Compressing the Darks

I got myself a year’s subscription at schoolism.com, an online platform that offers me a year of watching recorded classes, workshops and former students’ critiqued homework.

I’ve been through a workshop with Ian McCaig (a concept artist with decades of experience). And I’ve done a whole class with Thomas Fluharty (a draughtsman and oil painter with decades of experience).

Currently, I’m in the fourth week of a class on the Essentials Of Realism with Jonathan Hardesty (a chap who only decided to go into art in his early twenties and then ended up making the decision to join an atelier with 3 other students and be taught classically by 2 classically trained artists for three years, he also seems to be a great teacher).

I am learning what compressing the darks means and why that is so important. It seems we (as observers) don’t gain much information from the parts of the object which are in shadow. And when we draw (or paint) we don’t have the range of values that real life offers. So, if we use up too much of the reduced range in the shadow areas, we are left with much less range to work with in the light areas. It may also be that we intentionally reduce our value range even more, before even starting the drawing, just to achieve a specific mood or capture a certain ambient light effect. The more range we have left to work with in the lights, the more we can achieve when modelling the form.

The transition values in the light area play an important role when it comes to form. The more room you have in your light value range, the easier it will be to create that transition.

It is about now that I’m starting to understand why Jonathan Hardesty teaches us to begin a drawing by blocking in the lights and darks. We have mainly been drawing portraits (which is good for me, I enjoy portraits) but we are not focusing on anatomy, instead we are “just” learning to identify the shapes that outline the shadows, highlights and transition areas of the model. This is the stage that feels like copying, but as soon as we start putting down the values and have to activate our critical vision and make sensible choices, it starts to become a very creative process. It is challenging and fulfilling at the same time.

The two homeworks I have made for his class are not exceptional but I think I have already learnt a lot (the portraits don’t really look like the originals much, but they look pretty realistic to me and I’m fine with that). They basically grew out of blocks of light and dark, and it was fun to see the face appear once I started adding the values.

Corona Blues and Oranges

Finally, the sketchbook we started on January 30th, 2020 in the (probably very cold) academic art museum (filled with plaster casts of Roman sculptures) is full.

The last 6 months or longer, I’ve been keeping to a theme, and it’s been interesting seeing my skill progressing. Lately, it had however become quite tedious and I’m looking forward to starting a new sketchbook with a different subject and toolset.

The theme and tool set I’d been keeping to was blue and orange (ink and coloured pencil) drawings of scenes at home.

It may be time for portraits again, as you know, I’m currently drawing fully dressed figures on a 4 drawings per week basis and I’m enjoying the monochromatic approach.

2021 – a battle plan

Whatever 2021 may bring, I’ve decided to keep a regular, healthy drawing habit going. These long weeks of being “locked away” have not been pleasant for me I’ve been self reflecting, trying to find the common denominator in the drawings I make and being honest to myself about my likes and dislikes.

Just before 2020 ended I decided to start a project of copying photo references into a small Moleskine sketchbook. This was to cover as many of my preferences as possible, each time I’d sit down to draw. During this project, I get to draw full figures (as opposed to only portraits), do gestural work (the lightest change in the gesture can make or break the drawing), concentrate on studying values, use black/grey ink only (I enjoy working with the brush end of the dual Tombow pens) and only need a small toolset for it (just a handful of pens and pencils that I can put back in the bookshelf when not in use).

Four or five of these get drawn by me each week. I spend up to 3 hours on each and sometimes start one day and finish the next (something pretty new to me, as I’m always rushing on to the next drawing normally). This’ll keep me occupied for a few more months.

2020 – What a year …

It’s been 12 months since I last posted. (Scroll to the end of the post, to see a selection of drawings.)

I’ll try and focus on where I am at the moment with my drawing, but I’ll start by reflecting on how I got here.

