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Joy asked me recently if I were still finding figure drawing interesting. She knows I can be a little compulsive, and wanted to know if I would stop if I got tired of it. I will, but it’s hard to imagine when that could be. The subject is inexhaustible. Maybe if I were anything like satisfied with my ability to put on paper what I find so captivating, I’d move on to a different one. Maybe.

Today’s model was older than usual, which was a treat. Everyone’s living shows in their skin and faces and the way they hold their bodies, but I love the way experience shows in skin that’s become a little loose and tendons that have become more prominent. Of course, showing that kind of subtlety is beyond me, but it’s a pleasure to try. I’ve also ventured a little ways into the territory of faces in the past month or so, and did that here–with some success in the third drawing below, much less in another that I decided not to even post.



Some drawing days are better than others–who knows why. I take a day like today as a gift. I didn’t want to stop. On the second to last one (g), I particularly wished for a lot more time, as drawing the hands took about half the time and I would have loved to get into more detail elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with leaving the studio hungry for more.

I’ve been experimenting with conté crayon a little, so the first one is conté. The rest are charcoal. Click to enlarge.

“How’d drawing go?” several family members asked me yesterday. The first half of the answer, I realized, is always the same–“Great”–because I’ve drawn for three hours and it always feels like exactly the way I want to spend a Monday morning. Answer 2a depends on how I like what I produced, and answer 2b depends on how much I learned. Answer 2a for yesterday is “eh.” Maybe by blogging a drawing-by-drawing journal entry I can learn enough to turn 2b into “great” too.

We started with the usual warmups, in which my only goal is to pay attention and keep working, and then this was the first 7-minute (A). Ugh ugh ugh. Stiff, proportions wrong, got lost in useless detail with hand.

7 minutes, A

Next 7-minute: ah! Now she looks alive. I kept looking back at this one for the rest of the morning to remind myself what I was going for: loose, spontaneous, responsive.

7 minutes, B

On the next two, however, I felt like I was being fiddly and had lost that eye for the light, and the sweep of the charcoal. D (the first 10-minute pose) has some good things going on in the elbow and the legs, but it also has me doing some of my clunkiest details with the wrinkles under the arm. My own arm felt stiff. (Sorry I can’t intersperse the photos the way I would like. They are below.)

On the second 10-minute pose (E) I got it again. This hand is the best thing I did all morning, especially because I find this model’s hands difficult. Hands are hands, you might think, but these are extra-challenging for me. I also like the shadows on her belly.

As I often do, I had intended to work dark, and I had backed off. Sheer timidity made it hard to pick up the soft (i.e., dark) charcoal. I kept starting with the medium one and planning to add darker shadows, then never getting around to it. On this next one (F) I got braver. Due in part to the darker shadows, something good happened with the light on the shoulder, back, and side, the kind of area that tends to be hard. I thought I got a little too fiddly again.  But in the next one (G), I also remembered to loosen up and work in broader strokes, and again I was much happier with it. I’m also inordinately proud of the half of the nipple ring I got to show. I don’t know where the other half went.

From a 2a standpoint, I ended with a whimper–I don’t like the product (H). Not enough time on the back, and a rush to sketch in the wrist in the last minute, so that I didn’t pay it enough attention and made it much thinner than it is. Most of my time went to the hand, that elusive hand, and I never managed to see the fourth finger right. Fussed over this and that detail of the hand, so that I never did capture the overall light and shadow, though the overall shape is okay. But it isn’t mostly about the product–so, 2b, what can I glean here to make the learning worthwhile? Work loose. Look for the light and shadows and put them in–just look how it worked back at that first 10-minute, with the right hand on the thigh drawn with few strokes. If I’d done that here, I might have missed a lot of detail but I’d probably have caught something of the feeling of her hand that is missing here: the weight pressing it down, the twist of the arm, the stretch between the thumb and finger.

No figure drawing until August 13, because I’ll be traveling in the Pacific Northwest, but I will get to use what I’ve learned.







These are from the long-pose session, which consists of 1- and 2-minute warmups, then a 20-minute pose and then one pose held for almost three hours (with breaks, obviously). Here’s the 20-minute drawing:

Here’s the long pose, about 70 minutes of drawing:

My favorite part is probably her right hand, though it is just a tad large. Also the light on her left leg (the one underneath), especially because I sweated over that section, thinking it was just going to look like a very skinny leg, but when I stepped back at a break, the alchemy had worked. I’m happy enough about the whole thing that I wish I had done it on better paper. It is my usual newsprint. I meant to use better paper but only had much smaller sheets.

I generally leave off faces because drawing the face will probably require as much time as the rest put together, and I want to focus on the rest of the body. Since we had so much time, I meant to incorporate her face, but just couldn’t make her whole body fit on the paper. I do an overall very sketchy sketch to fit in what I want to fit in, but when I worked in detail, I started from the feet and the body just grew a little beyond the scale I started with; the feet kept looking too small, even though I looked again and again and could not quite figure out where I had gone wrong. Anyway, it didn’t leave room for her head. So I did just a portrait, about 15 minutes:

I seem to have cut off the top of her head slightly. Sorry about that, dear model–guess I got spooked by the corner and didn’t work right to the edge. Something about the way I photographed this (too much daylight?) wiped all the color out of it. It is actually on orange paper. This was my first serious try at hair oh, probably since my first semester of college, when I discovered how hard it was to draw hair realistically and gave up. Maybe I will devote a few sessions to hair, the way I have done to hands, but it’s hard to get as interested in it.

It’s a good thing I can’t draw twice in a week very often. Michael bakes cake for the long break every session, and it’s hard to resist, especially after smelling it for the first hour and a half. Yes, cake. Here’s the link to the studio again.

