Drawing Class. Session 6. Portrait/Self portrait.

November 23, 2011

Detail of an A2 charcoal pencil 30min sketch, over a foundation (subsequently erased) of proportions based on Riven Phoenix, ‘Structure of Man’ skull proportions.

I prepared for this class by working for two days prior on various segments from the digital anatomy course created by Riven Phoenix, The Structure of Man, relating to skull anatomy. The idea was to memorise the skull proportions as best I could.

Our teacher predictably ran through the routine proportions relevant to mapping the face convincingly, but thanks to the SOM approach, I came to class with the confidence to create a foundation skull as an invention in my own mind. As in routine in in the SOM course, once the foundation is pencilled in, it is largely erased, followed by re-working and restatement with detail. What I got wrong with my sketching in class (cold feet, I suspect!) was the proper width of the skull, but that’s okay – what was critical was the necessary self-confidence to get on with the job in a ‘public’, class setting. The most I can demand of myself in these classes is that I acquit myself to the best of my ability.

In class, we managed two 30-min long studies as well as shorter ones with the non-dominant (left) hand with continuous line (without any foundation at all). I stuck to charcoal pencil throughout, a medium not tried in class before.

No colour, though one of the other eight students ventured into sanguine. 

In going over the lighter lines of my SOM notes with a 8B pencil (for scanning and uploading purposes), I came up against more shortcomings in terms of my understanding of the proportions. Not that everything can become automatic after two days. I’ll obviously need to go back and revise (as well as expanding into SOM chapters devoted to muscles of the face and facial features).

I find succour in the work of others who have gone down the SOM path, such as  http://discovering-the-structure-of-man.blogspot.com.  A South Australian university student, he’s obviously like me, balancing the cerebral nature of university study with the creativity of figure drawing.

Critics of the SOM course throw up the use of textbooks, such as Bridgeman and Hale, but the textbooks are so quick to expose students to the Old Masters that they omit a lot of the necessary foundation work on proportion and measurement. I’ve worked as well as I can on my own with Bridgeman and others, but the SOM beats them hands down. Weekend workshops and community college courses don’t have the teacher-student ratios necessary to do justice to the the detail of proportion and measurement either – SOM definitely fills that gap.

We’re covering a lot of ground in this Drawing Essentials class run by the Sydney Community College. Probably the most important thing is that we cover the major drawing genres: contour, tone, pattern, composition as well as perspective, still life, landscape, portraiture and life drawing. My efforts overall look little different from those done in similar courses in decades past, but my signature style isn’t going to change.

I’ll ‘repeat’ the course at home during December and January, fine-tuning and re-doing a lot of the exercises, bringing them up to drawing portfolio standard. In the past, I’ve come away from workshops and courses with a sheaf of disparate drawing. This time, I’m scribbling notes on each drawing – the purpose and parameters, strengths and weaknesses. I’m currently juggling paper sizes: A2 in class, lots of smaller pre-class preparation in A4, as well as complementary work (e.g. landscape, perspective, cross-hatching) from the fortnightly pen-and-ink class done in A3. Having a portfolio to hand – my best Landscape Pencil Drawing, my best Portrait in Charcoal, etc. will help when fronting up to meetings of local art societies next year, St George Art Society and Oatley Art Society.

Keen now to dig up my photos taken of human skulls at various museums and a previous sketch of a plaster cast skull done at Julian Ashton’s school.


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