So, 2020 began with me stopping my daily gesture practice drawings, I’d got bored of them (this could have been a sign for me back then). I still continued going to weekly figure drawing sessions (which I was organizing myself). I took part in the love life drawing dot com annual figuary challenge and went on a 5 day course, drawing portraits and people.

Then Covid came.

The figure drawing sessions stopped. After a few weeks, I noticed I was feeling much better without them, so I decided to officially stop them for good. (Note: some people have now taken over from me, but I’m not itching to go back soon.) In the meantime, I started attending online figure drawing sessions, they were real life sessions and you could chat and have fun during the session or in the breaks, some were in Barcelona, most of them were in Glasgow. It was cool.

Then I attended a 4 week online bootcamp, hosted by Marshall Vandruff, covering the topic George Bridgman (an art teacher 100 years ago. Andrew Loomis learned from him). It was fabulous. I had a great time, Marshall was so full of energy, and a few things really resonated with me. In the end, I stopped drawing figures from reference completely. I wanted to delve into what may be possible without having the comfort of a reference. That was hard, that is(!) hard, I’m still struggling, but things are slowly, very slowly, starting to get a bit better.

After many weeks of struggling and avoiding, I went back to my portrait drawing from reference photos and started working with pencil again. But now, after drawing 10 portraits over a period of 2 or 3 months (each portrait taking me 2 to 3 hours) I’ve evidentally run out of steam. That procrastination phase seems to have come to an end.

I’m now trying to develop my “skill” at automatic drawing (drawing without anything too specific in mind and without reference). I’m calling it a skill, because it seems so difficult to me. Perhaps especially because I’ve trained myself to rely on reference photos a lot. I start making squiggly lines and vary the line (type, quality, form, direction, shape), attempting to achieve something specific, but not too specific, letting my eye and imagination find something in the scribbly marks that can be further developed.

My goal is to sit anywhere (sofa, bus stop, doctors’ waiting room, cafe, train) and just produce fantasy figures from the top of my head. I think I’ve eventually started to understand some of the important factors that need to be considered, their meaning and the order in which they need to be prioritised. The important factors are composition or design, followed by gesture (if not already part of the design), considerations on the effective use of perspective, and last but (not least) the clever use of line quality.

I’ve already tried it out, it’s not too hard, once you really let yourself make those 10.000+ bad drawings that you hear everyone talking about (you’ve heard this, right?). I may have made about 20 or 50 (depending on what counts as a drawing), but even after so few, I feel like some barriers are disolving slowly. Nevertheless, it’ll be some time until I pick up the courage to share those attempts with the public (which is actually a quite relaxing approach).

Right then, here is the promised selection of drawings from 2020.

Couch Potato

I bought an easel, a few months ago and I cleverly set it up in my main room at home. A chair is always placed right in front of it. Hoping to make the daily usage of it simple and inviting.

I started drawing quick gestural poses when sitting there, then I started rendering a few of them, capturing the play of light. Then that petered out and the easel became just another part of my living room. The easel was being ignored, blended out.

Hours/days/weeks were spent on the couch (mere centimetres from the easel), watching films, reading books. By now I was also no longer performing daily quick gesture drawings. I still had my weekly life drawing, and sometimes, that was all I turned out for a complete week. I started asking myself if I had chosen the right hobby, I was on a really long stretch of self delusion. Eventually, I started wathing Stan Prokopenko and Marshall Vandruff’s Draftsmen podcast on Youtube (I have mixed feelings about them) and let myself get inspired into returning to the easel.

Now I’ll sit at the easel for a few minutes or even an hour, and knock out a portrait every other day. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself, I know I’m just copying from references, but I’m trying to model the bones, muscles and planes of the face and not only copying the tones.

It’s hard, I fail a lot. But I can already see a little bit of improvement.

Less couch, more easel.

Hi, My name’s Stuart …

8 months have passed. Time to look back.

