These are the first four drawings from plate 3, there are ten drawings on the plate. So far I’ve spent at least ten hours on this plate, the detailed version of the one with the beard alone took over four hours. It’s a shame I can’t get through them quicker, but this is the pace I have to work at if I want accuracy, my own seeing pace.
Again this plate has got a lot harder than the previous one. Maybe it’s my ineptitude, but the learning curve seems to be very steep. Maybe this is a pointer to how rigorous training used to be for an artist, and how easy we have it at art colleges now. Ask a bunch of art students today to copy these drawings, and see what their reaction is when you’ve just told them to check it again for the hundred and tenth time.
It’s nice that Bargue has given us construction lines for the initial schematic sketches, but for the finer, more detailed versions you’re on your own. Very hard. As you can see on the second drawing, I had to use a construction line of my own to get the shape of the nose. I left it in to remind myself that I needed it. In the fourth drawing, I can see now that although the position of everything is quite close, my lines have less sensitivity than Bargue’s. He’s altered the tone of the small lines of the beard, making them lighter, and I’ve steamed ahead with normal, full weight lines. That’s something I’ll have to watch through the remainder of this plate.
I’ve now finished this plate, and have done a bit more reading of the book itself and realised that I haven’t been copying the drawings correctly. That’s me all over, steam straight in without reading the manual, then go back to it anyway when I get stuck.
Firstly, you’re only supposed to copy the more finished version of the drawings, I’ve been copying the schematic as well. The schematic is just there as a helper, to show you how to break the finished drawing down into it’s main shapes for copying.
Secondly, I’ve been trying to copy the drawings without using construction lines, although I found I had to a couple of times. As it turns out, it’s fine to use construction lines, in fact it’s recommended. The proper procedure is to tape a plumb line so it hangs vertically down the middle of the picture to be copied, then draw a corresponding vertical line on the paper.
Then points for the top-most part of the drawing, the bottom, furthest left and furthest right are put in. This establishes the main shape. This is followed by more measuring points, then joining the lines and gradually refining the measurements and shapes until they’re accurate.
Well that’s a bit different to the way I was doing it, if anything I was making it harder on myself. The book also recommends using the sight-size measuring technique – standing a few feet back from the drawing, measuring distances on the original with a hand held plumb line, then transferring them to the drawing.
No measuring is done actually at the easel though. The point of all this is to train your eye to break down objects in the real world to their main shapes, and then to accurately judge the relationships between those shapes by eye. It’s about eye training and accuracy. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that I’ve been trying to do it all by eye with no measuring at all. But I’ve been trying the sight size measuring technique anyway on the last couple of drawings, to check what I’ve been judging by eye. It’s not easy. I find my arm holding the plumb line wobbles about so uncontrollably that the measurements I take are unreliable. I take heart from the fact that it’s the eye measuring part that’s the most important.
This is the third drawing from plate 3. I’ve started doing them on separate sheets because it means I can have my copy butted right up against the original. It makes it easier to see differences.
You can see I’ve started copying closer to the recommended method with this one. I haven’t done the schematic, but I have copied it’s construction lines. You can just see the vertical construction line running down through the front of his eye down to the bottom of his chin.
The fourth drawing. I found this one quite hard, although it looks simpler. It’s deceptive because a lot of the modulations of the line are very subtle, harder to get right.
I don’t think I did a great job with this one. The finish is patchy because I had to make so many corrections. Looking at it now I can see obvious mistakes that I couldn’t see before: the distance between the shadow over the eye and the bridge of the nose is too big. The distance between the bottom of the nose and the mouth is too big. The line describing the bottom edge of the bottom lip is at the wrong angle. There’s probably more, maybe I should do this one again.
This is the last drawing from plate 3. I think I didn’t do too bad with this one, although it didn’t take as long as the last one. The angle of the front of the eye is a bit out, but that’s the only real difference I can see now.
Generally speaking I’m getting more rigorous with these copies as I go along. I think partly because I’m getting a bit better at seeing the differences, and partly because I’m realising how rigorously they used to do this stuff in the 19th century, and also now in modern ateliers based on that model. I don’t want to half do them, I’d be short changing myself in the long run.
At least now I have a better idea how to approach the copies. All I really had to do was read the book thoroughly before I started, but that’s not as much fun as diving straight in. The excitement was just too much when I first got hold of the book!
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