Life drawing again yesterday. I approach each week hoping that I will make noticeable progress and always come away disappointed with my efforts, but I think that is the nature of the challenge. Anyway, 5 minute warm ups:
I hadn’t realised that we had switched to 15 minute poses, so about 8 minutes into this one I was a bit confused, and did the same pose twice in different media for comparison.
I am quite pleased with getting the twist on the body but those legs are ridiculously short! The next pose was another 15 minutes and the model was dead straight on with his back to me. I always find it a challenge to make something interesting of a back, and in particular, to draw the nobbles of the spine convincingly. This week I was going to get some practice. Sadly, our class is too tight on space to allow you to move about and select a better angle.
I think that the oilstick is quite good for fast sketches where you are looking for a line with character and volume. The lines have a pleasing textural quality, especially if you use different pressures. However, it can be really difficult to get something complex like a hand on a hip and the marks are so assertive and sticky that it really is one shot only. I thought I would try something a bit more subtle for another drawing of the same pose. Having sharpened my graphite stick, I used the waste to scope in the pose before adding some graphite lines. I was trying to only add line where I thought it necessary.
I am finding it maddening that, with the onset of arthritis in my dominant thumb, I can’t always draw the line I intend. Sometimes the line just jumps as my thumb clicks.
I found the first long pose very difficult with foreshortening. I used graphite dust again which meant that I had to put my support horizontal, and I think that fooled my eye completely because when I turned the drawing upright, I realised how small I had made the legs. It is all a disaster, but I do like the nature f the tones produced by the graphite dust. In the longer time, though, I have not managed to be so spontaneous or restrained with my lines.
I had another go in the next long pose. Another back. Trying to move the graphite around to capture soft details of the back proved very difficult and I really haven’t got the underlying structure of the ribs and spine. However, the soft, silvery grey tone is attractive.
I think the head is the best part of this drawing with some defining lines but leaving plenty unsaid. The lines over the right shoulder and arm are too definite and the lost and found nature of the left shoulder is much better. The graphite dust gives a good sense of volume of flesh.
At the end of the class, folk chat whilst clearing up, and ask each other how they got on. Everyone always shakes their head and heaves heavy, resigned sighs.
The new term has begun for the Frobisher Life Drawers. I have really missed this over the summer. As always, I tried to think ahead about what I wanted to get out of the session (it is untutored and run as a co-operative). As I was rusty, I decided to concentrate on using large charcoal blocks and trying to get mass.
Thinks got off to a shaky start when our model didn’t turn up and couldn’t be contacted. Whenever I find myself early or without a model, I reach down a plaster cast of ‘Winged Victory’ which sits (with a load of death masks) on a shelf in the studio. I love this model and wish it was mine. This is drawn with my favourite Kuretake Fudegokachi pen which has water soluble ink, so it is possible to create tone with a water brush.
I don’t think that I have got the angle of the shoulders right nor the wing on the left. I was about to start drawing her for a second time when the group decided to give up waiting for the model and set up a still life of the basket of fruit which someone had brought along to share.
The very large charcoal block precludes detail. The most detailed marks have been achieved with an electric eraser. The pleasure of these blocks is how soft and friable they are but this is also their drawback. It is almost impossible to make small, precise marks; form has to be suggested. I like that. Here the fruit are just smudges of shadow and a suggestion of stalk. The large scale marks have also captured the twist of the handle. Capturing the texture of the basket and the shadows cast within the weaving is less successful. I also wish that I had cropped in a bit harder to loose most of the support. I jumped in too fast, without considering my framing.
An alternative model was found who promised to be there for the second half of the session. In the meantime, I experimented with picking up this water-soluble charcoal on a wet flat brush to see what effects that produced. The figure is from imagination. The brush marks add interest and I particularly like how the tone disappears to almost nothing with lots of water.
When we finally had a model, I tried continuing to use this technique.
I found myself looking for edges on which to begin a brush stroke with the 2cm flat brush. This has made for angular outlines and clumsy marks, but there is a quality worth persevering for, especially where highlights have been left undrawn. I tried again on a larger sheet using two colours of charcoal. This time a drew a pencil sketch first to help with placement of the brush. I also emphasised the darkest tones by using the edge of the block directly.
I like the quality of the tones in the washes but the addition of the block is heavy-handed. I need to have a smaller, pointed brush for fine shadows such as under the heel or under a buttock. The proportions are all wrong; I was really struggling with the proportions after a summer away from life drawing. I decided that I need to focus just on getting the shapes and proportions right and forget about mark making. Here, I have used just a broad stick of charcoal and worked, and worked again until I have got the shapes I want.