No … it’s time to look forward. A few things have been spooking around in my head lately, e.g. where am I going with my drawing skills. In the beginning it seems much easier, you leave your house, start pacing the front lawn, may adventure out onto the street, but basically, you don’t get far, just become more and more aquainted with your direct surroundings, perhaps you are quickly bored by the front porch and your neighbours’ houses, and can’t see the beauty in the everyday and mundane, so you take a long walk in a direction that looks promising.

This is what happened to me in February 2014. After dabbling with drawing for 6 months, I went to a life drawing class which seemed like jumping into the deep end and now most of the art books I have and drawing sessions I go to are about life drawing.

So, am I sticking to this path? Where is the path, actually? Is this a thing at all?

I started this post with “Hi, My name’s Stuart …” because I’ve just enrolled for a 6 hour life drawing class in the summer, here in Bonn. And I was wondering how I’d introduce myself, reflecting on where I am and where I want the next steps to take me.

Well, I’ve been drawing for 5 years rather regularly. On a nearly daily basis for the last 3 years now. I’m interested in people. I like drawing them. But what do I like about it? I’ve decided it’s capturing their personalities and the influence of nature (gravity, light, age). My toolset is line and contour. I enjoy scanning the person, considering cross contours and extending imaginary lines. Modelling a drawing using strong contrasts feels like a magic trick every time. It’s always exciting for me to see how the brain can be convinced to see something 3 dimensional on a flat piece of paper.

I’ve looked into colour and I’ve tried to understand cold and warm but it really upsets me how stupid I feel when trying to figure it out. A feeling I remember from back in my school days. I probably won’t give up entirely, but I’m at a point where I’ve chosen not to beat myself up about it. Instead, I’m steadily building up my knowledge of anatomy or morphology as the early 20th century fine artist would probably have said (especially Prof. Dr. Richer).

So, I’m on the track to becoming an ever more skilled life drawer. I enjoy the one or other outing in town, drawing stuff, but give me 3 hours of life drawing and I’m squeeling with pleasure. Every now and again, I’ll switch my toolset, but basically I’m a sucker for a few types of pens and 2 or 3 colours.

To end this dry post, here are my life drawing activities in Bonn and New York from the past 4 weeks.

“Hi, My name’s Stuart, I draw people, a lot.”

The Passionate Pedagogue

My third semester of giving life drawing classes starts today … and people don’t pay for me to tell them, “Draw figures for 4 years and keep up the daily practice.” (Although, I do mention that in the breaks, if somebody is so foolhardy to ask.)

That’s why I attempt to set up a curriculum every semester.

As last year I heard quite often (even if only from a few individuals) that they had been expecting more anatomy, I’m introducing more anatomy (even if I’m not the expert). I may have a few clever insights for the one or other and we can learn from each others mistakes.

Here’s the plan for the 10 week course:

  1. Explore proportions
  2. Gestural drawing, finding rhythm
  3. Ribcage and pelvis
  4. Shoulders, arms, hands
  5. Legs, bottom, feet
  6. Perspective for life drawers
  7. Portrait, the face, the head
  8. Light and shade
  9. Blind drawing, contours
  10. Facial expression

The topics currently fit very well to the models I’ve managed to get in advance and every session has a different model, which I think is grand.

To finish this post off, here are some of my latest gesture drawings, I have now drawn gestures for way over 500 hours. I started slowly in August 2014. I now often draw longer (90 second) poses, but this morning I tried out 45 second poses again.

Am I an Urban Sketcher

I chose to fly to Porto/Portugal in July for the 9th Urban Sketching symposium (Usk).

I told myself this could be a good idea to meet friends again and to meet Internet friends for the first time in real life, … but I hadn’t actually contemplated very much that this would also be an opportunity to make new friends, and new friends were made … plenty!

I came back feeling like a “real” Urban Sketcher, whatever that means. At least I feel I’m doing the right thing now.