The studio where I draw has a long-pose session every other Tuesday, but I can never go, since it’s a work day and invariably a busy one. Today, being on study leave, I could, so I had three hours of drawing yesterday and four today. I feel steeped in beauty and challenge.

Yesterday, I started with the intention of working dark, in high contrast, and without getting lost in detail as I am prone to do. My resolve weakened over the course of the morning. The later drawings are also longer poses, so I have the time to get into more detail on those, but I can see that I never went as dark even to start with. It was also the day of the unintentionally large hands. There’s stuff I like here, though.

Some of the drawings:

Mostly hands and feet . . .



. . . though my favorite of the day is this full-length one (well, almost full-length; the model does have a head!):

(Click on images to enlarge)

As usual, a mixed bag. Each of these has something about it that was successful. I’m encouraged by this, because I’m feeling stuck–like I keep doing the same things that aren’t working. So it’s good to remember that some things are working even so.

Some hands that are coming along:


I loved working on this hand, with its big ring and relaxed position. The finger the ring is on didn’t work right. The two on either side bend but it just looks, I don’t know, mangled. Fingers are almost like eyes: a few lines and shadows are enough to show their true shape; get one wrong by a little bit, and suddenly they are barely recognizable. And hands are almost as expressive as faces. I’ve been trying to sit up close so that even my increasingly myopic eyes can focus on the model’s hands without squinting, because they are still mostly what I want to draw. Although this one, Woman with Mangled Middle Finger, captures the overall expression of the pose too:


On this one, I knew as I drew the left arm that I was making it too short in order to fit everything on the page. I just couldn’t face starting on a new page at a smaller scale, or abandoning the attempt to get both hands in. Ah well, the focus of the drawing was really the two hands anyway, though I like the whole attitude of her upper body:

Nothing works here but the elbow, which I do like:

My aim in this one was to include both hands. The left one got short shrift and so came out flat. The right one, though, is a lesson to me in how few marks are needed to make the full shapes emerge. It’s quite minimal and yet it works, unlike the more elaborate shading on the forearm.

In desperation on a bad day, I really changed the kinds of marks I was making. That often helps, and in this case,  it had interesting results (if a somewhat more dramatic appearance than I really like), and loosened me up so that another good one was possible (the first drawing in this post, above). Maybe I should bring along pastels or pencils so that if nothing is going well, I can ditch the charcoal and try something really different.

On this one I made myself work fast. It was only a seven-minute pose but I really wanted her whole torso and that nice twist of her neck, so fast was the only option. I tend to fuss too much over details, so speed is a good antidote.

On this one some of the shadows on the back are way too dark and defined, but there is a light on the right shoulder that I was going for and got:

One thing I figured out after yesterday’s session, and after reflecting on what’s been hardest for me these past three sessions, is that I am working too big. Many of these sketches fill an 18×24 paper. I went in that direction in order to get into more detail in places, but it’s gone too far and seems to be making it harder to capture subtleties of light, not easier. Next week I’m going to scale it all back down, and that might be the change that bumps me out of this rut. I should probably cut the paper in half to help myself along.

I still have to make my final, week-late Black History Month post. Today, though, just drawings. Mostly hands; a few feet. Our church’s lobby serves as a rotating monthly gallery, and I’m seriously contemplating having a show there consisting entirely of drawings of hands, but I’d have to have 8-10 drawings I was happy with. None of these is quite it, though the top left one comes closest. The model with the fabulous hands was there again this morning. I’m going to do justice to those veins eventually.

. . . when the only reason to keep photos of the drawings seems to be so that when I look back on several months of work, I’ll remember that there are bad days. At least, that’s what I thought looking over my drawings last night. But because I was having a hard time, I tried to change things up. I drew this really dark, for example. I tend to go too light, exacerbated when the model has really light skin, and on a bad day I go lighter because I’m feeling tentative. I don’t want to commit to anything I put on paper. For the same reason, I draw more slowly when I’m thinking everything I’m doing stinks. So I forced myself to use only the darkest charcoal and work fast and with minimum pauses on this one, and it helped loosen me up.

I even ventured into territory I’ve mostly stayed out of and started drawing her face. The head is too small in proportion to the body, but each on its own is not bad. I stared at that right thigh, trying to find a change in tone in it, and whatever was there was too subtle for me. Leaving it blank makes it look flat.

The drawing I was happiest with was this one. I sweated over that first-finger knuckle. Just about gave up on its looking like anything except a glaring white circle on a dark expanse, but when I walked away and came back to look at the drawing, there it was, looking almost real. So was the vein in the arm, which I’d given up as a failure. Drawing is like magic.

An interesting problem raised by this last one: how to show the different textures of skin and cloth. I just left the cloth more or less blank–it wasn’t what interested me this time–but I’ll have to go back to it sometime. I remember having an exercise like that back in Drawing 101, a class in which I struggled mightily–no, that makes it sound like I worked really hard and wrestled with my demons, when actually what I did was mostly avoid drawing and hide from my demons. We were supposed to draw different textures, so I drew a skirt hanger with four skirts on it; one was corduroy, I recall, and one thin cotton. Maybe that would be just the thing to try again.

I wasn’t going to show the lousy ones, but that’s not fair. Here are a couple I wanted to scrunch into a ball and throw away. Stiff, tentative . . . yep, there are days like that. I had fun just the same. Also, one of the CDs played was The Ghost of Tom Joad, a Springsteen album I don’t remember hearing before. A good day after all.


Nothing to do with Black History Month–just three more drawings from last Monday and my ongoing adventure of trying to draw hands.



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