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”.


A new chapter begins

Well, 3 years and 7 months ago, to the day, I started going to life drawing classes.

It was February 11th, 2014. I remember the model, the atmosphere, my sheepishness and the first drawing I made on that evening. Tomorrow night, the same model will come to class, but this time, I won’t be drawing, I’ll be teaching (or attempting to, at least).

If you’d told me this back then, I’d thought you were crazy, but perhaps I’m the crazy one now. But … no … actually, I’m really looking forward to it. Not too worried even … as I know at least 10 of the 18 students and have been drawing and exhibiting with them over the past 3 and a half years.

I’ve been working up a small plan to work through over the 10 sessions we will have together. But most of the time, we’ll just be drawing (or in my case, watching the others draw … I’m sure I’ll get a few drawings done too). Everyone will be getting a little hand-out, so they know what they can expect over the duration of the course. There are a few additional topics I’ll be touching on, which are not mentioned in the handouts: measuring, tangents, negative space, cross contour. I’ll be bringing 2 or 3 books on sketching the human figure which will hopefully inspire one or the other and there will be biscuits and beverages.

The courage or craziness for this operation was probably spawned by my experiences in SketchbookSkool. One thing I learned was that everything is possible. 19 months ago I would never had guessed I’d be traveling around Europe, meeting other sketchers. Now I’m already packing for my fourth sketching workshop offered by Pushing Your Sketching Boundaries, this time in Berlin.

Good night and let’s see what tomorrow brings.


The biggest mistake you mustn’t make

In August, I was on Tenerife with my wife, L.

It was quite hot, I didn’t take many art tools with me and for me being on holiday for 10 days I hardly made any art at all.

What was the problem? I was listening to a voice in my head telling me that even if I tried to do something here and now, it wouldn’t look anything like what I would want it to look like … the paint brush I use all the time has past its prime … the watercolour sketchbook (300gr) is too precious … I don’t have the right colours to paint skin tones … there aren’t enough contrasts … it’s too hot. I was giving in to these nagging voices.

In the end, I managed to save myself to a certain degree, I jumped in the deep end and painted the sea (using sea water) and also made a quick and dirty sketch of the beach at sun set (which I didn’t like for a few days and now I really love and think I should delve into more often).

The biggest mistake(s) you mustn’t make:

  • listen to the nagging voices
  • tell yourself the art tools are the problem
  • convince yourself you’re not as good as you (think you) used to be
  • stop playing/fooling around

3 weeks, and then there was Life Drawing

Well, we managed to order two models today, and I kept the one company while the first one posed for 30 minutes.

Then I got the chance to do some drawing too (four 10 minute poses, one 15 minute pose and five 2 minute poses).

And this is after 10 days of Tenerife (our annual holiday on the Canary Islands) and 5 days of Rotterdam (Sketching workshop in The Netherlands). I’ll post something about those two events later.


Tomorrow I sign my new contract as a Life Drawing tutor, I’ll post what I’m going to be up to in a later blog post.

Fünfundneunzig Minuten

Gerade wieder nach Hause gekommen, nach einem langen Tag auf Dienstreise und mehr als zwei Stunden beim Aktzeichnen.

Insgesamt 95 Minuten haben wir heute Abend gemeinsam das Modell gezeichnet.


Beim Vorzeichnen habe ich mit einem stumpfen Bleistiftstummel den Rythmus der Kräfte in der jeweiligen Pose gesucht. Danach habe ich ziemlich locker die Konturen mit einem “S” oder “XS” PITT Fineliner gezeichnet. Wobei ich besonders auf die kleinen “Unebenheiten” die durch prominente Muskelgruppen oder durch das Skelett direkt verursacht werden. Als letzter Verarbeitungsschritt verbringe ich noch einige Minuten damit, die Form, bzw. das Volumen des Modells mit Buntstiften herauszuarbeiten. Dabei achte ich darauf, mich (so gut es geht) bewusst auf eine Lichtquelle zu reduzieren.

Acht 10-Minuten-Posen und fünf 3-Minuten-Posen = 95 Minuten. Danach war mein A3 Blatt ziemlich voll gezeichnet.

And on the fifth day …

Who would have believed it? I didn’t draw for four days. No gesture practice, self portraits, nothing … not even any hatching exercises.

… then I went to Tuesday’s Life Drawing Session, for which no model arrived …


I began the evening on the stage … three 10 minute poses for my fellow life drawers. The next hour of drawing, I attempted to use my meagre FORCE knowledge to make those poses more believable. What I’m really surprised about is the true to life likeness of the faces I drew tonight and I can only guess it’s coming from all the quickly sketched self portraits I’ve been doing in front of the mirror. Of course, I’ve also fed my brain with loads of information over the last 3 years (perspective, anatomy, mnemonics, tone, volume) and it was sure to pay off one of the days, wasn’t it?

Now That’s Life

Just back from Life Drawing. Many short poses were called for tonight. I still managed to call a few 10 minute poses.

Some dialogue from tonight (I’m the time keeper):
[5 minutes into a 10 minute pose]
Stuart: Ok, only five minutes left
Drawer 1: Oh!
Stuart: Yeah, incredible, isn’t it? So much time left.
Drawer 2: No, no, where’s the time gone?
Stuart: Really? I spent the first 5 minutes writing my shopping list.
Drawer 3: Show off!
[Stuart smirks]

Anyhow: pencil, PITT artists pen (S and XS) and a limited selection of Polychromos coloured pencils. 1 minute, 2 minute, 3 minute, 5 minute, 7 minute and 10 miniute poses. All on one A3 sheet of paper (190gr/sqm).

I was having a blast tonight!