I went to Porto with a rather complete set of tools, watercolours, aquabrush, pens, pencils (graphite and coloured), but ended up finding myself very very very comfortable with a fountain pen or a fine liner. The line monster got me. Colour was removed from the menu for me and I was completely happy, slowing down and just making lines, lines, lines. Then all of a sudden, I was writing on my drawings. Something I’d been quite frightened about up until then.

This change happened after spending hours and hours with fellow sketchers, listening, watching and exchanging ideas. I heard about the contents of a few workshops (as I had no workshop pass) and was influenced by peoples’ styles and just let go of what wasn’t working for me: colour.

(Note on Workshops: actually I’m quite happy I didn’t take any, I’ve had so many in my time, I believe it is nearly 20 by now and I enjoyed listening to my fellow sketchers talking about their new found knowledge.)

Before I left for the Smyposium, I asked Bernard Hornblower who had been to the last symposium in Chicago if he had any recommendations.

Here is the list of recommendations/tips and my remarks on them (based on my first hand xp):

  1. Bernard said, “Take your stool” -> Stuart says, “good to have it, especially if it’s light and can basically fit into your rucksack (get yourself a rucksack!). And you can always lend it someone who has no stool.”
  2. Bernard said, “Stick to the people you know” -> Stuart says, “Yes, I think I understand where this is coming from, but I didn’t stick to them and I made fabulous friends while I was there. It was like 9 days of partying.”
  3. Bernard said, “Get up early and draw in public, there may be teachers around. Get out at 6:30am” -> Stuart, “What? I was out all night, and I stayed in my hotel until 9am, where I practiced gesture drawing … I may have missed somethings at the venue though, but more about that below.”
  4. Bernard said, “Sketch walks are ok, even if 500 people may be taking part.” -> Stuart says, “Well, actually, they’re not that exciting. OK, I made a few friends and it was interesting to watch a few people draw/paint, but basically they weren’t all they were cooked up to be, not for me anyhow.”
  5. Bernard said, “Go to the venue in the mornings and get yourself watercolour on paper, every day.” -> Stuart says, “Honestly, it was too early for me, and I’m not a big freebie fan. And watercolour was left at my hotel early in my symposium career.”
  6. Bernard said, “You can get brushes at special prices at the symposium.” -> Stuart says, “OK, yes, a gorgeous brush is a gorgeous brush, but I’m not a real colour guy, and I don’t like carrying water pots around with me.”
  7. Bernard said, “Get your hands on the journals fast (at the stalls) because they’ll be sold out fast.” -> Stuart says, “Damn, I was a bit lazy there, I should have bought myself an A4 Leuchtturm1917, probably special price, but somehow, I wasn’t in the mood to buy stuff at the symposium.”
  8. Bernard said, “There will be water and snacks at the evening events” -> Stuart says, “Ok, yes, snacks, nothing else, ok, the water was laced with port wine, that was interesting.”
  9. Bernard said, “Decide fast if the evening events are good for you.” -> Stuart says, “I basically stuck to my inner circles and never went to a drink and draw. And I’m quite happy about it, I enjoyed the chatting and banter, I think I wasn’t at the symposium to draw actually.”
  10. Bernard said, “Take your favourite tools.” -> Stuart says, “Yep, and those were the G-Tech Pilot 0.4 (which I lost somewhere in Germany later), Lamy Safari F nib with Rohrer&Klingler ink (one cartridge full, and that was enough), Stabilo pen68 felt tip pens and 2 coloured pencils.”
  11. Bernard said, “No headphones needed.” -> Stuart says, “Correct! But it is still perhaps good to hide away a bit if you want to get some drawing done. Especially if every body knows you after making “hundreds” of new friends. “
  12. Bernard said, “Prepare and do some research on the town.” -> Stuart says, “Well, I bought a book, read a few pages, took it with me and never looked at it again. But I did watch a few tourist/travel guide youtube videos. Basically, I’d say I don’t need to do too much research.”
  13. Bernard said, “Take natural colours. Colours to depict the sky and water well.” -> Stuart says, “Well, colours … not really my thing, everything goes wrong when I try colours.”
  14. Bernard said, “There is free water at the venue.” -> Stuart says, “Well, a bottle of water cost 12 Cent in the supermarket next to my hotel. So I didn’t bother looking at the venue.”
  15. Bernard said, “Consider taking one sketchbook, you can always buy a new one.” -> Stuart says, “Yes, I need to remember that one. One sketchbook is by far enough. You get freebie sketchbooks, even after the goody bag, if you come to the venues in the mornings, they will be handing out sketchbooks. Need to remember that.”

