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Today was a pretty good drawing day overall. I spent a lot of time on portraits and hands, and a lot of things clicked in those areas.wpid-20151026_183739.jpg


The nose, on this next one, shows an effect of light that I see all the time and have never managed to portray. I should keep it so I can keep referring back to it and figure out what I did.


But this next drawing is the one that really made me happy. It is a good likeness, and portrays the things I most wanted to: the lean of the head, the darkness of the eye that was reminiscent of a skull. This, as much as anything, is why I draw: for the rare moments when I look from the person to the paper and see the same thing coming to life under my hand as I’m seeing standing before us on the platform. They’re electric:

wpid-20151026_183453.jpgIt was so satisfying that I was very jazzed to follow it up with a long pose–more time, more time, please!–and we did have a 40-minute pose (we don’t always–usually the longest is 20 minutes). It doesn’t work as well, though, and the face doesn’t look like his. I like the left hand a lot, and the shadows. I just never took the time to step back and see the overall effect, or I would have known that I needed to smooth out some of the dramatic shading (it looks garish on the right arm and left leg) and deal with the background, which is inconsistent and confusing.



These six, the last from my great sweeping-up of all the accumulated drawings from several months, have something in common. In all of them, I was trying to use mostly the shadows and darkest places, rather than lines, to indicate shape as well as the fall of light. It works well. For example, I think the most successful bit of this one is the shadows defining her right hand.

141201c 7min

This next one too. (Same person, left hand.)

141201d 10min

Same day, therefore same person modeling, in this next one. I was just really taken with what was emerging when I looked for the shadows and reduced a lot of grays to black and white.

141201e 10minThe last three are also all of one model, and from one day. The approach was quite different than in the above three, but had a similar narrowing of the range of shades. Not too many grays. Black, or white. Lines and the edges of shadows show the contours of muscles more than they do the outlines of the body against the background.

150105c 7minIn this next one, I used hardly any outlines at all. It gives a very different feeling about the relationship of the man and his environment.

150105d 10minAs sketchy as the face is in the last one, it’s still a rather good likeness, which goes to show . . . something. Amazing how little it takes to make a recognizable portrait.

150105f 20minAs I often do when I draw, I feel very moved looking at these drawings, at how vulnerable people are, and how beautiful.

I know why I chose this one among hundreds of drawings: because of how much it conveys with how little.

141110b 7minThe next one, though? I have no idea why I included it. Limbs as stiff and flat as if they’d been cut out of plywood. The middle finger is about the only thing I like. Give me the finger!

141110f 20minSuch a lovely gesture, and her hands seemed to be opened to the light that filled them like water. Next time, can I remember to just focus on the hands and leave the rest be?

141110g 20minIn this last one, that’s what I did.

141110h 20min

All of these are about light, and take several different approaches to getting light to show up on paper. It is so hard for me to leave parts of the paper blank. I’m looking at this person’s skin, and it’s not white. I want to put shading everywhere. If I force myself to leave the lightest patches completely clear of charcoal, good things tend to happen.141013b 7minI got fussy with the many shades of gray in these next two, but the patches of pure white go a long way toward rescuing me from the cul-de-sac I was creating.

141020 20min

141027a 7min

Make sure to include shadows where body touches floor; they make light visible.

141027d 10min

Sometimes the light makes things invisible: the edge of a cheek, the detail of a bottom lip, are lost because the light falls on them so brightly.

141027h 15min

The day I did this drawing, I knew it was some kind of breakthrough. It has to do with the cleanness of the edges of the shadows. I get really frustrated with myself when all my marks are mushy. These are not mushy. They’re almost Cubist in appearance in places, as happens when I work so much and so firmly with the long edge of the charcoal. But the shading on the belly is subtle without being wishy-washy. Something really good was happening here.

140908f 20minThree weeks later, with lots of unsatisfying attempts in between, I managed to keep that same firmness. There are places where the edges are soft, maybe too soft, as in the left calf and foot. I’m not sure whether those work, but to the extent they do, it’s because not every mark on the page is like that. Most are more clearly delineated. This is a case of the first longer pose (seven minutes) maintaining some of the spontaneity and energy of the warmup one- and two-minutes.

140929a 7minThere’s usually one spot that grabs my attention, and without taking time to analyze why, I almost always start there. On the next drawing, done the same day as the previous one, it was the dramatic light on the right hand.

140929b 7min

I have brown and sanguine conte crayons in the art box I bring to drawing, but I seldom get them out. This time I wanted some color, and wanted to try the different medium, which has a little more drag than charcoal; it’s stickier, smoother. This next drawing is a bit of a mess, but I like the gesture, and the left hand, which is far from an accurate rendering but conveys the energy of the pose; intense, intent on something inward, but braced for what’s outside.

141006a 7minThis next one is a more tranquil pose from the same day as the previous. Still working on the clarity of all those planes–there are so many on her belly, revealed by, and revealing, of the light. I like the light in this, overall.

