Finally, after a four month break, I’m back on the Bargue drawings. I’ve got my reproduction problems sorted (at a cost) so now I can get back to some heavy-duty eye training.
This drawing is the first one from plate four, a plate entirely consisting of ears. Why ears I wonder? Well they are an odd shape, generally speaking, and pretty complicated, so maybe that’s why they get a whole plate dedicated to them. Maybe Bargue thought he needed some practice drawing ears (although somehow I doubt it).
This first ear was done strictly according to the sight-size method, standing well back from the easel,measuring out the points with a plumb line. Although I’ve been honing my sight-size measuring technique on my cast drawings, I still struggled a bit with this one. I think part of the problem may have been too strict an adherence to the method. Every point, every line was measured out with the plumb line. I find that when I’m measuring like this, I can only really get accurate to within an eighth of an inch or so. That can mean some pretty big errors.
This is the second ear from this plate. Although it was still done sight-size, well back from the easel, I used a slightly different approach for this one, relying more on my eye than the plumb line. The main points describing the outline were all put in using the plumb line, checked and rechecked, but after that was done I drew out most of it by relating points to the ones I already had by eye. I did make sure that those initial points were absolutely right first though. By the way, the horizontal lines you can see on the drawing above are not part of the measuring, they’re just there as visual guides to help me hold the plumb line level.
This one came out better (as in more accurate) than the first. That may be partly due to the time I took on this one. The first ear took me three hours, this one took five.
I thought at this point that it would be a good idea to see how I was doing. Since I don’t have a second, well trained pair of eyes to check my drawings, I have to do it myself. Of course, that can be a problem, because if I’ve already got the drawing accurate to my eye, it follows that I can’t see any mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.
The Bargue book recommends a good way to check accuracy: trace the drawing, then lay the tracing over the original in order to highlight any errors. So I took two sheets of acetate, a permanent felt tip marker and a deep breath, and traced over the main outlines of my drawings.
First drawing, with the tracing on acetate laid over the original, and I can see straight away that I haven’t done such a great job. Mostly, I’ve tended to draw my ear slightly bigger than the original. Apparently this is quite a common thing to do. I read recently that John Singer Sargent used to deliberately start his portraits smaller to compensate for it.
Considering I spent three hours drawing this ear, it’s a bit disappointing to see how out I was. But it’s also very instructive. Had I not done this check, I would have merrily gone on my way thinking that I was doing a good job. No doubt I would have had problems in the later plates when the drawings are much more complex. If I can’t get a simple drawing like this bang on, then I know I’ve a long way to go before my eye is sufficiently reliable at judging differences. These mistakes may not seem so bad, but if this was a portrait, mistakes this size would be enough to spoil the likeness I think.
At least I seem to have done a better job of the second one. It’s interesting that relying less on the plumb line and more on my eye for this one seems to have made for a more accurate drawing. After all, these exercises are all about eye training.
I did spend a lot longer on this one, and undoubtedly that helped too. There were times on the first ear when I was running out of patience, and, if I’m honest with myself, I can remember thinking a few times, “That’s good enough.” Which, of course, is not good enough at all.
This tracing check has been most instructive, not only because it’s showed me where I’m going wrong, but also because it’s proved to me that I can copy more accurately using a combination of measuring and judging by eye than with measuring alone. I think that’s probably a good thing.
There are six more ears on this plate before I’m done, all of them are full tonal drawings, the first ones to include half tones. I feel less anxious than I might about this since I’ve been doing a series of tonal still life drawings to try and get in shape for adding tone to the cast drawings. Hopefully I’ll find some time this week to get some work done on those remaining ears. I’ve a feeling these drawings are about to get a lot harder.
Six more Ears
Here are the remaining six ears from plate 4. These ones are quite small, about two inches high each, and are the first drawings to feature a full range of tones. I’m less than happy with the job I did on these. I spent about two hours on each one, they were my evening practice at the end of September, but looking at them again now I can see some glaring inaccuracies which I really should have caught at the time. There’s no other conclusion to be drawn from this other than that I rushed them. I must be more patient with future plates.
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