Little did I ever think a photo I took as a still life study in a photo class years ago would end up being the subject matter for today! I took this photo eleven years ago.
4 x 4 on drawing paper. Not a great sketch, but for values, it was a bit of work!
As you may recall, my Pencil Portraits class will begin again, on 2/17/21. It’s a lovely class with a great instructor, social distancing, real people! None of this virtual stuff, which has its place, but doesn’t cut it for me. However, that is another story.
For my previous two Pencil Portrait classes, I spent the entire time – 2 hours a day in class for 5 weeks to do one portrait in each session. I learned a lot and got some good results. This time around, though, I am actually “prepping” for the class. I want to be able to render a likeness that is recognizable, but I want to try to do a portrait in each session. That means a portrait in two hours, for a total of 4 portraits (we are meeting for 4 weeks this time, with a possible 5th depending on what the class wants).
Thus, I have decided to refer to various how-to books in my library, as well as work with other resources, such as YouTube. With as many resources at hand, I just need to sit down and work on things. Today’s focus is on proportions and positions of the eye, nose, ears, and mouth in a frontal view and in profile, as well as some practice with shading – as I’ve noted, my ability to render shadows and contrast gets lost when I work with color.
Above are studies from the book Drawing Portraits for the Absolute Beginner by Mark and Mary Willenbrink.
Shading studies with a look at where light hits a sphere from different directions. Not too sure how realistic my results are, but in a way, just doing it and thinking about it is perhaps more important. Being conscious of shadows is the whole point. I learned a lot from a video by Xabio Arts, which is below:
Solving the problems of drawing means putting tools in your art supplies – mental ones for reference with a pencil (or pen, or brush!).
More shading, and a face. Per the Willenbrinks, the face is about 5 eyes wide – which I know – and 7 eye-widths high – which I never learned. Now that is a good trick. From there – a couple of faces and shadows.
A face on a singe sheet of paper, using guides from the Willenbrink’s book as well as from a video on YouTube from Xabio Arts on drawing the face straight-on.
Now, profiles. I really did not get the Willenbrink’s proportions very well. Something eluded me. The heads just don’t seem in proportion. Thus, some YouTube videos on drawing the head in profile. Not much hit me until . . .
. . . I came across a profile video done in 2015 by Liron Yanconsky on YouTube. These are his proportions, and they work a lot better for me and how I want to set up proportions. You can see his video below.
And the final drawing of the day is below.
Art is personal and we all have our own way of doing things. It’s so interesting that, although we are taught the same thing, how our minds and bodies put it out on paper can be so different.
I’ve also realized that I never have had a drawing course, or read a book, that says “Do it this way!” Technical mastery is not just in knowing how your medium works, but also how to render the real world around you. This mastery becomes a jumping-off point to your own adventrues.
We had only a 2-week session of out pencil portrait class. We met in a park behind the local library for a couple of hours for the past two Wednesdays, and I will miss them so much! Perhaps next year? I hope so.
Our teacher, Steve, is a lovely man, encouraging with a sharp eye and pithy, simple suggestions. I know I have improved a great deal in the few sessions we have had.
So, for today’s portrait, I chose to use the photo below, found on Pixabay. I love the expression in this photo, as well as the challenges it posed – the tilt of the head, the odd angles, the contrast. My own drawing failed to catch this beautiful face, but it did work as far as placement of eyes, nose, mouth, ear. It was really a tough study!
The pencil portrait class has gotten me interested in drawing faces. I’ve done three so far. Maybe something to schedule every Wednesday morning to keep my hand in it, and hope Steve will honor us with another series next year.
During the spring, before the coronavirus stopped in-person classes, I started a pencil portrait class. Then the virus hit, and some of the best classroom instruction came to a screeching halt after 2 classes. Come summer, an email came around – the teacher was offering in-person classes outside of the school, with the drawing group to meet in a park behind the local library, one equipped with tables, bathrooms, shade, sidewalks, ponds and ducks. Perfect! We met for 5 sessions. Yesterday and next Wednesday we will meet again. In-person teaching is so much better for a lot of things, and with our talented teacher, a lot is learned. The company of those with similar interests adds to a bit of quality of life. We sit 6 feet apart, wear our masks, and enjoy a wonderful few hours together outdoors.
Above is my drawing from yesterday. I focused on the eyes and nose of the photograph below. My drawing is not perfect, but definitely one which works fairly well, I think. The man below caught my eye on Pixabay (searced for “portrait man”). He has such a wonderful face, filled with what I see as character and kindness. The teacher agreed and said he looks like he could be a great friend.
For me, a portrait of a person needs to convey something of their personality. I don’t tend to photograph people or draw them. Drawing people is detail-oriented and rather in opposition to my splashy, messy style, but it is good discipline and actually very relaxing. In a congenial environment, with like-minded people, a lot can be learned and accomplished.
Value studies are like knitting swatches: a good habit, but not one I do. However, I did some the other day!
Above is, I think, the first one I did. It’s from a photo of Haworth, the home of the Bronte sisters. Cobbled streets and old houses, especially on a hillside, are not common around here, so always a pleasure to paint. I tried to simplify everything, looking only for value – light and dark – in the monochromatic painting. In the colored version, I used light and dark coupled with warm and cool colors.
Text books say more intense and warmer colors to the front! Cooler and lighter colors to the rear!
I used Hansa Yellow and Cobalt Violet to create the greys.
This is an imaginary landscape. Payne’s Grey used for the value study. I tried to fade, or lighten, colors the further away they got. Less detail, too, is used to indicate distance. Of course, the use of leading lines and contrast helps things out.
The color version was, again, an effort to use warmer colors to the front, as well as more intense colors; the distance used greyed colors. To achieve the greyed colors, I used complementary colors, such as adding a red to green, or making the colors lighter by diluting with water, or else adding a tinge of blue to all or the preceding. (Sounds complicated, bu it’s not!)
A Wintry Scene to Escape 96F!
Finally, another Payne’s Grey value study for a wintry scene in the mountains using a limited palette. For the colors I used mostly Hooker’s Green and French Ultramarine Blue.
Thoughts on the Value of Value Studies
I am still not sure about value studies! For one thing, the value studies are very different from the color studies in my eyes. Values in color never equate values expressed in monochrome. Perhaps I am expecting more than I should from a value study.
Many people use pencil for their value studies. Darker values are more easily achieved. These watercolor value studies were hard to get dark enough.
Ultimately, I think I am going to focus on doing a bunch of them, rather than just a few. This way I can determine if pencils or watercolors are best for doing value studies at all. Which one will give me a better sense of light and dark? As well, the more I do value studies, the more their subtleties should become apparent. Perhaps my color studies will begin to reflect better values to display distance in a painting.
All of these studies were done on 9×12 CP 140# Arches, with two sections drawn out on the page. One was used for the value study, and the other for the color study.
I took a few days off from painting and drawing because I needed to work on some sewing and knitting. Made a couple of masks, and did a major step in a sweater, and those both took a lot more time than I expected. But, breaking up patterns refreshes you – like a good vacation!
The next lesson in Keys to Drawing is to draw your own eyes! I can’t see past my nose without my glasses, so it was a bit of a challenge. Here I am, blindish and glasses-less.
I look pretty darned paranoid here! My eyes are wide open and I am trying to see what I am looking at in the mirror.
The next one I did with my glasses on.
Hardly stylish, but at least I could see what I was doing!
Then, a tinted bottle. As it is in the 90s, I have my water bottle everywhere I go.
Both assignments were to use a pencil, here an HB for both, and use lines. The bottle neck is a bit small compared to the rest of the bottle – it’s really about 1/3 the bottle’s diameter – and a bit misshapen at the top. I did have my glasses on when I did it.
As in painting, the idea is to go from the general (shape) to smaller details and to focus on line and shapes, not thinking, “I am drawing eyes” or “I am drawing a bottle.” Overall, it worked.
Last night I went to the local book store with a fellow sketcher. It was fun! Good conversation and drawing are a pleasant way to spend a few hours in the evening.
Ahhh. Frustration. Nothing like it to make you feel like crap! Or to push you past your comfort zone.
Comfort zone: Ink, watercolor washes.
Sort of comfort zone: pencil drawing.
Disaster! Warning! Alarm zone: Watercolors! We won’t even consider these at present.
There are times when a good book helps you out a lot. These are studies copied from a book by Claudia Nice. What is good about these kinds of studies is that there is detail, but not a desire to be so realistic you are going to scream, if super realism is not your thing. (It’s not mine.) Here, you will fine stippling and hatching, and cross-hatching. Each of these brings dimension and texture. Add some watercolor washes, and it can really make things pop out.
Sort of Comfort Zone
I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I have never really done any formal consideration of pencil drawing. To me it seems counter-intuitive to think about pencil drawings beyond pencil drawings of a casual quality, like the scribbles and doodles students turn in with their work. Rather, I looked at a drawing book from the library and had a deeper appreciation for the textures pencils can make. As with pen and ink, stippling and hatching are at work – but so are circles and lines in varying directions, along with lines which depict texture, such as the little hook-shaped lines at the very bottom.
Today, I filled up a palette with watercolor pigments. Now, I am slowly studying washes and wet-into-wet. I am also using a whole slough of pigments I have never used and dropping some of my old standbys. I am feeling like crap. But, perseverance. Onward.