Sunday, 30 March 2014

Proportions of the Figure

Ideal Proportions - Male
Copied from Figure Drawing for All Its Worth
Ink on Paper

Since the ancient Egyptians, artists have used different idealised systems of body proportions to create pictures and sculptures that are realistic and pleasing. Most systems are based on measuring the body in units of some body part.

I first read about relative proportions in The Natural Way to Draw. Kimon Nicolaides presents a system in which the unit of measure is half the length of the torso:

  • Top of head to collarbone = 1 unit
  • Shoulders to waist = 1 unit
  • Waist to top of thighs = 1 unit.
  • Top of legs to middle of knees = 1.5 units
  • Middle of knees to soles of feet = 1.5 units.

Valerie Winslow provides an interesting section about proportions in Classic Human Anatomy. She describes the system suggested by Nicolaides as “The Proportional System of Divisions”. She also explains diagrams based on figures that are 8 heads tall and 7.5 heads tall.

In Figure Drawing for All Its Worth, Andrew Loomis presents the ideal body as being 8 heads tall. He also shows figures based on 7.5 heads, 8.5 heads and 9 heads.

Quick Set-up of  Proportions - Male
Copied from Figure Drawing for All Its Worth
Ink on Paper

Winslow and Loomis both note that the 7.5 head system can make figures look stocky and that the fashion and entertainment industry use 9 and even 10 heads to create figures that are graceful or heroic.

Quick Set-up of  Proportions - Female
Copied from Figure Drawing for All Its Worth
Ink on Paper

The drawings on this post are copied from the Figure Drawing for All Its Worth. Loomis stresses the purpose of the exercises is to learn the divisions - not to accurately draw the anatomy, but I’ve given that my best shot as well.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Analysis of Reproductions

Analysis of Reproductions - Darks
Based on "Lighthouse at Two Lights" by Edward Hopper
3 March 2014
Graphite Pencil on Paper
16.5cm x 11.5cm (6.5" x 4.5")

I am persevering with the Composition from Reproductions and Analysis of Reproductions exercises from the Natural Way to Draw (see Composition from Reproductions). Kimon Nicolaides suggests doing the exercises for 4 years, so I have a few years to go.

The Composition from Reproductions exercise involves drawing small gesture studies from works of art. Nicolaides specifies they are to be done quickly and I use a two minute time limit for each study. The Analysis of Reproductions exercise is an extension of the basic exercise and uses the gesture studies from the original exercise as a starting point. It has three variations:

  • Take one of the gesture studies and spot in the dark areas of the composition
  • Turn one of the gesture studies upside down and use it as a starting point for a gesture study of something you have recently seen or done
  • Take one of the gesture studies and analyse the straight and curved lines in the composition

I approach these analysis exercises in a more relaxed way and spend up to 10 minutes on each study.

I work on a 5 week cycle - Composition from Reproductions exercises for 4 weeks (studying a different artist each week) and Analysis of Reproductions on the fifth week. So far I've studied works from 48 artists. I aim to spend about 40 minutes a week on the exercises, but when I am busy, this is the first thing I drop from my schedule.

I have a love hate relationship with the basic composition exercise. It’s enjoyable to study an artist’s work for 40 minutes, but sometimes I question the benefit of the frantic scribbling. If nothing else, it provides input for the analysis exercises which I always enjoy and find useful.

The Edward Hooper study at the top of the post is from my last round of analysis exercises (you can see the original here Hopper makes dramatic use of light and dark. His pictures lend themselves to this sort of analysis. After completing this study, it struck me how this exercise has correlations with the simplified landscapes from chapter 7 of Keys To Drawing (see Keys to Drawing - Chapter 7) and the Studio Rousar Memory Drawing Group exercises (see Studio Rousar Memory Drawing Group - Weeks 24 to 27.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Making Corrections With Gouache

Smeaton’s Pier, St Ives
Watermedia and Oil Pastel on Paper
24cm x 34cm (9.5" x 13.5")

Smeaton’s Pier protects St Ives harbour from the sea. The pier was originally half its current length. The lighthouse was added when the pier was extended in the 1890s.

The picture started as an experiment in mixing oil pastels and acrylic inks with watercolour. I didn’t have any aspiration to produce a finished painting, but as it developed, I began to like it and started to wish I had taken more care painting the figures at the bottom of the wall.

What figures at the bottom of the wall?

Smeaton’s Pier, St Ives
Watermedia and Oil Pastel on Paper
24cm x 34cm (9.5" x 13.5")

I painted over them with gouache.

I started by lifting off as much of the figures as I could. I then painted over where they had been with a relatively thick layer of gouache and feathered this out to blend in with the rest of the wall. I used this as an opportunity to tone down some of the markings on other parts of the wall by glazing them with gouache.

I’ve never used gouache in this way before, but it’s a technique I will practice and refine. It won’t work in all paintings, but the flat matt appearance of gouache work lends itself to some materials, such as, harbour walls.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Keys to Drawing - Chapter 8

Keys to Drawing - Exercise 8A
6 March 2014
Charcoal on Paper
39cm x 55cm (15.5" x 21.5")

Chapter 8 of Bert Dodson‘s Keys to Drawing is called Drawing and Imagination. It is the last chapter in the book and Bert picks up some of the topics he has touched on in previous chapters. The main theme is creativity and he offers suggestions on how you can kick-start your imagination.

The chapter does not have the same set of structured exercises as the other chapters. The project for chapter 8 is to explore a theme in six drawings. Bert says:
"Make lots of drawings over a period of time on a particular subject or a particular approach to a subject. Paradoxically, when you narrow your focus this way, you widen the potential for discovery."
He suggests six possible themes, but offers the option of creating your own. I’ve elected to draw 6 charcoal portraits of Elaine.

I’ve chosen to draw portraits of Elaine because of the challenge of drawing faces and because Dodson emphasises the importance of revealing something of your self in your drawings. I suspect that for many people a drawing of a loved one will be more intimate and revealing than a self-portrait.

The picture at the top of the post is the first drawing of the six. It took about four hours spread over four evenings. I am planning to draw the rest over the next six months and I will post them as they are finished.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Capturing the Atmosphere of a Misty Morning

Misty Morning - Hugh Town
(Based on a photograph by Tony Slater)
Watercolour on Paper
38cm x 28cm (15" x 11")

Yesterday was the Shelford Group of Artists’ Painting day for March. Tony Slater's theme was Capturing the Atmosphere of a Misty Morning. I didn't have a suitable reference photograph, so I borrowed one of his.

Tony’s advice was to paint the background wet-into-wet, so there are no hard edges, very little detail and the middle distance seems to appear out of the misty background. He also suggested using a limited palate, which is an excellent way to capture the muted tones of a misty day.

I had one of those days where nothing seems to go right - the remnants of a cold had mutated into an attack of clumsiness. I spent the whole day putting my fingers in wet paint and even managed to walk into Tony’s easel.

The painting was a struggle right from the start. It had a wash in the sink and nearly ended up in the bin, but Tony regularly tells people not to give up on a painting until it is finished and he is usually right.