And here is what I drew in Porto and how I’ve continued in Bonn:
View from my hotel window.

I set up a Facebook event before the symposium started

Out in Porto at lunch time with my “Birmingham” connection.

Second Facebook event I set up, only a handful of sketchers came this time, but all the cosier!

After waiting (with fellow sketchers) for hours before going up to register for the symposium, I sat between friends and drew a bit of Porto. Line is starting to prevail.

First sketchwalk on the first day of the symposium. Met some wonderful people here.

Sketching with some of my most cherished drawing “heros”. Now I think I understand, there is no olymp, we are all equals. I love it.

Chilling for 2 hours in the British cemetry (this drawing took me 2 hours). Wonderful things happened at the cemetry. I made new friends, wonderful friends.

Having some quality time on my own and later with a friend in an expensive hotel cafe. And drawing a panorama view of Porto’s sister town Gaia.

Second sketch crawl I went to, where I joined up with new people again. Writing starts to appear in me sketches.

Sktchy app meetup on last day at very last sketch crawl. Such a happy but also sad event (symposium finishing slowly). I lent a friend my stool. He enjoyed the change.

Last day, spent with a friend, drawing and writing.

Back in Bonn and copying photos and tiles from Porto.

Off for a bit of Urban Sketching in Bonn on Wednesday.

And again. On Friday.

And meeting with fellow drawers on Monday.

And going to life drawing on Tuesday.

Battling the Sketch-Sloth

Bank holiday weekend and hardly a sketch done.

Last weekend I was in Berlin and it started quite well, nearly every minute was filled with sketching. Perhaps I overdid it … and now I’m in a sketching hang-over? More likely I was too impressed by some of my first sketches and managed to intimidate myself into not continuing.

I’ve broken my gesture practicing streak again(!) but although I have continuously asked myself whether I’m doing this practicing the right way, I am certainly convinced it fires me up and helps me start my day on the right foot. So, six ay-em, early morning gesture drawings are back on the menu.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, I really need to start using my sketchbook for what it was actually made for:

  • trying out ideas
  • writing notes
  • practicing the following:
    • lines (line weight, length, line gesture, texture)
    • colour rhythm
    • composition
    • perspective
    • anatomy, people drawing
  • playing around
  • sketching

If a nice drawing turns up now and again, that’s fine with me.

Anyway, to end this blog, here is a small collection of last weeks drawings from Berlin, life drawing in Bonn and Bonn itself (I actually spent a few hours in town drawing yesterday … so much for being a sloth).

 

May the Sketching be with you

Sorry,

There was a time when I would post directly after returning from life drawing sessions. Now, I’m an Insta user and post continuously on Instagram. I did actually think, I’d post my life drawing lesson topics here every Monday evening, before moving out with them on Tuesday night. Didn’t happen.

To make a long story short, this is what I’ve been up to this year:

  • Sktchy, it’s an iOS app, where I’ve been spending some time daily, painting a small portrait each day or so
  • life drawing with felt tip pens
  • bit of mundane urban sketching with a biro (AE: ballpoint) in a self made sketchbook with pink pages
  • preparing for a few urban sketching trips (1st one takes me to Berlin tomorrow, next one to Porto in July to the symposium) … I can feel a blog post coming on again

Here are a collection of the latest sketches which have turned out: