My plan today was to finish the ink dot drawing started last week. But I arrived just slightly too late to get the same spot in the room. Instead, here’s a charcoal pencil portrait of the same bold-featured (and so interesting to draw) model, from a different angle.
Foolishly or otherwise, I have signed up to do a project in this year’s 100 Days Project. So, here we are Day One, Drawing One. Not nearly finished, but certainly at least started.
This week, the wrong side.
The friendly portrait group I draw with for a couple of hours most weeks is often nearly full by the time I arrive. This means the spots that have a full or three-quarter view of the model are usually all taken. I don’t mind at all. The very first drawings I remember being fascinated by enough to try and copy when I was a child were profile studies, by the likes Holbein, the Egyptians and Aztecs, and Regency silhouettes. I like drawing people in a way they rarely see themselves, but is so distinctly them.
However, I realised yesterday that I have a habit of usually sitting on the side of the room that gives me a left-looking profile. The only seat available yesterday was on the other side, and it was weirdly difficult to get my brain to drawn an accurate right-looking profile. So, note to self . . .
I said I’d try some more with the recently learnt slow-wolf approach to using built-up layers of black and white charcoal as an approach to creating a more finished drawing. So I have. This one is . . . okay. I stopped before it was really done, as each time I set a layer with the fixative, it had started bringing up odd lines and marks from layers below. The fixative was likely either too thick, not thick enough, or the wrong one. Or something about this particular paper. One of those.
So, overall verdict: not super fond of the outcome and it’s not actually finished, but, meh, getting there, a bit, maybe. Rinse and repeat? I may try another time lapse once I work through all the kinks. And as for glasses, they are clearly a challenge I need to set myself more often *.
Also on my list of arty challenges, a friend recently gave me a giant box of pastels which had belonged to her grandmother. Hundreds of colours! I don’t know if I’m ready to draw in colour, but I suspect the layer/fixed/layer approach might work well with pastels too.
* Assume some wise words here about how the most learning comes from those tasks we loath and/or desperately avoid.
The thing with making art is that you get used to using favourite tools in a certain way. It’s good to shake that up a bit.
I belong to an art society, and draw there with a portrait group one morning a week most weeks. The model is in one pose for about 2 1/2 hours, with pleasantly social breaks for tea. My preference is to do one quick black and white charcoal drawing on brown paper, to warm up, get familiar with the way the model’s features are put together and explore problems like how glasses sit on a face (glasses are so tricky!). Then I’ll do a more careful and detailed drawing of the model in ink or pencil or whatever I feel like.
Similarly, when life drawing, I use charcoal for the quick-fire warm up drawings at the start of a session, capturing essential curves and lines, darkness and light for poses 2, 5 and 10 minutes. Half an hour is too long for charcoal; when the poses lengthen I switch to other media.
Because for me, charcoal is for warming up and drawing fast. Not really a medium to fuss and fiddle with, and that’s what I like about it.
The art society runs several ‘summer school’ classes in January, all of which offer the chance to take a full day or two to explore a particular technique or media.
One of the classes this week was about charcoal drawing technique. The teachers own work is very delicate and realistic, I hoped to learn ways to make what I thought of as a loose and casual medium look so accurate and refined.
It was interesting.
And mild torture.
The key technique is spending a long and careful time concentrating on the work.
The teacher suggested we pick a reference image from a small selection of photocopies. I (I realised, during the choosing) just don’t draw fruit. I find isolated flowers nearly as dull. I also have very little interest in people wearing entirely face-covering hats. Leaving me with the choice of . . . a fluffy wolf.
The technique taught involved working in layers. Starting with using powdered charcoal and soft erasers, smudging everything, blurring and then reworking and redrawing with soft charcoal, finally fixing that level, then repeating the process several more times, until for the last few layers working with white charcoal to create highlights. Each time the fixative was used it tended to blur and soften the current layer even more. So much smudging and blurring and redoing the same bits over. It took a whole day. It is a picture not in my style, and not really to my taste.
It possibly didn’t help that I’ve really not drawn much fluff, certainly no wolves. Without a sense of wolfish anatomy I struggled with the “how is a wolf not like a dog” shape of the face.
Such a stiff, stilted drawing.
And yet . . . there’s something there. Not in my drawing, but something in the technique. Something from the day that is/will be well worth knowing, and playing with more. In some ways maybe all that blending and blurring has similarities to how I started with digital painting (another neglected medium I should re-explore).
So, I’ve bought some new cans of fixitive, and I’ve ordered some charcoal powder. I will try the process working with my own reference, and maybe it’ll be much more my sort of work.
Not sure at all.
But it is good to try new approaches. Good, and irritating*.
*Assume some sort of wise or witty comment about pearls and oysters here.
A3 brown paper, opaque white gel pen as well as coloured fine tip markers, 2 1/2 hours. Next week, I might try a gold gel as well. If you arrive late to a group portrait session (as I, ahem, may do), only the seats at the extreme sides of the model tend to still be free but I’m starting to rather enjoy the antique effect of a profile portrait. Perhaps it’s time to start a series?