The next pose offered me little apart from a back (there isn’t enough room to move to a better angle) but I accepted the challenge of trying to get the subtle shapes. I really am not sure how you draw a back without drawing the outline, unless you invent a dark background. This is always a difficultly for me in life class. The real background is messy and confusing with easels, people and cupboards. Creating a background usually feels contrived, though. Maybe I’ll work it out one day…
For the last couple of minutes, I returned to pen sketches.
This was a very disappointing session because we all found it unsettling to only get a model half way through the session and because the start of a new term is always challenging. It’s like going to the gym when you haven’t worked out for ages.
At life drawing this week, I continued to work in graphite; pencil and soft graphite block with eraser. This week we had an excellent model who struck unusual, challenging poses.
Arthritis in my dominant hand seems to be progressing very quickly, and I can no longer draw a fine pencil line where I want it, no matter what grip I use. My lines have become very wobbly, so using large, media seems to work much better but difficult on the smallish scale of an A3 sketchbook. This next drawing is horrible with cramped, small legs.
This pose was challenging for us and the model, with her body twisted to almost 90 degrees sideways. I just tried to capture the jist of the pose resulting in a rather abstract sketch.
Lots of folk were moving around to try and get an angle on the next pose which gave them more than a back to draw and made more sense of the legs, one going forwards over the stool, one back, but I decided to accept the challenge of trying to draw the subtleties of the back.
I am trying to crop into interesting sections of the body and get away from drawing outlines with limited success. Large, block media made drawing delicate folds of flesh difficult.
A longer pose gave me more time to consider How I could respond to the shapes with out outlines. Erasing the graphite models the body interestingly, but the eraser marks are more hard-edged than I wanted and I should not have tried to describe the head, beyond a shadowy smear.
What an amazing pose the next one was! How on earth did she hold this for half an hour? You can see that she gradually sank into it and eventually her left foot was also touching the floor. rather than worry about the pose changing, I have tried to capture the movement.
Next, a more conventional pose, and again I have cropped-in to what I hoped was an interesting composition. The proportions of the arm are too slight. I think that I have been dictated to by the paper format here and that a square format would have made a better composition, as in the photo crop below.
It was my week to get backs, which are up there with hands in drawing challenges. The shadows modelling the anatomy of the back are so subtle and I was not able to apply my graphite in the gentle ‘washes’ that I was after. The graphite picked up the texture of the paper too much. Perhaps a makeup sponge would be a good applicator?
I used liquid graphite to wash in the dark background but not as accurately as I wanted in places, for instance the top of the shoulders are horrid, but the right shoulder blade is more what I wanted. I do find it difficult that in life drawing, you have to pretty much make up the background from the maze of tones of easels, other people etc.
Life drawing is wonderful, maddening, frustrating and exhausting.
This week, I have resolved to use graphite for drawing. I have put together a drawing set of 2b, 6b and 9b pencils, powdered graphite, liquid graphite, XL soft graphite block, brushes and erasers. My plastic erasers are cut into wedges and I am also trying out an electric eraser. I love drawing into charcoal or graphite with an eraser but it is now particularly painful, so I have been bought the electric one.
This week, as usual, we started with short poses, but the model was placed on a rotating platform, so that we got the same pose from different angles for three minutes each. I trued drawing each pose other the other to make a time sequence.
The model started with his one arm elevated, but had to drop it after a few minutes. I have tried to use different graphite mediums (or an eraser) for each pose, but for one I used a carbon stick as it was getting so confusing. The rotation was only announced as the first pose started, and I wish I had had a little longer to plan this. I would have rotated my paper to landscape and planned my media to just use graphite.
As usual, I find the quickest poses produce the drawings I like best for their spontaneity. This 15 minute drawing is overworked, especially in the face, the head isn’t sitting in the shoulders amongst many other problems. I was trying to consider ‘lost and found’ and define the figure by the tonal contrasts against the background, with very limited success.
I am still hearing my tutor from Drawing 1 telling me to position the whole figure on the paper. I am trying to override this, and focus in on details or completely fill the paper with body, not have acres of negative space around the body. The next pose was very vertical and I have tried to crop in so that the body has a presence across the width of the paper. To try and avoid drawing outlines, I brushed in the mass of the figure initially with graphite powder and then developed it with the large graphite block and an eraser. The size of the block precludes any detail in the face which I think has worked much better. I think that I should have cropped in more, and I am sure that I have made the torso too long. The softness of the graphite tones is lovely and carving out shapes with the eraser is very effective but I have to ration its use. The electric eraser makes much more mechanical marks, unsurprisingly, and was too noisy and intrusive.