141006e 10minOn the next one, three out of four limbs (all but the left leg) are flat and undeveloped, and the neck–feh–but I knew right away that the hands and foot would need my attention. Even with 45 minutes for this pose, that’s not much for me when two hands and a foot are visible, and so clearly what the pose is about for me. They’re all a bit rough, but real to my eyes. I also like the torso.

If you look at shadows you’ll often see a gradation, from darkest at the outside edge of the shadows, to lighter farther in, farther from the light it seems. You see it here, on both breasts and the left arm. I notice that phenomenon often but can’t reproduce it as well as I can see it.

141006g 45min

More art journaling. I included this one . . . why did I include this one? I see almost nothing but flaws now. I’ll try to take off my perfectionism goggles and look again. Well, the left hand works. And the overlapping shadows along her right side. And I can feel the slump, the way her weight resting on her hands has made her stiffen her arms a little.

140519g 40minThis one went up on my wall. It’s dynamic and alive.

140811b 7minThe one below was done the same day as the one above. Hand, ankle, shadow, light.

140811e 10minSame day, same model. Three different approaches. In this next one, I used much lighter marks, but still kept a strong sense of light–so, that can be done. The hand . . . well, sometimes you can draw a hand, and sometimes you can’t.

140811f 20minAnd a fourth from the same day, also one for the wall to say “do more faces!” It’s quite a good likeness, and the hand gives a sense of pressing against the floor.

140811h 20min

This was a departure. It was an accident, if I remember correctly; I was so compelled by her face that I put a lot of time into it, and didn’t get to much else except an outline (which I often like to indicate, not by a line at all, but by a contrast in shade between foreground and background. People don’t actually have lines around them). 140310f 20min

This one makes the cut mostly on account of his head and face. Speaking of foreground and background, this was a situation in which the hair and background were almost indistinguishable. I’m pleased that I conveyed that, though I didd’t have time to draw in the background on most of it–not that I felt the need to. There’s also some good stuff going on with the hands. When a pose makes visible both hands and both feet, I should pick two at most to focus on. There’s really not time for detail on all four. The result here was that the feet look half-finished. I could have just sketched the gesture of them instead, not even tried to put in any detail.

140421g 45min

What am I always telling myself? More contrast! Advice I only occasionally follow. Sometimes I grit my teeth and limit myself to just a few shades: white, black, and almost-black. I did it in the next drawing and it was powerful.

140505f 20min

I like how different the hands are on this next one, and how you can tell the tilt of her head from just a few lines. Also, I trusted the shadowy, indistinct nature of her right hand. I really couldn’t make out much except that dark silhouette. It’s hard not to extrapolate and mess up by drawing more than I can really see, but this time I resisted.

140505h 20minThe munchkin asked if she could keep this next one. It is her favorite on account of the bun. I didn’t know until then that she considers herself something of an expert in drawing hair, and with good reason–she went on to draw a spectacular hairdo. I got nothing on her for hair.

Still, I did okay with the hair here, but what made me keep this one was the light on the shoulderblades, arm and hands.

140512g 40min

Something happened to me several sessions back. I was drawing away, trying to pay attention to what was really before my eyes, how the light fell, how the shadows were shaped, what was the length of this limb, the bend of that joint, when suddenly, quietly, something turned right around inside. It felt as if I were on one of those big rigs that camerapeople sit on to shoot a movie scene from above, and it spun around 180 degrees and I was looking out from the model’s point of view. Instead of trying to draw what she looked like, I was trying to draw what it felt like to be her at that moment. And I thought, I’ve been doing this all backwards. I don’t want the viewers to see what I see; I want them to feel what the model feels.

Not that I know what that person feels, of course. But I know what it feels like to be a body, to twist my foot this way, to bend over so that my breath comes a bit short. I know what it’s like to be a human being who’s carrying a whole history inside. Maybe if my drawings help the viewer to feel some of the physical reality, not just see it but feel it, they’ll also enter empathetically into what it might be like to be that person. What is she thinking about? What worries, memories, speculations are in her mind? What emotions are occupying her right now? What events brought her to this moment in her life, and where does she imagine she’s going next?

It was humbling. Here and there, though, looking back at drawings I did months before that chair spun me around, I can see that happening. This next one made the cut and was photographed on account of the stretch of the left arm and the slightly uncomfortable twist of the right foot. Looking at it, I begin to feel what it might be like inside this person’s skin.

140217c 7min

The next one is the same day, the same model, and again I like the gestural quality best, the sense of what it’s like to be sitting there, turned that way. Now, her left arm looks tacked on like a Barbie’s, and I somehow situated her navel a couple inches above where it really is, so I can’t bear to put it in the very limited rotating gallery on my home-office wall. But I like a lot about it, particularly the tilt of her head and the feeling of her left hand pressing down on her thigh.

140217f 20min

On this one (another day, another model) I just like the hand, especially the thumb. It’s very sketchy, but I got a lot across in seven minutes. Also, it represents the fading of my Fear of Buttocks. It’s just so hard to draw that part of the body without it looking like a cartoon: a caricature, the two scoops we all know are there but are actually very subtle. I’ve really worked on it.

