Going in circles … and ellipses

Tomorrow night I’ll be introducing “circling” to the life drawing course participants.

The goal is to practice the “airplane line” and break out of habits and/or introduce new, well-balanced line making skills. The “airplane line” is when you land slowly and gently on the paper with your pencil/crayon, start making a thicker line in a controlled fashion (as if the plane is leaving skid marks) and then decide to take off gently again. Always consciously picking the point of landing and take-off.

By deciding consciously to only draw in circles and ellipses, you need to watch yourself carefully first to make sure you’re not drawing potatoes, bananas and sausages, I found this to be a very hard exercise actually, I had to remain fully concentrated to keep my line from going off in all directions. Once you have reached a kind of flow or zone, the ellipses and circles start coming naturally and more and more can be found by just opening up to all possibilities.

You can stick to the contour or you can find circles which are much larger than the entire pose, but define the pose nevertheless. Some circles can go through the figure, some just sit on top of the planes of the figure. Additionally, while searching for the best fit, you are continuously testing, measuring and comparing sizes, form and orientation. The whole process should be non-stop, the thinking process occurs during the skating of the page and searching for the correct fit. This is like an eagle circling over its prey. Once you have your “prey” (i.e. size, form and orientation) you can press down harder and commit to the line. Then, without leaving contact with the page, go on search for your next prey.

The evening will begin with us identifying the 16 major groups of the figure as circles and ellipses and we will then move on to a sequence of 5 and 3 minute poses where we will attempt to draw the figure only using circles and ellipses.

As tools we will be using a medium soft graphite if available. I am currently in love with the Faber-Castel PITT oil based pencil (medium).

Here are a few of the poses I drew last week while testing this circling method. I believe this short practice has already helped make my line more controlled and has increased my attention to the value of the “airplane line”.

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