Saturday, 29 January 2011

Figures: Structure

Well I've finished the Structure section Assignment 2. I have to say I enjoyed this section a lot, possibly because I was able to get through it quite quickly without too many lengthy interruptions! 

I started off by studying some human anatomy from books and the Internet. Due to my background and studies I am very familiar with anatomy so felt quite confident with it. I did some sketches of the skeleton and muscles to remind myself.

I then set to the project, starting with a standing pose. I did a few sketches from different angles.

I wanted to include the back because the s-shape of the spine casts nice shadows, but I also wanted to see the face so I thought the best pose would be of the model twisting half round. This way there was some movement in the pose too, with the upper body rotating and the lower body rooted to the spot. I tried a couple of media. The first sketch was using pen, the second conte pastel pencils and the third and fourth were charcoal. I was surprised how difficult I found the pastel and charcoal at this size (A4). I decided to use pen and ink for this drawing. I had in my head a very simple ink drawing just showing the shadows and highlights but it didn't really work out like that. 

A3 nib pen and ink on 135g paper
Instead I found that the ink was very good at showing the shape of the figure. I could define the roundness of the muscles and show the imagined direction of the fibres. Unfortunately if I made a mistake with the direction though it really made a difference to the overall drawing. I'm pleased with the drawing but would like to give it another go with that knowledge. I also made a bit of a mess of the face, as usual! I really find it difficult to get faces right on this scale. I'm not so bad if they are portraits but when they are small, tiny changes make so much difference. Also I find it difficult to draw his beard without it looking like a shadow. 
Next, the sitting pose. I tried a few angles before I decided on my favourite. I wanted to use charcoal with this one. I think charcoal lends itself to drawing figures because you can soften the changes in tones by blending the charcoal.  

I used the sketches to help me choose a pose I liked with the light coming from the best direction to give optimal shadows. The first angle was more from the front and I really liked the foreshortening effect on the right thigh. The composition was nice as well, giving a pleasing triangular shape. However I thought it would be nice to include the back in the drawing. In hindsight I think this angle might have been a good choice although the one I opted for was also interesting. I tried some sketches from both sides but the view from the left gave a more open pose and showed the chest better. 

A3 charcoal on 135g paper

Because there was a mirror behind the model I had a lot of reflected light to put in, I'm not sure if this confused the final piece. I was excited about the way the models left leg came towards me and how I would make this work in the drawing. I think I managed this OK but maybe it would be better if there was some background in so the figure looked more grounded. I'm quite pleased with the shading over the legs especially the knees which I always find quite hard. Looking at it now, the stomach area should be a bit darker as should the neck. Yet again I hate the face although it looks slightly more like him than usual! 

For the next pose, I tried to spend less time on the sketches and focus on the overall shape giving indications of the underlying skeleton. I think this worked quite well. I tried a couple of angles which were more oblique but I felt they would be a bit simple for the main drawing although they were quite interesting. In the end I chose quite a classical pose. 

A3 graphite on paper

I misjudged the size of the paper so I left the feet out and I actually think this has worked well. In fact I'm really pleased with the legs which I spent only a short time on. I wish I could get this effect with the rest of the body! I'm pleased with the chest and neck on this drawing but now I see it the hands are far too small. I tried Seurat's technique of dark against light and I think its worked quite well. 

To answer the questions set in the brief:

  • Did you identify the central axis of the figure? If I understand this correctly, I think I have. In the standing pose, there is a line that goes down the back and right leg  the rest of the body seems to swivel round on this axis but the head is slightly too forward and lets the effect down. Its more difficult to define the central axis with the other poses so I'm not sure of the answer. However if this means the centre of gravity, then this passes down through the arm in both drawings. The head is placed directly above the elbow which carries the weight of the head (then through the leg in the case of the sitting pose in which the heel lies directly underneath again). 
  • Have you managed to achieve the overall proportions of the figure reasonably accurately? My biggest flaws in proportion are the hands in the lying pose and the head in the standing pose. Otherwise I think the proportions are OK.
  • Have you managed to convey the figure's structure and form? Yes I'm quite pleased with that. I think the pen and ink was helpful in shaping the musculature and the charcoal was useful for showing the gradual change in shading over the body.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


Seurat is most well known for his large paintings using the technique of pointillism but his artistic genius is evident if you look at his drawings.

