27 January 2009

Portraits from Photos: Graphite and Charcoal

Here is a drawing from another one of my "homework" classes at the Watts Atelier. The class, focusing on drawing portraits from photos using charcoal and graphite, was taught by Stan Prokopenko.

In the basic method the general contour lines of the portrait are roughed in with a fairly dark lead, like a 2B. Next the areas of darker value, including the background, are filled in with powdered charcoal using a large paintbrush. The image is then worked up using graphite pencils and picked out with a kneaded eraser. The nice thing about this method, for anyone whose done large-scale graphite drawings, is that the fill-in of darker areas and backgrounds goes much faster without loss of detail or quality, so you can focus on the fun stuff. This portrait took about 8 hours to complete.

My source photo for this drawing was from the Phaidon Press book "Portraits" by Steve McCurry. A nice book to add to your art library as it's loaded with great images suitable for drawing and painting.

African Boy 2008, graphite and charcoal on bristol board, 10 x 6

22 January 2009

Lessons from Cast Drawing


The meat and potatoes of early atelier study are the head and figure drawing classes, usually taken every term. These can take the form of quick sketch, 20-minute lay-in or long drawing (3 hours and up). Most of the head and figure drawings from my first year are pretty hard to look at. Maybe someday, when I’m a more secure artist, I’ll post some of those early drawings…then again maybe not.

In addition to those core classes, I take at least 2 “homework” classes each term so I can practice techniques at home as well. My second term at Watts I took a cast drawing class taught by Erik Gist. The course was based loosely on the methods of Charles Bargue, using comparative measurements for the lay-in.

Cast drawing provides great lessons in value and edge control. The standard procedure goes something like this. After the lay-in and definition of the light and dark sides of the cast, the shadow side is uniformly darkened with an HB pencil, giving a 2-value drawing. The details are mapped in on the shadow side with a 2B and 4B pencil, then halftones are drawn in on the light side with an HB and 2H pencil. Finally the background is added. For a good book on cast drawing see "Cast Drawing Using the Sight-Size Approach" by Darren Rousar. He gives a good description of modeling techniques and a thorough explanation of sight-size, if you're interested.

My cast drawing of the Laocoön took about 30 hours to complete. I photographed the cast so I could work on the drawing at home. By comparison to the actual cast in the studio, the photo lost a lot of detail on the shadow side. The reflected light and core shadow were especially difficult to see in the photo.

Laocoön 2008, graphite on bristol board, 15 x 10

16 January 2009

First Art Lesson: Self-Portrait in Graphite

My first art lesson was in 2007, when I took a drawing class taught by Raul Espinoza at a local junior college. Raul is a gifted teacher and artist, and I learned from him that I might actually have some aptitude for drawing. I drew this allegorical self-portrait in his class. The camera and magnifying glass represent the visual world (photography being my primary form of self expression up to that point). The photos of family scenes were taken with that camera by my father. In one, my 2 older sisters and I share some ice cream on a summer day when I was about 18 months old in Seattle, Washington. Another photo of me (under the magnifying glass in front) was shot in Golden Gate Park with my first Brownie camera.

In composing this piece I paid special attention to balancing the negative spaces in the corners. I’m sure an experienced artist would find lots to improve, but I was happy with this early effort. I learned what I could from Raul, and quickly realized that the intensive artistic training I wanted was not available at the junior college level. In January 2008, shortly after finishing this piece, I began classes at the Watts Atelier.

Always There 2007, graphite on bristol board, 10 x 13