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Exploring Colour in Figure Drawing, Part 1

Time for a drawing update. Hello! I have been pootling on here. With the end of the course in sight but no desperate rush to finish, I have been taking my time with my last drawings. This has freed up some energy and time to try and focus on my health a little more, which now seems to have settled into a chronic pattern of neurological dysfunction that brings a lot of challenge to each day. I am doing well though, in head if not in body. One last self portrait to do and then it will be time to put this drawing course to bed – an apt closing subject, to be honest, for a course that I have worked alongside such dramatic change in my personal circumstances and necessary way of approaching life. I’m hoping I can find some way to make my last piece reflect that.

Before that though, I have been focusing on experimenting on using colour in my figure drawings, using the example of other artists to guide my ideas a little, but trying to be brave and do my own thing too. I experimented a little more with drawing surfaces, from brown wrapping paper to watercolour paper with a background wash, and coloured pastel paper. I tried to work more loosely where I could, although find I still tend to be drawn back to strong line. In all my pictures I tried to capture something of a moment rather than just a fixed pose, something of an attitude or atmosphere, experimenting with drawing medium accordingly.

I’ll present two sets of posts of pictures to show my progress. Here are the first few…

I continued to sketch when I could, using pen or pencil to work as quickly as I can.

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A trip to Covent Garden provided particular inspiration – both the next two scenes came from there and were worked using soft pastel and line pen directly onto brown wrapping paper. The little girls were from a sketch I made first in my sketch book and worked up big, using the full width of the wrapping paper at about A1 size.

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It is works by Degas, examples of which appear below that provided the main form of inspiration here. The subject matter is very typical of Degas – musicians and girls in tableaux of movement and gesture, combining line with sweeps of colour, often utilizing coloured backgrounds like in the bottom picture here. Simple mark making in the background doesn’t detract from the picture but still helps to ground the figures, while giving them an almost ethereal quality. Faces aren’t always shown or that distinct and yet that doesn’t seem to affect the way character can still be depicted. I love working in pastel so this kind of impressionist technique really appeals.

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(examples of work by Edgar Degas)

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Experiments with watercolour pencil were slightly less fun for me, but Berthe Morisot inspired, with something of a naive charm about her pictures, often domestic scenes, faces subtley worked and lines and colours worked sketchily. My son on his rope swing provided a subject matter I hoped would work in a similar style – I first put down a roughwater colour wash then used graphite pencil and watercolour pencil on top, not being too concerned about ‘keeping in the lines’ and letting the colours smudge together.

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Berthe Morisot

by Berthe Morisot

More coming up!


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  1. Exploring Colour in Figure Drawing, Part 2 | Sleep is for the Weak - [...] forward with the colour experiments I started in the last art post, I decided to focus on more solid blocks of …

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