For the final pose, I cropped in even harder to focus on the elbow resting on the knee. I could have cropped in even more but found all the negative spaces really interesting and challenging. I deliberately cropped through the hand because I wanted to draw it but didn’t want to push the centre of attention of the drawing right over to the edge. I have tried to create a composition which draws the eye right around the support.
I have used sparse liquid graphite on a bristle brush to try and describe each muscle and its volume. Liquid graphite has been used to create blocks of strong tone in the background. It has given this drawing drama. Once applied, the liquid graphite cannot be erased and my brushwork is not sufficiently accurate in places; I have lost the bottom of the heel on the right and tried to refind it, unsuccessfully, in pencil. The drawing makes a statement about the muscular strength of the male body in contrast to the soft, delicately curved, female body last week.
Setting myself clear objectives and limited media works well for me, and is stopping me getting stuck in the same rut. I hope and believe that my life drawing is progressing. I need to experiment with colour, although I know this is not my strength.
I try and give a lot of thought to what media I take to life drawing and how I might use it. I love charcoal and completely see why it is most peoples ‘go to’ medium for life drawing but I find that I get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing all the time without making progress, if I don’t challenge myself with different media and specific objectives; trying to work differently.
For life drawing last week, I decided to use only graphite but combining different sorts; pencil, graphite stick, soft graphite block, liquid graphite with, of course, eraser. I practised marks on scrap paper before I left home so that I new what to reach for in the initial quick poses. When I arrived at the studio, I found that I had left all my media at home. All I had in the bottom of my art bag was a single pen and a water brush. Folk offered me other media to try. This is an initial quick sketch made with home made vine charcoal. I found this very hard and scratchy compared with willow.
I reverted to my one pen, a Kuretake, water soluble pen, used with the water brush for a bit of tone.
I had lost my initial spontaneous line with the pen and was getting bogged down in complexity. For the longer poses, I added charcoal to the pen for mass and tone.
Our model was Jennifer, an ample lady of great grace. I find it quite difficult to get her proportions right as her feet and hands are so small and delicate, but not as small as I have drawn them here.
Drawing large with just a pen was an interesting challenge. I think the initial pen drawings are the most successful, but inevitably they are all about outline. I don’t think that the addition of charcoal is successful, but it was poor, scratchy stuff.
For the last six months, I have had problems with the thumb on my dominant hand. At first, this was diagnosed as tendonitis, then inflamation of the tendon sheaf, and now an x-ray has confirmed arthritis. I hoped that it would resolve but I now know that I have to work around it. Drawing with a pen is particularly difficult and, looking at these drawings, it’s clear that my fine motor control has gone. It’s wobbly lines all the way from now on.
Objectives for next session:
- take the graphite and use it!
- try to remember to select details
- try not to work with outline
- remember ‘lost and found’.
At life drawing this week, I wanted to try and retain the liveliness of mark making and sense of energy which I had found in drawing to music in Assignment 3. I find it very difficult to go into a life drawing session with any fixed ideas, but helpful to have thought about some sort of agenda.
Whilst we waited for the model, I drew a plaster cast of ‘Winged Victory’ which sits rather unloved on a dusty shelf.
When the model arrived, we started with the usual quick poses.
The next drawing was on a smallish (A3) piece of paper using a XL soft graphite stick and an electric eraser. I love drawing with a wedge of eraser in charcoal or graphite but it causes persistent pain in my thumb, so my husband bought me an electric one. It rather looks like a snail has wandered around removing graphite. I rather like it but it doesn’t have the variation of thickness of mark that a wedge gives. It is certainly less painful, though, if a little noisy in a life session.
Progressing to longer poses.
I found this a very dull pose and even duller drawing. The model turned and we had the same pose for a further 15 minutes from the back. Luckily, in reaching another support from my folder, I found a piece of paper on which I had glued newspaper and brushed it with gesso. Thsi has made the drawing much more interesting and created a suggestion of context, which I always find really difficult in life drawing. The shape of his head is rather worrying, though.
The very soft graphite gives attractive if limited tones with very broad brush marks, but I rather enjoy the way it suggests form here without being too explicit and the lost and found edges.
As an initial basis, I brushed ink in to record areas of shadow. This altered the way the support responded to charcoal and the end result is all rather crude and horrid. Soft graphite would have been a much better choice. Persevering with the approach of starting with tone but seeking a much softer tune which I could manipulate, I wiped the support with roughly crushed charcoal and then worked back into it with an eraser and further charcoal. My difficulty with this longer pose was to keep the sense of suggestion without over description. I like the way the face is suggested but the hand is far too heavy and something quick awful has happened to his left leg, poor guy! Swiping crunchy charcoal around creates variety of mark and drama.