Clytie One – Sight Size Schematic
So here it is, my first proper, sight-size cast drawing.
Before you say anything, I know it isn’t finished. It’s not meant to be.
This is the first of a series of ten cast drawings I’m going to do of Clytie, and I’m following the Bargue drawing approach used in modern ateliers. The first couple of drawings will just be schematics, like this one. After that I’ll refine the lines a little for the third drawing, and on the fourth I’ll add the main tone blocks. At least, that’s the plan.
I’m following the progression of the Bargue plates with this: schematics, then line, then value The intention is that the last drawing of the series will be a properly finished cast drawing, at which point I’ll have had nine practice runs, adding a little more each time.
Obviously, this series isgoing to take some time since this drawing alone took about eight hours. I’m also planning to be one step ahead of each stage on the Bargue plates, so I’ll have got some practice in of each technique before I try to do it on a ‘live’ cast.
Putting this drawing together was very like a Bargue drawing, at least plate three when I finally started to do them seriously using the sight size technique.
But there’s one major difference: In a Bargue drawing, Bargue himself has already looked at the cast and decided which points to use for the schematic, the most important points which define the form and the shape of the tone blocks. He’s already simplified reality for you.
With a cast drawing, you have to pick those points yourself, which is why it’s a good idea to do some Bargue plates before trying a cast drawing – it will give you an idea of how these points can be selected.
Not a terribly good photo, but hopefully it gives some idea of the set-up I’ve used.
The easel is absolutely vertical. This is important because any lean of the easel will produce a distorted drawing. Clytie is lit with natural light: I’ve screened off all but about a square foot of the window, giving me the old master ‘portrait’ lighting, above and to one side of the model.
Now really, you’re supposed to use a shadow box for this, a box with a bottom, back, and one side, to reduce the amount of reflected light and make the shadows clearer. There’s no point in making this exercise any harder than it already is. Because I haven’t got round to making one yet, I’ve jerry-rigged something similar with a dark cloth behind her and a board to one side, leaning against the drawing board.
The brush taped to the top of the drawing board, sticking out in front of Clytie is to hold the plumb line. This is centred on the cast, and gives me an absolute vertical to work from. All points on the drawing will be measured from this vertical line. A corresponding vertical line has been drawn down the centre of the paper.
Establishing the drawing position
Once the drawing board and the cast is set up, the next job is to select the position that the measuring will be done from.
I’ve picked a spot about eight feet back from the easel, because this is the furthest back I can get in my small room.
Placing your feet roughly at shoulder width, you mark the position of your feet on the floor with masking tape. This will be the measuring spot that all the measurements are taken from. The cast is viewed only from this spot, and not looked at whilst actually drawing. You have to walk over to the easel to make your marks, then return to your measuring spot to check what you’ve done.
All the measuring is done with one eye closed. We all have one dominant eye.
Mine is my right, so I close my left eye. The reason for this is that the couple of inches distance between your eyes will be enough to produce distortion in the drawing if you don’t stick to the same eye. This point can’t be emphasised enough. For the sight size technique to work at its best, you must always measure and judge the drawing from exactly the same point.
The first marks
The first job is to put in the highest and lowest points of the drawing (the top of Clytie’s head and the bottom of the base) and the furthest left and furthest right points.
The top and bottom points are the easiest, and are found by using a second plumb line, held horizontally. Lining up the plumb line with the top of Clytie’s head where it crosses the vertical plumb line, I follow the line of the hand held horizontal plumb line across to the drawing, and fix my eye on the corresponding point on the paper where the string crosses the vertical reference line.
Keeping my eye fixed on the point, I drop my arms, walk over to the paper and mark the point.Walking back over to the measuring point, I check my mark again. It usually takes two or three goes to get it right.
Then the same is done with the bottom point.
For the furthest left and furthest right points, I go back to my drawing position, and line up my feet using the masking tape on the floor.
Then I take my handheld plumb line again and sight across as before, but this time I need to add the horizontal distance from the centre line. With my thread held horizontally in front of the cast, I mark the distance on the string with my thumb nail from the centre line (the plumb line) to the furthest left point of the cast.
Then I move both arms, still holding the thread with my thumb nail marking the distance, so that the thread is now in front of my drawing. I’m still in my measuring spot eight feet back from the easel, and fix my eye on the point.
I sight through the thread to the drawing, and fix my eye on the corresponding point on the paper I’m drawing on. As before, I walk over and mark the point, then return to the measuring spot to check and correct it. Again, this usually takes multiple tries before I’m satisfied that it’s right – or at least, that I can’t get it any closer.
I’ve proceeded by picking points on the cast, and marking corresponding points on my paper. I’ve chosen points which are mostly at the intersection of two main lines forming an obvious angle where they meet, to simplify the overall shape. This image shows the points on Clytie which I chose for transferring to the drawing. They’re all points on the outline to start with.
During this stage of the drawing, I evolved a way of measuring and transferring the points to the paper which seemed to help me get to an accurate point in the least steps possible. It’s probably my computer programming background coming out.
