When I teach life drawing, I try to gently move people out of habits that they have developed without realising, such as keeping the easel on your left when you’re right handed – you end up looking over your right shoulder at the model – or always starting with the head, or erasing every second line, or cramping their style with a small sketchbook…
Well, I realised today that I had two habits that I’d developed and got well settled into over 48 years of life drawing….firstly, I always draw standing figures from the top downwards, and secondly – I never do anything different with my life drawings after I’ve finished them!
I began the life session determined to give myself a dose of my own teaching, and did several line drawings with my right (non dominant) hand, then tried the same pose with my left. The right handed drawings looked more confident, even though they weren’t as accurate. And I was becoming more confident each time I switched to my left. So then I gave myself a brand new task: I drew the model with my left hand from the bottom up, starting with his right foot. After 5 minutes I drew him again, from the top down, finishing at the right foot. These are the results:
What was most strange was that I drew the legs the same size in both drawings, but in the first one I gave my model a huge torso! The second one looks more accurate, but actually I underestimated the model’s torso this time. I measured the distance (I always draw first, measure afterwards) from the base of the feet to the bum and compared it with the model’s torso, and realised I’d made his legs too big. So I traced the second drawing and superimposed it over the first one, then tried to make a drawing that was more accurate then either of them.
Well the final drawing is probably the most faithful portrait of my model, but it lacks conviction, as it is a compromise. That’s why I normally don’t alter or add anything to my life drawings after the session. But I wanted to do something…
For the rest of the session I had been looking at negative shapes, starting with a black figure that I gradually refined, and moving on to two white figures that I drew into a charcoal background using an eraser (yes, I started at the top in all three cases!). I made all these drawings as well as the previous tracing on baking paper, which I buy in big catering rolls. The charcoal slides beautifully over the surface, and you can superimpose drawings if you want to. But you can’t use pen on this paper.
So I had some inspiration for the standing pose. I wanted to make a more finished drawing with a dark background. I got out my compressed charcoal and worked on the tracing of the second drawing, happy in the knowledge that it wasn’t the original. I began to enjoy just playing with the medium, allowing the charcoal dust to settle on the white figure in a vertical pattern as it fell down the drawing, pushing the charcoal around with a paper towel and erasing smudges on the figure.
This is evolving into something else. I’ll have a look at it tomorrow and see if I want to add anything. At last it looks like more than just a life drawing. To see what’s going on at the Lobethal Big Draw festival, visit their website