Classical Head No.1

December 12, 2011

First attempt, a rough, freehand sketch: 7B pencil, 5×8″

Second attempt: rough, freehand sketch focussing on imaginary horizontals between ears through the eyes. 7B, 5×8″ – more idealised, less accurate.

Third attempt: more deliberate drawing, aiming to show the three-dimensionality of the muscles and the fact that the muscles lie side-by-side and interconnect. This required upping the paper size to A4. The standard anatomy textbooks reinforced my general knowledge of facial muscles, without helping me much with those of the Mature Male, i.e. the effects of ageing. The first sketch is still closest to the original: squat and almost triangular. Used harder pencils – mostly HB with 2B highlights, so the whole effect is lighter and greyer. Have gone as far as I can with this one, for the moment.


Some at the Sydney Sketch Club Meetup yesterday sketched the Cenotaph (1929, Moruya granite) in Martin Place Sydney and conversation ensued about the bronze sculptures of the WW1 defence personnel at either end. In the early afternoon sun, the folds in the cloth were particularly attractive. Parallels were drawn with the Rayner Hoff sculpture at the Sydney War Memorial (1929-34, Bathurst granite) in Hyde Park. I hadn’t realised that the Memorial building, with its strong Art Deco lines, caused a huge controversy at the time; everyone was expecting something in the older Victorian style, not the forward-looking Art Deco.

This got me to thinking about classical sculpture and busts in the Ancient Greek and Roman mode, which resonated too with the Robert Barrett book I’m referring to lately. Robert Barrett in his book on life drawing recommends doing some head studies from classical busts and sculpture.  His striking example on page 79 of his book is done in black Nupastel and white chalk on dark grey-blue Canson paper. He uses a lot of straight lines to create an “envelope” around the subject, using four tones: white, the grey of the paper, the light black strokes of the charcoal and heavy black strokes for the darkest tones. This is a striking example because it’s the only time he uses a blue-tinted background.

The Internet also provides a surprisingly good range of black-and-white photos (lighting not available outdoors or even in museums) and a surprisingly “human” range of busts.  Today’s crusty old Roman senator appealed, in part because of the prominence of the cheek muscles (which Riven Phoenix spends a lot of time on in his Structure of Man figure drawing course). The photograph facilitated the use of strong tonal work, but Barrett is very specific about form shadow and cast shadow, so a second attempt has to address that issue. I need also to imagine the underlying skull and muscles from the photo and re-create them as separate sketches.


Robert Barrett. Life Drawing: How to Portray the Figure with Accuracy and Expression. Cincinatti, Ohio: North Light Books, 2008


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