Hello there. I’ve finished! Can you believe it?! Only a year later than planned (gulp) but my Drawing 1 course is complete. Considering the physical obstacles it feels a big achievement. I’m so glad I stuck with it through everything.
For my final assignment, a portrait, I wanted to create a piece that demonstrated something of the style I have developed. Something relatively striking and strong, showing how I’ve learnt to use colour in my drawings. I also decided to do a self-portrait. Partly out of my difficulty in getting a model to sit, especially in the numerous little, short periods I have to work in, but also because it seemed a fitting way to end this course. The last two years have been SUCH a big learning curve for me, both in terms of coming to terms with physical restrictions and health issues, and in terms of developing my drawing skill. It’s been a real journey of personal growth, so a picture of myself, especially one with some poise and strength felt affirming.
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.
As I’ve been working the last part of this module, I’ve spent much more time hunting around for influences. With the way this year has gone, it’s been difficult to get out to many exhibitions or galleries, aside from seeing the Lucian Freud portrait exhibition in early summer, so I’ve mostly had to hunt around in my own virtual galleries for the same kind of experience of looking closely at other people’s work.
Seeing Lucian Freud’s collection of portraits was a wonderful witnessing of how an artist can evolve. It was fascinating following the exhibition through from his earliest work - wide-eyed, dead-skinned, simplistic portraits – through to a much more life-like approach and a fascination with intimate and disturbing poses and scenarios. His techniques changed, from flat skin tones and areas of colour, through to more dynamic use of colour tone and brush work. It showed me, in a slow walk through his career, how much an artist can GROW and change. As a very fledgling artist it was a challenge to me not to be afraid or down-heartened by these early years work of mine, knowing that I have more in me, and that progress comes with taking the thing that really inspires you – for both of us, people – and using that as a springboard to experiment and development.
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.
For the next set of exercises in my figure drawing module, I was to draw a portrait from memory – my boy Kai’s face.
You would think when it comes to a face you spend hours looking at every day, this would be easy . This exercise proved surprising in how untrue that was. It also made me realise how little we REALLY look at the faces of those around us every day, and it was a re-discovered joy to really study my son’s face. I remember gazing at him like this when he was a new baby, and it was wonderful to trace his bigger boy lines and shapes with my eyes, observing the way his eyes turn down slightly, studying his round face with pointed chin, his short, round nose, trying to memorise the curve of his thin lips and the freckle sat upon his top lip.
The numpty I am, I posted off my sketchbook to my tutor this morning without photographing the preliminary sketches that I did to warm up to this exercise, but I first tried quick sketches of Kai as he was playing, trying to practice and capture something of the shape of his face and the proportion and arrangement of his features. Even with him right in front of me, none of them seemed to come out looking much like him! I was struggling to get Kai to sit still long enough to get many decent sketches done, with the added problem of him interrupting me every other minute, so I looked at photos too, trying to memorise the lines and patterns of his face. A beautiful hobby , one I’ve started to do with John’s face after numerous drawings too.
Even if you’re not an artist I can recommend this as a pastime – it doesn’t even have to be someone you’re very close to, if you can get away with covert looking. Learning to really look at the faces of people around you is, I think, a wonderful way to appreciate new kinds of beauty. It becomes very difficult to see someone as ugly once you’ve really studied the unique play of line and expression, and hinted-at biology and family resemblance on someone’s face. It’s like having a hundred thousand walking little picture shows to watch and delight in.
Once it was time to put all reference aside and work completely from memory, I tried to work as fast and instinctively as I could, concentrating on face shape and the main features of eyes, mouth and nose. My attempts certainly don’t look exactly like him, but they DO capture something of him, I think. What’s interesting is that some of the drawings seem to depict an older Kai, capturing the proportions but not so much of the softness and still slightly baby-featured immaturity of my four year old’s face. It felt like I’d inadvertently been given a pencil time machine, and I will love looking back at these pictures in a few years to see how accurate my accidental ‘predictions’ were!