Imagine that you are honored by a visit from the nineteenth-century French artist, Gustave Courbet (pronounced goos-tav koor-bay), and that he has agreed to sit for a portrait drawing, wearing his jaunty hat and smoking his pipe. The artist is in a rather serious mood, quiet and thoughtful. See Figure. 10-3, page 197.
Imagine further that you have arranged a spotlight so that it shines from above and in front of Courbet, illuminating the top of his face but leaving the eyes and much of the face and neck in rather deep shadow. Take a moment to consciously see how the lights and shadows logically fall relative to the source of light. Then turn the book upside-down to see the shadows as a pattern of shapes. The wall behind is dark, silhouetting your model.
What you'll need:
1. Your #4B drawing pencil
2. Your eraser
3. Your clear plastic Picture Plane
4. A stack of three or four sheets of drawing paper
5. Your graphite stick and some paper napkins
What you'll do:
Please read through all of the instructions before starting.
1. As always, draw a format edge on your drawing paper, using the outside edge of one of your Viewfinders. This format is in the same proportion, width to height, as the reproduction.
2. Tone your paper with a rubbed graphite ground to a medium-dark silvery gray—about the tone of the wall behind Courbet. Lightly draw the crosshairs as shown in Figure 10-5. You may wish to copy this drawing upside down.
3. Set your Picture Plane on top of the reproduction of the Courbet drawing. The crosshairs on the plastic Picture Plane will instantly show you where to locate the essential points of the drawing. I suggest that you work upside down for at least the first "blocking in" of the lights and shadows (Figure. 10-6).
4. Decide on a Basic Unit, perhaps the light-shape from the center of the hat brim to the top of the upper lip, or perhaps the pipe stem, or you may decide on another Basic Unit. Remember that everything in Courbet's drawing is locked into a relationship. For this reason, you can start with any Basic Unit and end up with the correct relationships. Then, transfer your Basic Unit to the drawing paper, following the instructions on page 130 and in Figures 8-11 and 8-12, page 146.
Note: The step-by-step procedure I offer below is only a suggestion about how to proceed. You may wish to use an entirely different sequence. Also note that I am naming parts of the drawing only for instructional purposes. As you draw, try your best to see the shapes of lights and darks wordlessly. I realize that this is like trying not to think of the word "elephant," but as you continue to draw, thinking wordlessly becomes second nature.
5. You will be "drawing" with an eraser. Sharpen your eraser into a drawing tool by cutting one end into a wedge shape as shown in Figure 10-7.
Begin by erasing out the major shapes of light, on the face, hat, and shirtfront, always checking the size and position of those shapes against your Basic Unit. You might think of these light-shapes as negative shapes that share edges with the dark forms. By correctly seeing and erasing the light shapes, you'll have the dark shapes "for free."
6. Next, carefully erase the lightest parts of the hat, the side of the neck, and the coat. Your toned ground supplies the middle value of the hat and coat (Figure. 10-8).
7. Using your # 4 B pencil, darken in the area around the head, the shadow under the hat brim, the shadows below the eyebrows, under the nose, under the lower lip, the beard, the shadow of the beard, and the shadows under the shirt collar and the coat collar. Carefully observe the shapes of these shadows. Keep your tones quite smooth, either crosshatching or working a continuous tone or combining the two. Ask yourself: Where is the darkest dark? Where is the lightest light?
a. A nibbed graphite ground of middle value b. An eraser trimmed for precise erasing of light areas. Then use a # 4 B or #6b pencil to darken shadowed areas
Notice also that there is almost no information in the shadowed areas. They are nearly uniform tones. Yet, when you turn the book right side up, the face and features emerge out of the shadows. These perceptions are occurring in your own brain, imaging and extrapolating from incomplete information. The hardest part of this drawing will be resisting the temptation to give too much information! Let the shadows stay shadowy, and have faith that your viewer will extrapolate the features, the expression, the eyes, the beard, everything (Figure. 10-9).
8. At this point you have the drawing "blocked in." The rest is all refinement, called "working up" the drawing to a finish. Note that, because the original drawing was done in charcoal and you are working in pencil, the exact roughness of the charcoal medium is difficult to reproduce in pencil. But also, even though you are copying Courbet's self-portrait, your drawing is your drawing. Your unique line quality and choice of emphasis will differ from Courbet's.
9. At each step, pull back a little from the drawing, squint your eyes a bit, and move your head from side to side slightly to see if the image is beginning to emerge. Try to see (that is, to image) what you have not yet drawn. Use this emerging, imagined image to add to, change, reinforce what is there in the drawing. You will find yourself shifting back and forth: drawing, imaging, drawing again. Be parsimonious! Provide only enough information to the viewer to allow the correct image to occur in the viewer's imagined perception. Do not overdraw.
At this point, I hope you will be really seeing, really drawing, really experiencing the joy of drawing. Later, when drawing a person from life, you will find yourself wondering why you never noticed how beautiful the person is, noticing perhaps for the first time the shape of the nose or the expression of the eyes (Figure. 10-10).
10. As you are working up the drawing, try to focus your attention on the original. For any problem that you encounter, the answer is in the original. For example, you will want to
achieve the same facial expression: the way to accomplish that is to pay careful attention to the exact shapes of the lights and the shadows. For example, notice the exact angle (relative to vertical or horizontal) of the shadow in the corner of the mouth. Notice the exact curve of the shadow under Courbet's right eye and the exact shape of that small shadow under the right cheekbone. Try not to talk to yourself about the facial expression.
Fig. 10-11. Berthe Morisot (1841-1895). Self-Portrait, c. 1885. Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.
11. Draw just what you see, no more, no less. You'll notice that the whites of the eyes are barely lighter than the dark shadow surrounding the eye. You will be tempted to erase out the whites because, well, you know they are called "whites of the eyes." Don't do it! Allow the viewer of your drawing to "play the game" of "seeing" what is not there. Your job is to barely suggest, just as Courbet did.
After you have finished:
In drawing the Courbet portrait, you were bound to be impressed by this work, its subtlety and strength, and how the personality and character of Courbet emerge from the shadows. I'm sure that this exercise has provided you with a taste for the power of light/ shadow drawing. An even greater satisfaction, of course, will come from doing your own self-portrait.
Was this article helpful?