warmth and no personality. Both the clothes, posture and face are empty – the only thing this says to me is power. It may be a wonderful physical likeness – but this is primarily doing a job for the buyer. It will be hung in a prestigious place. It is announcing his status in the world.

I don’t think this would be very popular today. Modern portraits of famous people try to bring them closer to ordinary people by humanizing them, this does the opposite.

However, the link with historic paintings is that paintings for famous people are commissioned to do a job for the buyer… not the viewer.

The woman, in contrast, is anonymous… the painting is for a market. A market that would not tolerate ‘nudes’ from a serious artist. That (I think) Freud’s painting is still a nude but has moved much closer to being a painting of a naked woman is an indication of the art market today… and what is culturally acceptable.

Face and figure before Project 3 (I’ll try to find some drawings – rather than paintings for this one)