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