Sketchbook pages showing drawings done at Ottery Jazz Festival, Devon, England.
In selecting the illustrations to accompany this section I have used pages from my own sketchbooks. Many of them are reproduced here about the same size as the original drawings, which were done in either ballpoint pen or 2B pencil. I deliberately looked out some old sketchbooks dating back to a time when I, too, was a virtual beginner in order to remind myself of the problems and difficulties I encountered. As I sifted through them I was struck by how quickly skill in precise observation can be developed and also by how many were executed purely for the pleasure of doing them. Old friends I hadn't seen for many years were brought back clearly to my mind by the small drawings made in cafés and bars and on the beach. Memories of places visited were brought into sharp focus. A sketchbook well used is not only a storehouse of pictorial knowledge and a training ground where the artist's skills are refined, it can also be a fascinating visual diary.
Using a Model
Gaining sufficient knowledge and experience to produce authentic and convincing drawings from memory or imagination is impossible without an understanding of the unclothed human figure, so you will need to make studies from the nude. Although you will probably choose to draw more clothed than naked figures later on, they will not be successful unless you are very sure of the shape of the body beneath the clothing. In Chapter 2 I'll discuss physical anatomy, but that knowledge will be much more readily assimilated if you have done some life drawing first, so at this stage I recommend you make numerous quick 'action' drawings | from a posed model.
It may seem to you that I keep suggesting that all your drawing practice should be carried out at high speed. What I am really implying is that you should develop the ability to both observe and draw simultaneously. Of course, in an absolute sense, this is not physically possible. You can't focus on both model and drawing at the same time: if you are looking at one you can't be looking at the other. But the more directly linked the two activities of seeing
and drawing become, the more lively and expressive your drawings will be and the more quickly you will develop the ability to create figures from your imagination. You will have the means to draw actions and postures which no model could hold long enough for you to be able to make studied drawings. Note that I'm not trying to suggest that a time will come when you will know everything about the human figure and never need to look at one again: just as professional footballers don't give up their training sessions when they reach a peak of performance, so artists must keep themselves 'match-fit'.
For studio work you will probably want to work on a slightly larger scale than when sketching out of doors, so an A3 or even A2 cartridge pad or sheaf of papers clipped to a board may be appropriate. There are no rules about this: work on whatever makes you feel most comfortable and at whatever size you like. I know some artists who always prefer to work on a very small scale indeed, while others like to be able to make big, sweeping strokes from the shoulder to produce drawings that are almost life-sized.
Have your sketchpad or drawing board in such a position that you need move your head as little as possible. Hold it so that, as you face the model, you need only look over the top or round the side of it to see the whole pose clearly.
Your purpose at this stage is to jot down the pose of the whole figure. Of course, everything can be seen in a single glance but, until you have learned to take in the curve of the spine, the distribution of the limbs, the angle of the head and neck - indeed, the whole pose - you'll need to keep looking up at the model as you work. Sit far enough away from the model to enable you to see the whole figure all at once, and allow yourself no more than about four minutes for each pose.
Try to get down the shape of the spine and the positions of arms, legs and head, glancing rapidly back and forth at the model and at your drawing, checking relative proportions and angles as you draw. Such drawings are often referred to as 'gesture drawings', which is a very good description, because the pose must be felt as well as seen. When you see the position your model has adopted you should try to mentally experience this posture yourself. You, too, have a spine, shoulders, arms and knees that move in the same way as the model's. Because of this, you can know what the model's pose feels like. As soon as you make yourself aware of this you'll begin to make more effective drawings.
As you draw an arm, think arm and feel your own arm. This kind of identification with the subject of your drawing is the secret of success. Try it and you will find that good drawing is an attitude of mind - and as natural as thought.
Each of these gesture drawings should take only a few minutes, so it is a good idea to instruct your model to adopt a new pose every four minutes (say) without any directive from you. As soon as the model changes position begin a new drawing, even if you do not feel you have finished the previous one. This is a work-out and you won't gain as much as you could unless you feel a little pressured. So don't use an eraser: if you do something wrong, redraw right over it. Several drawings can be done on the same page, and it doesn't matter if they overlap. We're not aiming for slick, polished pictures at this stage. What are valuable here are the exercise and the right attitude of mind.
Quite soon you'll find you have time to give more shape to the torso and limbs, allowing your pencil to flow over and round the muscle and flesh shapes, feeling their solidity and roundness as you do it. I know a number of artists who never use any other approach: when they create imaginative figures from memory they adopt the same searching and delineating style.
There are any number of different ways of carrying out longer, more detailed studies using a model, and I'm reluctant to recommend any one approach above another. My own approach varies depending on nothing more profound than how I feel at the time! You might take your inspiration from the way light and shadow form patterns near the eye, the chin, the armpits or the fingers, or from the fluid rhythm of the shapes.
Browsing through the illustrations in this chapter, you'll have seen that the drawings have been executed in a great many different ways. Some seem to stress weight and solidity, while others are loose and relaxed and still others are simply patterns of light and shade. Few were done specifically for this book: most are working drawings from my sketchbooks.
Every drawing is a new experience, and almost any natural method of approach is valid if it seems right to you. However, if you are fairly new to this activity, it is probably a good plan to begin in the same way as you did for the gesture drawings: search out the larger forms and put them down in simple line, and then add more detailed information afterwards.
Life drawings by beginners very often have the problem of appearing flat and insubstantial, so do all you can to emphasize the form of the figure - its bulk, weight and solidity. Form can be accentuated by the quality of line you use, or by paying particular attention to the light and shadow areas. The different styles used in the drawings shown here that have been done using a posed model each represent the search for a solution to the problem of giving form and weight to the figure, either by judicious use of areas of light and shadow or by the quality and shape of the lines used.
This drawing was done with a mauve wax crayon. Its real size is 50cm (19%in) high.
In longer studies you should concentrate on the solid, round, full shape of the figure: you should 'feel' its fullness of shape and its weight as you draw. This is even more important than representing the proportions accurately -something that will come naturally with practice.
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