140303c 7min

Sometimes I feel the urge to use the tip of a charcoal pencil to draw contours of shadows and planes. It’s very spontaneous, the loosest I usually get. I’ve been fearful that it will be gimmicky, but it evokes a whole different kind of energy; I want to remember that and listen to when the situation is calling me to use it.

140303f 15min

Same day, same model, different kind of marks. Here what works best is the hands, and again the gesture that makes me feel in my own neck the tension of that twist, and makes me feel in my own belly the way his belly folds on itself.

140303g 40min

IMG_6891As part of the 40 bags in 40 days de-cluttering challenge, I’ve tackled the backlog of drawings that have been piled, some flat, some rolled, some unceremoniously squashed, in various stashes around my car and home office. They ranged from late 2013 to this past Monday. I went through them rapidly, pulled out the best ones to photograph, put a few of those on the office wall, and put the pile you see here into the recycle bin.

There were 44 I deemed photo-worthy, which is too many to post at once, so I’ll post five or six per day over the next several days as part of this online art journal and try to cement in my mind what qualities made these some of the best of the past year’s work.

One thing I learn from this overview is that I am generally trying to do too much. The poses in these sessions last 45 minutes at most; the majority are seven to 10 minutes. That’s enough time for me to capture either the overall gesture with relatively little detail, or the details of just a couple of spots.

Here, I focused on the hands. Their attitude and the briefest of sketches of the body in between would have been enough to convey the feel of how she is sitting. The time I spent on her torso is mostly a diversion. The subtle shading of her lower back is a whole project unto itself, which I couldn’t do justice in 15 minutes, though I did better here than I often do.

131021g 15min

I included the next one largely on the basis of the light across the chest and belly, and the overall gesture.

131028e 10minI don’t often spend any time on the hair or face, and took the plunge with this next one. It’s here as a reminder to do that more often.

131029f 20minWhat works in this one is the light in certain places: collarbone, knee, foot. I am often tempted to put slight shading in almost everywhere, which leads me down my oft-traveled road of low contrast. Leaving some of the paper really white is as important as going really dark.

131111c 7min

This one commits a lot of the errors that make me want to ball the paper up–it’s stiff, I can see the hesitation in my marks, there are scale problems–but I like the hands, especially the right one, and the light on her right hip.

131111f 20min

So much to learn, so much pleasure in the learning.

Between traveling and being sick, I missed three drawing sessions. I was still pretty worn-out from illness yesterday but just had to go draw. It pretty much wiped me out for the day, physically, but my spirit got a burst of energy. The music was marvelous: Gillian Welch, something violin-y mixing classical and Arabic sounds that I couldn’t identify but that was lovely, Amy Winehouse, Talking Heads Remain in Light (an album I used to listen to a lot in my high school / college years, now languishing with the rest of the vinyl). I love when the models pick Talking Heads, not only because I like them but because the strong up-tempo beats keep my hand moving fast. And Gillian Welch isn’t exactly beat-driven or up-tempo, but couldn’t you draw all day to “Look at Miss Ohio”? I could. Here are the day’s drawings in the order they were done.


The above works well in terms of the overall gesture, and just enough of the face to give a sense of her mood. Also, I had fun drawing the cloth.


The above is most interesting for its feet. Who knew? I thought I was focusing on the light and shadow.  The left foot is a perfect example of something I thought was disastrous as I drew it (“does it really look like that?”), but that worked pretty well. Yes, it really looks like that. Don’t think. Just draw.


On the above, I used a harder charcoal and went lighter, following instinct. Messy and mis-proportioned, but the light works fairly well, so I’m glad I did.


I wanted the above pose to be really long, instead of ten minutes. So much interesting light and shadow, her upper body contrasting with the deep shadows cast by her legs.


I just had to jump in bravely and try her face on the above; she was standing quite close to me, really looming, and her attitude, hands on hips, looking up over my head, was irresistible. I tried to bring the same roughness and focus on dark shadows to her features as to her torso. It’s so hard not to get fiddly with eyes and noses.


Sweated over the right hand in the above. Couldn’t get it to work right. Still, it came out better than I thought it was doing as I worked. The pinky, though! Very happy with the pinky. Fingernails tend to do me in. I go into too much detail and kill them because really, the edges of fingernails and the delineation between the pink and the white of the nail are quite subtle. This time I managed to stay subtle.

It’s comical to take such happiness from a well-rendered pinky fingernail, but such is drawing.


This was a 30-minute pose–I messed up the proportions so badly in the first 15 minutes that I tossed it and started over with this. The proportions aren’t quite right here either (in reality, her right breast is not noticeably larger than her left) and the left arm is a disaster–I just wasn’t looking, or something–but the sweat and tears over the left hand paid off pretty well. Foreshortening creates more of those “does it really look like that?” moments. It’s so hard to turn off analysis and just draw what I see. But I tried, especially on the shading, and it’s the best part of the drawing.

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