Two Portraits – Figure Drawing Assignment
I cannot quite believe I’ve finally got here. Months later than planned, but my final assignment pieces for my Figure Drawing module are finished and sent off. It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks getting them done. I have been so determined to try and get this module finally submitted before Christmas, but trying to make that happen around bad days, endless trips back and forth to the hospital, and the Christmas mad rush of this time of year, has made for some gruelling days! I have never pushed so hard in all my life and I am, I have to admit, utterly, utterly exhausted.
Still they are done, and more importantly I loved loved loved working on them. I am so pleased I have the option to do some more figuring drawing for my final project work of this course ‘year’ (although y–e–a–r may be a better way of writing it given how long that ‘year’ has taken!) – I feel like it’s only really now that I’m really starting to get my teeth into all this. Proportions finally seem to be coming a bit more instinctively. I’m working faster and more confidently. The final project I will complete next is meant to demonstrate much more boldness of technique and experimentation and I feel like my work in this figure drawing module has really prepared me to a level where I’m ready for that. Fingers crossed for some energy and better health in the new year so I can really give it my all.
Right then, my assessment drawings.
Assessed Drawing 1: Line and Shape
For this first drawing I sat John in an upright position at the dining table. My study was to focus principally on line and shape – that is, expressing accurate proportions and finding ways to describe facial features and the ‘sit’ of clothes, using line only. This is tricky for me. I am more naturally drawn to tonal studies, I think. Line studies always feel a bit exposed. Errors in proportion and composition are easier to spot, and it’s hard to get the balance between energetic, expressive line, and over-worked pictures.
Quick preparatory sketches, again, didn’t focus on likeness or desperately accurate representations, but in exploring pose and identifying what might work, and what wouldn’t, in possible compositions, and as always were a useful exercise, very much helping to make the final piece better. The first (below left), I worked straight in pen. I liked the ‘gradient map’ type effect on the clothing and the bold, confident lines. The pose didn’t work for me though – once I had switched view, the tightness and pull of J’s body and gaze down towards the book, the balanced ‘up/down’ shape of arms and gathering of fabric, I got a much better feel for the composition of the piece.
With the second sketch shown, though (top right), worked in pencil, I fell into the trap of slightly overworking some of the detail. The temptation to add more lines to express the scrunch of J’s skin, and the folds of his shirt, didn’t enhance the picture. I realised that I really wanted to find a way to work this piece using clean, selective lines.
Moving to work on the finished drawing, this is what I focused my energy on. I tried to use bold, simple lines to show the anatomy and relative proportions of the pose. I tried to boil the expression of J’s face down to the bare minimum of lines, while still showing something of his character and concentration. Shorter, directional lines help to show hair growth and some facial lines, to prevent him looking too skeletal and flat.
The temptation to overwork the jumper was immense, but I tried to be as selective as I could, while still trying to show the fit and folds of the fabric. NOT EASY! I started out working very very faintly in fine mechanical pencil, committing to stronger lines with a thicker point. This was the scary bit as once that dark line was on, I wasn’t going to be able to erase it without it showing. Adding the lines of shadow, even without the tone, helped, I hope give some interest to the foreground and add to the slightly geometric feel of the piece.
On the whole, I’m pleased with this one. It has a style I like and I’m pleased with the accuracy of pose and proportion, and my selective, bold use of line. It looks like J, too, and carries something of him.
Assessed Drawing 2: Tone
For the second piece J was to be in a reclined pose, so we decided on the sofa so he could watch TV. The cream of the sofa contrasted well with the wall behind it and dark cushions, clothing and blankets, providing wider pictorial possibilities, and a strong light source from a lamp created good contrast in the fold of J’s jumper.
I sketched quickly in pencil to explore what pose might work best and how the light was falling. Quick, loose pencil marks made it easier to express the tonal qualities, but there was such a rich range of tone available to draw that I decided, in the end, to use charcoal and chalk for my final piece. Although sometimes having less energy about them, I love the way that the combination of charcoal and chalk gives you SUCH a wide range of tones to work with, from very dark, right up to white.
It was the fabrics of this piece that really stuck me as I was exploring initially. I loved the deep folds and tones of J’s jumper, his weight on the cushions. The blanket on the back of the sofa, once we experimented with pose a little more, gave another fabric to incorporate and some background interest, helping to pull the composition together as a whole picture.
I completely lost myself doing this one. I started out mapping the proportions as I had learnt, then gradually began to build the tonal values up. The light source was to the right of J, and slightly behind him, throwing highlights onto the rear of his jeans and left arm, onto some the higher fabric folds, and the very far side of his face, but left much of the rest of him in velvety shadow. The dark side of his right arm and shadow on the back cushion helped to depict the slight twist to him, and I loved working the folds and scoops of the jumper to show the way it twisted and pulled around him.
Getting the balance of tone was hard, the right amount of very dark, and mid tones, and light, and how to juxtapose them next to each other so you still got a sense of the difference, say, between J’s top and the cushions underneath him, or between his trousers and the blanket. It meant that I had to alter the tonal values slightly, sometimes, than were true of real life. The blanket needed to be slightly lighter than was true otherwise would have overpowered the composition. The negative space of the sofa and adding a darker wall helped to balance the tones too and pull together the picture together as whole.
For J’s face, I tried not to overdo the tone. I didn’t want a heavily toned face to get lost in the picture, so kept it slightly softer than the fabric so it would stand out in contrast. Careful shading helped to still give a sense of the skin’s fit over the skull, though, I hope, and the fine work of the hair gave the face some texture. I do love that it properly looks like him
It was a big job, this, and I poured my heart and soul into it. I love the drama of the tonal contrasts and am particularly pleased with J’s jeans and arms on this one. It made a good contrast to some of the other portraits I’d done which had stronger tonal lines on the face and less detail on the clothes, although I have to admit, I think I do enjoy working stronger features and if anything bugged me about this finished piece, it was the slight lack of energy in the face. Most importantly, though, I think both pieces really successfully demonstrate how much I have learnt and developed during this module, and it’s a big boost to my confidence to feel I have come so far, even if it has taken longer than planned.
Thanks so much for reading. Fingers crossed for some positive feedback from my tutor.