Endings and Beginnings

The year 2022 is coming to an end. The last few months I’ve found myself drawing and even painting a little more again. I registered for two evening classes at my local adult education facility (Volkshochschule). I went to watercolour classes Monday evenings. Thursday evenings I sat together with all types of budding artists, and while they were introduced to a different media every other week, I’d draw black and white figures from reference photos.

This year, I eventually managed to unblock my mental constraint for just drawing something without references in my sketchbook. I’m still not good at it, but … once a week I’ll fill a page or four in my book with silly figures.

Urban sketching is plodding along, I get out every Wednesday and draw and chat with others. I’m not always happy about the venues, but I generally manage to get up and go to them. This year, I also started moving into a more colourful approach to urban sketching, starting with 3 felt tip pens, then introducing more colours and eventually even moving out with a whole mat of coloured pencils. I’m now reducing that multitude of colours back a little, because there’s so much I don’t understand about colours and it confuses and frustrates me.

Charcoal is also back on the menu. I’m making A2-sized drawings of figures on newsprint, learning about gesture, shape, proportion and next up is form. The goal is eventually to draw better imaginary figures in my sketchbooks. Which I believe was the reason for me starting to draw.

Urban Sketching in Bonn, using fineliner, felt tip pens and coloured pencils.
A watercolour from my Monday class. Topic was “measuring”, I rushed it a bit and the cow’s head ended up quite narrow.
Those small figure drawings I’ve been doing since December 2020. Using brushpens and graphite.
The charcoal drawing practice I’m doing currently. Gesture, shapes, proportion.
Next stop: form.

9 1/2 months later

The past 9 months have taught me once more, how important it is to be working with tools that make you happy. The paper needs to be what you love (in my case that’s smooth, thick and it needs to lie flat), the pen needs to be fit for the purpose, react to your every whim and behave consistently and predictably (I have quite a few of them. Unfortunately, fountain pens have not fulfilled the requirements, so it’s back to Tombows and Faber Castell pens. Which I’m ok with.). I spent a lot of time just playing around, doing quick, daily, pose sketches. But that got boring and wasn’t really worth sharing with anyone, so going back to urban sketching and a few portraits was quite joyful. Here are a selection of some of my latest and greatest.

Spent a bit of the afternoon on the balcony, capturing the light.
Drew a self portrait in profile, using 4 different brush pens.
Spent an evening on my own at an Italian restaurant. Just drawing and eating. Hadn’t done that for a long time.
After a very long time, I fiinally manged to draw another of these figures. Still got another 40 or so to do.
Worked on a well rendered life drawing from a reference photo. Blue pencil on marker paper.
A view of Bonn, while out with my urban sketcher buddies, like every Wednesday.

Slow Motion … and Bodies

I chose to join another online drawing class, I don’t know why I can’t just stick to the stuff I’ve already bought (or perhaps I do … new and shiny captures my attention … but I’m going to return to the schoolism classes before my year runs out).

Anyhow, I’m getting carried away.

So, there’s this new class I started … on June 1st, and it was supposed to be a 10 day class, one lesson per day for 10 days … but I chose to take my time and did the assignments like once a week. I’ve just watched the last day’s video and will … possibly … attempt the assignment tomorrow … unless I end up satisfying my basic needs with crisps, beer and TV, while lounging on the sofa (it happens … quite often lately, actually).

The teachers of this new class expected you to use different mediums (pencils, graphite powder, ink, watercolour, etc.) everyday. But I was having none of that. I just wanted to draw with a pencil on xerox paper, but I had a weak moment and bought my first pad of Bristol paper (a pretty cheap brand, though) half way through the class.

Each day’s video basically had motivational character for me. There wasn’t much new stuff, but that’s good too. If you watch some really good hobby artists, professional illustrators and art teachers drawing and telling you stuff you already know, it just means all there’s left to do is practice, practice, practice (and have fun, at least most of the time).

These are most of the drawings I made since June 1st for this class, I’ve also been urban sketching and may write a blog on that too … soon.

5 months later …

I started this project of drawing from reference photos in Scott Schuman’s book “The Satorialist – Closer”. I managed a few figures a week in the beginning, now the speed and drive is petering out. And I’m wondering why? It is hard work, drawing those figures, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself, if I only get one done once every 10 days, I’m still going to be ok. I do notice however that I’m being overly critical with myself during the drawing phase. Which makes no sense, especially as it’s all just for fun. I’ve now filled half the sketchbook and believe I can get the rest done by Christmas. If I stop being so overly critical, I could get it done in 3.

They sometimes look a bit distorted, but who cares, it’s just a drawing in a sketchbook, just doing something, just spending some time not looking at screens. Just playing around.

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.”