Twelfth in the series – a self portrait a day until Christmas.
It never ceases to amaze me how different these self portraits can be, one from another.
I guess it depends on manythings, like the quality of the light, the materials I’m using, whether I’m on the boil or not on a particular day.
But since they’re all drawings of me, by me, I find it surprising the difference even from one day to the next.
This was a two and a half hour study in charcoal, I got completely lost in this one. Michelle came home from workwhile I was still working on it and asked me how long it had taken. “Maybe an hour or so”. Then I checked the clock,and realised it was over two hours. When I produce a reasonable drawing, one which marks some kind ofprogression, it always seems to go along with me losing all track of time and becoming completely absorbed,to the exclusion of all else.
Michelle was talking to me but I was still working. I found I was thinking theanswers to her questions without saying them, it took an effort to make the words come out. It’s a strange kindof relaxed but total concentration which always seems to characterise a decent piece of work. It takes a mentaleffort to come out of it if the phone rings or someone talks to me while I’m in it, and normal reality resumesslowly, bit by bit, after I’ve finished – if I haven’t been interrupted that is. It’s like emerging from abubble of stillness around the easel.
I think that BettyEdward’s right brain drawing exercises are primarily geared towards getting into this frame of mind beforeyou start working. She has a very interesting exercise in which you follow the creases in the palm of your handslowly withyour eyes, noting every little detail, whilst simultaneously drawing the creases with your other hand, but notlooking at the paper.It takes a mental effort not to look at what you’re doing, but you can get it down pretty quick. I’m thinkingabout trying that exercise before every drawing, just for 10 or 15 minutes, to see if it helps me to get into thatmagic concentration mode.
The approach for this one was pretty much the same as usual. Measuring first with a b pencil, roughing in the shape of the head,the eye-line and rough position of the eyes, the nose and mouth line, and the position of the ears. Then Ioutlined the main tone blocks (not filled in, just outlined with the pencil). Proportions looked ok at this point,so on to stage two – filling in the main tone blocks. I did this very lightly this time, gradually buildingthe darkness of the tones step by step.
Before starting this one today, I’d been looking over the drawings so far, and was thinking how little controlI appear to have over my medium. When I call a drawing ‘scrappy’, I mean that I don’t think it’s beenvery well drawn. I’m talking about the finish and the handling of the medium, not whether its in proportionor has a good likeness. Some of the drawings up to this point have been very scrappy.Yesterday’s drawing was especially scrappy, which wasa shame because it was largely in proportion and was a fairly good likeness, apart from the shape of the backof the head and forehead being wrong.
I’d also been looking over some of the portrait drawings on theFine Art Commissions Ltd web site. There’s some very good workthere. Whilst I know it’s way too early for me to be directly comparing my drawings with those of establishedportrait artists who’ve been working for years, it’s difficult if not impossible for me not to do it a bit.It really jumped out at me how muchbetter controlled the majority of the charcoal drawings there are, compared to my current work.
Certainly that influenced this drawing. I was vaguely conscious of trying to think about every mark thatwent down onto the paper, whereas I’ve been drawing with a more hit-and-miss approach so far. I built up thetones slowly, rubbing over with my fingers to smooth the tones out, lifting a lot of the charcoal, and buildingup the forms in a slower and more deliberate way. I was trying to place the marks right first time and then leavethem, without too much fussy reworking and correction. Before I came to stating any lines or details, I had thetones well established and I could already see that there was a likeness there.
When it came to the details,eyes, nose and mouth, I used a charcoal pencil. These aren’t as nice for broad areas of tone and roughing out,since it doesn’t smudge as easily as normal stick charcoal and you can still see the hatching lines in theshading. With a charcoal stick you can get a smooth finish very close to the look of actual skin, it’s more likepainting than drawing. But the charcoal pencils are very good for detailed work around the main features,the marks go down more strongly and stay where you put them.
Thinking more about control of the medium has paid off I think. Although its done with charcoal, a very ‘loose’ medium, this drawing is more controlledthan many of my pencil drawings. Charcoal allows a huge range of tones and quality of marks which iswhy I like it so much, but it can getout of control very easily ifyou don’t watch it.
This drawing marks a step forward I think, in every department. The proportions are good, not bang on,but good, and I’ve got the relationships between the tones much better. I’ve been working into some areas toomuch in previous drawings, getting things too dark and emphasising them too much. Being blond (and without muchhair to start with), the darkesttone on my face is my eyes, and I finally got that right with this drawing.
I think the likeness is good. This is a portrait, not an exercise. I look at this drawing and I see myselflooking back at me, with my characteristic unconscious concentration face which always seems to make me lookslightly angry. I pinch my lips together and frown when I’m concentrating hard, and I appear to have got thatvery close. It doesn’t really make for nice picture but it does make for an honest one.
To hear me go on you’d think I’d produced some kind of masterpiece today, which I plainly didn’t. The eyes area shade too close together I think, and I’m still not 100% on the shape of the head. Although the drawing ismore controlled, it still looks hesitant and like I’m grasping for something without the confidence that I’mgoing to get it. Confidence counts for so much, but that too will come with time and practice.
For today, I’m happy that I’ve made a jump forward in the quality of the drawing, the controlover the medium and the likeness. With thisin mind, I’m throwing caution to the wind and giving this one an unheard of four out of ten. I may change mymind tomorrow.
Marking these drawings is a bit of fun really, but with a serious side too. It reminds me how farI’ve still got to go. Michelle said today that she thinks I mark myself very harshly, I disagree. When Igive these drawings a mark out of ten, I’m thinking about where this drawing is in relation to whereI want be. I’m making no pretensions to producing ‘art’ (you’re kidding, right? I’m just learningnow), I just want to be a good portrait painter for the moment. But I’ve never seen the point of doing anythingunless you give it everything, and I’m aiming high. I’d say when I’m giving myself sevensI can start to think about going out and looking for commissions, but I’m nowhere near the standard I want toachieve yet. Still, diligent effort should be rewarded, so this one’s a four.
Posted 21st December 2005
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