The Square House
According to MOMA, when they examined a number of his drawings, he used a technique of layering conte crayon with fixative applied to protect the initial layers. He would then use stumping to create lighter areas. He favoured a hand-made Michallet paper which is key to his unique style. He was able to adapt the application of conte to the surface of this paper to create the desired effect. For example, in his drawing The Square House he has taken advantage of the grid-like network of the paper to accentuate the lines of the house.
According to experts, rather than drawing using line, he would start by blackening more or less the page. He would then layer on further conte crayon to obtain his characteristic atmospheric half-shades.
The Nurse
He would place an area of dense crayon next to an area of lightest application and this gives the impression of light. He called this technique “irradiation”. For example in the drawing the Nurse, the figure stands out clearly against the background even though they seem to be in shadow. He does this by leaving a halo of lighter paper adjacent to the dark edges of her dress while the edge of her apron is set against a dark background.This makes the figure jump out. He doesn’t use line to delineate figures, rather there is a difference in tones to show the shapes.

Madame Seurat
I was first introduced to these drawings while studying STP and I was blown away by the apparent simplicity of his technique. I’ve tried to copy the drawings but without being the proverbial bad workman, I really do think having the correct paper would help! I tried using different paper: normal cartridge, pastel paper, paper for acrylics and a handmade paper. I used conte pastel pencils, carre crayons and willow charcoal. I had a look for conte crayons but couldn’t find anything in sticks so I thought willow charcoal was probably the best option. I had a go at copying Seurat’s drawing of his mother “Madame Seurat” which I love.

I started out playing with the handmade paper but I found that it quickly began to disintegrate. I found the pigment showed all the imperfections in the paper which is also present in Seurat's drawings. The conte pastels were the best with this paper but because it was so friable I couldn't really use it.

Handmade paper
I tried copying Seurat's drawing on the other papers using willow charcoal. I found the best was the medium grain paper which was the pastel paper. The cartridge was just to smooth and the charcoal would smudge and then the effect was ruined. The course paper was interesting but just too grainy. In contrast to the cartridge, it wasn't possible to smudge this at all. Rather the pigment sat on the ridges only.
 Cartridge paper
 Pastel paper
Acrylic paper

So I was quite pleased with my experiment. I loved the effect these tools and his techniques achieved. It forced me to draw without lines and use tone only which is something I wouldn't do normally. Although his drawing look simple and like very little effort has gone in, once you have a go and look closely at them, you can see how skillfull he was and how he has thought about every stroke. I'll definitely try to draw in this style in future. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Drawing 1: Figures - Structure

The previous sections of my course are in my logbook and sketchbooks but I thought I'd transfer to a blog halfway through. So here I am, at the the 2nd of 5 sections of the course. This one is Figure Drawing. I thought this section would be my favourite but I've actually found it quite frustrating. I think this is mostly because I have taken a year off to have my baby and only briefly looked at the course during that time. Anyway I'm trying to get into it again so hopefully practice makes perfect!
I've just finished the section about Form which I quite enjoyed when I got into it. Much better than the section about Gesture which was hard. I didn't enjoy the speediness of the sketches which is strange because I'm always struggling for time. The main problem was getting a recognisable human being in that time I think! It always takes me a few goes to get the proportions right and 2 minute sketches don't really allow for much detailed measuring.
So this section is Structure. I've read over it and it involves 3 main drawings, a standing, a sitting and a lying pose. Before I start I have to study the skeleton and muscle structure and make sketches etc. Then I should decide on the pose and do some sketches before I embark on he main drawings, each taking no more than an hour.
Ok so the 1st bit. To study the structure in books and make sketches. I have a degree in human anatomy so I should be better placed than most in this respect! I have to say I don't feel its ever really helped me when I'm doing figure drawing but maybe it has and I'm just not aware of it. I still manage to get all the proportions wrong! I guess I know the underlying muscle structure but unless you have a bodybuilder for a model its unlikely that you'll be able to see much! Luckily my husband is a long distance runner so has good muscle tone, especially in his legs. However he's not the most patient model and is fast running out of whatever patience he had.
I find thats been one of the hardest things in this chapter so far, getting a model for all of the sketches. I wonder how other people have managed. I'm lucky to live with someone and thus I've got a potential model there all the time (when he's in). Seems to be a bit difficult if you live on your own. I can't imagine a life drawing class would fit in with what the course requires all the time.
Right so I better go and do some sketching then! So much easier to sit here and blether!