Strathmore 2013 online workshop, Week 3

May 21, 2013

Week 3 is devoted to the figure and we were given three photos of a seated male.

practice #8 quick sketch

Here’s my “first pass” sketch, done very quickly, to acquaint myself with some of the issues involved in the first photo. I’m not agonizing over everything here – just getting a general idea of the lay of the land. A number of points arise: the distance out to the clavicle (left and right), where the bumps of the lower skeleton start appearing, differentiating as clearly as possible between the ribcage and the pelvis, where the elbow visible actually ends (not at all clear in the photo!) and the foreshortening involved in the legs, especially the two far lower legs and right foot.

Over the years, I got “lost” with my figure drawing because I was relying too much on reference photos and the information I was confronted with at life drawing sessions was too overwhelming. Obviously we have to work within the limitations of the online workshop but it’s a serious mistake to try and learn correct figure proportions from photos, especially from photos with lots of very dark darks. Where there are deep shadows, there is no clear indication of where the anatomy starts and finishes.

So limitations aside, it’s important I think with this online workshop to just concentrate on those bits which the eye can clearly see, which are really limited here to just the back of the skull and the lit area of the back: all the rest is subjective!

male figure 2

Here’s my first go on a larger piece of Strathmore Toned Tan, 9×12″. I’m obviously a bit more familiar now with what I’m looking at. Cefalo starts with a very light blocking in of the general proportions and is not slow about adding the white. He addes the white far more quickly into the process than I have been. There is logic in this because if you have too much graphite pencil line already down, it’s impossible to add the white over the top because the two become an ‘oily’ mess: graphite and white pencil have to be kept separate. I’m using Derwent graphite pencil (H is too light for the toned background, so I’m starting with a B or a 2B) and a Prismacolor white colored pencil or a PITT oil-based white pencil. When the workshop is finished, I’ll experiment with Derwent coloured pencils, e.g. chocolate and sanguine.

I’m still getting the elbow wrong and the foreshortening is quite dramatic, giving the whole figure a “fish-eye lens” look.

practice 8

I have to keep moving because there are three photos posted for this week’s workshop. All three photos were taken at the same life drawing class with the same model. This second one is a smallish sketch on a large 9×12″ Strathmore Toned Tan. Because the toned background does so much of the heavy lifting, these sketches are remarkably fast. The main problem is not applying the colour but getting the basic proportions right. Again I wanted to include the lower leg and foot but they are so obscured by shadow in the photo, almost no amount of pencil work will create the darks of sufficient depth. You can see I’m having trouble with the cheekbones and chin – again because they are completely obscured by shade in the photo, but are absolutely so necessary to getting the picture looking convincing! What I have got down correctly is the sharp angle of the two ears, the lobes of which are in strong light. The back muscles look okay, so I’ve achieved the minimum required. As with the first photo, it’s been hard to get the length of the torso right, especially differentiating clearly between the ribcage and the pelvis (you can tell from the restatements I’ve made in the lower back).

I’ve been finding time to apply what I’ve learned with other subject material, not always on toned paper:


The workshop is proving very valuable in terms of more closely observing shadows and differentiating between light, mid-shade and full shadow. The last might be anatomically-challenged (the leg is not attached to the pelvis convincingly and his shoulder/biceps at right is far too narrow, but I’m pleased with the balance between white, toned paper and black graphite pencil. The others are experiments in the same light-shadow domain but in pen without pencil foundation and almost wet-on-wet watercolour (on 150g cartridge) because I wasn’t letting it dry sufficiently.

Some sketching colleagues in Bangkok showed some skull/portrait sketches on Facebook this week and the faces were distinctly Asian. Of course here in Australia, my entire art education and exposure has been to Western, Anglo-Saxon skulls and faces: art books, life drawing and portrait classes, etc. So I’m very conscious of needing to diversify, ‘getting out more’ and sketching Aboriginal, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern faces…! In this, the Asian Century, the hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon figure in art should, all things being equal, be on the decline so that trend should be clear in my work as well.


2 Responses to “Strathmore 2013 online workshop, Week 3”

  1. i have been captivated not only with you art but prose , as well. you mentioned stratmore on-line workshops…and i thank you profusely. i’m now signed on as a ‘student’…in admiration of your progress and process….

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