13 October 2009

3-Color Chalk Drawings

Today's post includes some 3-color chalk drawings I did during the break. I've wanted to experiment with this method since seeing Robert Liberace's drawings at the Arcadia Gallery last May. I like the illusion of color produced by this monochrome palette, partly due to the colored ground, but also because the viewer fills in the colors, which makes the results so interesting.

My purpose in this portrait of my 12-year-old niece, Molly, was to convey the innocence of adolescence. Her gaze is direct and open. She is lit from her right by indirect sunlight, from her left by reflected light. The shadows are warmed by an overhead incandescent light. This warm-cool drawing forced me to observe temperature shifts and the interaction of light with the form. Especially important, the locations of the core shadow and the reflected light, which define shapes on the shadow side. I started painting this same image in oil a few weeks back, not very successfully. I was getting ahead of myself with the brush, wasn't really seeing the image until I paused and did this drawing study. The final painting will benefit from this extra step.

The method is straightforward. Briefly, I toned some smooth bristol board with a mixture of ochre and ultramarine blue watercolor. Be sure to tape the paper down first. After drying, I laid in the basic outline freehand in black charcoal, then gently went at it, substituting red for warm colors and black for cool colors. I used the following pencils: Stabilo CarbOthello pastel pencils in sanguine (#670) and black (#750...for darkest darks), Prismacolor Verithin Black and Tuscan Red colored pencils for fine details (careful, they leave a waxy sheen), General's Charcoal White pencil for heightening, and my trusty Conte 1710 charcoal pencils (B and 3B). I smoothed the darker areas with a cotton swab because toning left the paper rough and grainy. I did not fix, I've heard that changes the color of pastels.

Prior to drawing my neice, I did the master copy below of Peter Paul Ruben's portrait of his infant son "Nicolaas Rubens Wearing a Coral Necklace". He chose images with minimal shadow, using white heightening and half-tone to model the form, both here and in the portrait of his wife, Isabella Brandt. Beautiful images, full of emotion. Robert Liberace also tends to choose high-value subjects for his 3-color pencil drawings.

On a related note, you may have read of the recent discovery of a 3-color chalk drawing by Leonardo, originally thought to be by a German artist. Authenticity established by the presence of Leonardo's fingerprint in the upper left corner! Good stuff. I'm always looking for fingerprints on paintings by the great masters. My obsession is vindicated. Maybe we should all be leaving a fingerprint or 2 behind on our work.

01 October 2009

Charcoal and White Chalk Portrait


During a 3-week break from classes I'm spending some time testing new techniques. I really like 3-color chalk drawings (such as the type Robert Liberace does) and charcoal drawings heightened with white chalk (2-color drawings). The portrait today is one of the latter. My source image is a photo taken around 1900 of a Navajo warrior, from the book Native American Portraits by Nancy Hathaway. This image has nice directional lighting and some interesting shapes, and I really like that silver squash blossom necklace. It also gave me an opportunity for some creativity and personal interpretation.

The method is simple. Charcoal in the shadows, white chalk for lights and highlights, and the tone of the paper for halftones. Keep the charcoal and chalk separated, when they mix you get an odd gray. Paper color should be based on the value of the halftones in your image. I started with a freehand charcoal lay-in, filled in the shadows as a single medium dark value, drew in the lights and highlights, refined the shadows, and finally, restated the lights and darks. That's pretty much all there is to it. I used Conte 1710 B and 3B charcoal pencils and a General White Charcoal pencil on dark gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper. The drawing took about 8 hours to complete.

Navajo Warrior 2009, 14 x 11, charcoal heightened with white chalk on paper