A warmup exercise

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To illuminate for yourself the connection of edges, spaces, and relationships in portrait drawing, I suggest that you copy (make a drawing of) John Singer Sargent's beautiful profile portrait of Mme. Pierre Gautreau, which Sargent drew in 1883 (Figure 9-23). You may wish turn it upside down.

For the past forty years or so, most art teachers have not recommended copying masterworks as an aid to learning to draw. With the advent of modern art, many art schools rejected traditional teaching methods and copying master drawings went out of favor. Now, copying drawings and paintings is coming back into favor as an effective means of training the eye in art.

I believe that copying great drawings is very instructive for beginning students. Copying forces one to slow down and really see what the artist saw. I can practically guarantee that carefully copying any masterwork of drawing will forever imprint the image in your memory. Therefore, because copied drawings become an almost permanent file of memorized images, I recommend that you copy only the work of major and minor masters of drawing. We are fortunate these days to have reproductions of great works readily and inexpensively available.

For how to do an exercise copy of Sargent's profile portrait of Mme. Pierre Gautreau, also known as "Madame X," please read all of the instructions before you begin.

What you'll need:

Your drawing paper

• Your # 2 B writing pencil and # 4 B drawing pencils, sharpened, and your eraser

• Your plastic Picture Plane

• An hour of uninterrupted time

What you'll do:

These instructions will be appropriate for either right-side-up or upside-down drawing of the Sargent portrait.

Drawing Side Down

Fig. 9-23. John Singer Sargent.

Mme. Pierre Gautreau, 1883

1. As always, in starting a drawing, you will first draw a format. Center one of the Viewfinders on your drawing paper and use your pencil to draw around the outside edges. Then, lightly draw crosshairs on your paper.

2. You will be using your new skills of seeing edges, spaces, and relationships in this drawing. Since the original is a line drawing, lights and shadows are not relevant in this exercise.

3. Lay your clear plastic Picture Plane directly on top of the Sargent and note where the crosshairs fall on the portrait drawing. You will immediately see how this will help you in

Fig. 9-23. John Singer Sargent.

Mme. Pierre Gautreau, 1883

"People have many Illusions which block them from acting in their own best interest as a species, as well as individuals. In dealing with the present problems of life, we must first be able to see the realities of our lives."

The Anatomy of Reality, 1983

Fig. 9-24.

deciding on your Basic Unit and starting your copy of the drawing. You can check proportional relationships right on the original drawing and transfer them to your copy.

Ask yourself the following series of questions. (Note that I must name the features in order to give these verbal instructions, but when you are drawing, try to clear your mind of words.) Looking at the Sargent drawing and using the crosshairs as in Figure 9-24, ask yourself the following:

1. Where is the point where the forehead meets the hairline?

2. Where is the outermost curve of the tip of the nose? What are the angles of the forehead?

3. What is the negative shape that lies between those two points?

4. Ifyou draw a line between the tip of the nose and the outermost curve of the chin, what is the angle of that line relative to vertical (or horizontal)?

5. What is the negative shape defined by that line?

6. Relative to the crosshairs, where is the curve of the front of the neck?

7. What is the negative space made by the chin and neck?

8., 9., and 10. Check the position of the back of the ear, bend of the neck, and the slant of the back.

Continue in this fashion, putting the drawing together like a jigsaw puzzle: Where is the ear? How big is it relative to the profile you have just drawn? What is the angle of the back of the neck? What is the shape of the negative space made by the back of the neck and the hair? And so on. Draw just what you see, nothing more. Notice how small the eye is relative to the nose, and notice the size of the mouth relative to the eye. When you have unlocked the true proportion by sighting, you will be surprised, I feel quite sure. In fact, if you lay one finger over the features in Sargent's drawing, you will see what a small proportion of the whole form is occupied by the main features. This is often quite surprising to beginning drawing students.

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