Transferring your measurements to your drawing
Firstly, I’m using a horizontal plumb line held between both hands. I’ve tied a couple of knots in the cotton which I can use as markers. This is how I did first the stage:
- First, select a point on the outline to be transferred to the paper – say, where her neck meets her shoulder on the left.
- Get the plumb line horizontally level with the point.
- Line up a knot with the central plum line in front of Clytie.
- Measure the horizontal distance between the knot on the plumb line and the point and hold my thumb-nail there.
- Move the hand-held plumb line over the drawing, keeping it as level as possible and keeping my thumbnail still, and sight through the string to make a visual note of where the point is on the paper.
- Let my arms holding the plumb line drop whilst keeping my eye fixed on the point on the paper
- Walk over and mark the point. I’ve found it’s good not to worry too much about this first attempt. In walking over to the easel, you can lose the position of the point very easily because you have nothing close by to relate it to. Don’t worry about it, just mark it somewhere close. This point will become the reference point to which the next attempt(s) will be related. As long as it’s within about a 10 pence piece of where it should be, it’ll do it’s job.
- Go back to the spot, get in position, and check the position of the dot. I do this by checking the vertical accuracy first. I ignore the distance from the centre line for a moment, and just adjust the vertical position, the height of the mark. I then walk over again and, keeping the horizontal distance from the centre line as it is, correct the vertical position of the mark. Once that’s right, I then check the horizontal distance of the point from the centre line. Splitting it up this way seems to make it more manageable. Most of these dots took three to four adjustments before I thought they were right – or, at least as right as I can get them with my wobbly old arms 🙂
At this stage I’ve finished laying out the drawing, it’s taken about two hours so far. I’ve placed 24 dots corresponding to points on Clytie herself. The next stage is to join all the dots to make the first general outline, a schematic of the cast. Two hours work, and I haven’t even drawn a line yet. But that two hours has laid the foundation for a very accurate drawing. And perhaps more importantly, I’ve been stretching and developing my ability to accurately distances all the time I’ve been working. The next time I do this, it will be easier.
Joining the Dots
This part of the drawing took hardly any time at all. It really is just joining the dots. The time taken to get a solid, accurate foundation in place is really paying off now.
The photo isn’t good but hopefully you can see the charcoal lines around the outline now. The next stage is to check some of the angles with my hand held plumb line, and if all seems well, I guess it’s on to the next stage – refining the outline. I think maybe I should put some of the interior lines in too, like maybe the chin and the flower petals.
First there’s a bit of correcting to do. Already I can see that the line down the outside of her arm on the left is at too steep an angle.
If you look closely at this one, you can see I’ve put some blu-tack on the plumb line just where the bottom of Clytie’s chin crosses it. It’s a visual marker to help to line my eye up vertically when I get back to my measuring point, away from the easel.
Refining the Drawing
At the first stage of refining the outline here, and you can see more detail coming in, the shapes are gradually being worked into more. I’ve also placed guidelines for the eye line and the centre line of the head.
The curved horizontal describing the top edge of the ring of petals probably shouldn’t be here at this stage – it’s a form rather than a tone block. I should let the tone blocks describe that shape as they go in. It will be useful as a guide reference against which to judge the position of other elements though.
With inner shapes, I’ve noticed a tendency to draw form rather than shadow blocks, especially around the petals. Instead of being lead by areas of shadow and light, I’ve allowed my eye to be drawn by the outline of the form of the petals, regardless of how the light hits them and what shapes the shadows create.
I think that’s my brain taking over and stopping me from drawing what I see. I think that all the lines, or at least the vast majority of them, should only be placed where there is either an outline or the edge of a shadow. In this way, shadows have to be finished as closed blocks, and can’t be left open on one side. If the shadow gradually fades into light, I’ve tried to find an average line across the middle and ended the shadow there, tending more towards the dark than the light. Mid tones should be ignored at this stage I think.
When I stand back to look at the drawing, I should easily be able to see where a value block starts and ends, so that I could just walk over and fill it in with an even, dark tone on the next stage. Anywhere I can’t see clearly where to do that, at this stage, means unclear drawing and that the drawing isn’t yet ready for the next stage.
Here’s the finished drawing next to the cast. I had a hard time getting a shot from exactly my viewpoint – in fact, I couldn’t.
My camera tripod doesn’t go as high as eye level, so I put it on a swivel chair and stood behind it to hold it steady. I also zoomed the lens in on the cast and drawing, which further complicates matters. I don’t understand the function of lenses well enough to explain why that happens, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the drawing, whilst far from perfect, is more accurate than it looks in this shot. I think I need a new tripod!
Of course I could continue now and refine the drawing further, but I’m leaving that for the third drawing of the series.
The next one will be similar to this one but from a different angle. The point of repeating myself at each stage of this series is to get more practice in before I go ahead to do a full, finished cast drawing on the last one of the series.
Proceeding in a series of small steps like this will mean that it takes me a lot longer to get to a finished cast drawing, but both my eye and my charcoal technique should be stronger when I get there. And that’s the point. Rushing an exercise like this is utterly pointless, since you’ll only be short changing yourself.
The point is not to produce a pretty drawing to impress friends and family with, its to learn to see more fully and more accurately.
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