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Life drawing 3 - John C. Kirk

Apr. 11th, 2015

05:12 am - Life drawing 3

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At the end of February, I went along to my third life drawing session. Once again, I'm only getting around to writing it up the night before the following session!

As I mentioned before, there's a different model at each session; this time, we had a young woman called Penny. (I don't know whether that's her real name or just her "stage name". Also, I wouldn't post her surname here even if I did know it.) Compared to the previous models, this is the first time I drew someone with long hair and glasses: that's an extra challenge, but I think it will be a useful skill if I can get the hang of it. Anyway, I think she did a really good job, and I'd like to draw her again if I get the opportunity.

Unfortunately I arrived a bit late for the session, so I missed the first couple of 5 minute poses. When I came in, Penny was standing up and facing away from the group; I didn't want to disrupt other people's concentration, so I waited until she'd finished before I sat down, but I'm sorry I missed out on drawing that pose.

I've sat in a different place each time, which gives me a different view of the model, although obviously it depends on the pose. Here's a very rough drawing (not to scale) to show what I mean:


There are always a couple of heaters in the room, near where the model is posing. It makes sense that the model will feel a bit colder (since they don't have any clothes on), but that does make the room a bit warmer for the rest of us too. In my case, I've acclimatised to the cold from my outdoor swimming, but that's come at the expense of my heat tolerance, so I was feeling a bit toasty by the end of the session! (Or as one of my friends put it: "You've basically fucked your metabolism.")

Pose 1 (5 minutes)

The first pose I actually drew was Penny's final 5 minute pose:

Pose 1

I skipped the thumbnail here and went straight to the sketch. There's a bit of an "Old English Sheepdog" effect here: her fringe came down to just above her eyes, but it didn't actually cover them (unlike my picture). Also, the arm of the glasses should meet her ear, rather than aiming in a different direction.

After this, all of Penny's poses were on the sofa.

Pose 2 (10 minutes)

Pose 2 thumbnail Pose 2

There's a line between her ponytail and the back of her neck; it may look like a mistake, but it's actually deliberate. That's her left elbow. Unfortunately, this isn't really obvious in a black and white drawing. (It's a bit clearer in the stick figure version.)

Pose 3 (10 minutes)

Pose 3 thumbnail Pose 3

This all went a bit wrong, and her chest looks very odd in this picture. I think she may have been leaning to her right, which would explain why her right breast is lower than her left. However, in that case her right shoulder should also be lower down. As it is, the gap between her right shoulder and right breast is far too big, making it look as if her breast is sagging.

The thumbnail didn't really help here: it's not at all obvious what's going on with her left side. In the actual sketch, I ran out of time before I could draw her left foot.

Pose 4 (10 minutes)

Pose 4 thumbnail Pose 4

I think the thumbnail works better here (compared to previous poses).

In the main sketch, her left foot looks weird, as if the heel is back too far. However, that's actually correct: her leg was folded in half, and her ankle was blocked from view (tucked under her thigh).

Related to that, there's a small curve on her back, which is supposed to be where her bum splits. It doesn't quite work: I should have redrawn the outer line.

As I mentioned above, the glasses made things a bit more interesting, particularly from this angle, but I think I got it right. Here's a close-up to show her face in more detail:

Pose 4 zoom

The arm of the glasses is attached to the near side. In other words, I've drawn the back (inside) of the right lens rather than the front (outside).

Pose 5 (10 minutes)

Pose 5 thumbnail Pose 5

The thumbnail is a bit odd; it's almost like one of those optical illusions, where the fork has a different number of prongs depending on where you start looking. I've deliberately left this in the original form rather than cleaning it up, to show what I was using for reference during the session. I originally drew the left side of the body, but that line went too far so the legs overlap it. As for the legs, I normally draw a single line for each limb, but I did a second line here so that I could make the overlap a bit clearer; unfortunately, that looks a bit weird because the lower line of the right leg doesn't join the torso.

The actual sketch includes the belly button. This is unusual, although I also drew it in pose 3 from my second session. As with the nipples, I'll take any "landmarks" I can get to structure the drawing around, so the only reason I don't normally draw the belly button is because I can't see it.

The line near her right armpit is supposed to be a muscle (or something similar) rather than hair. Not that I have anything against armpit hair, but it's not what I was trying to draw here.

When I scanned in this picture, I realised that her right arm looks wrong, i.e. the distance from shoulder to elbow is significantly longer than elbow to wrist. It's possible that this was a foreshortening effect, but I don't remember noticing this at the time so it was probably a mistake.

In poses 3 and 5, I've drawn her arms significantly thinner than other pictures. She did have quite a slim build overall, but since I had the same model for every pose that means that her proportions should be the same too.

When it was time for the tea break (and the 10 minute alarm bleeped), the organiser hadn't got back with the drinks, so Penny volunteered to stay in her position a little bit longer so that we could keep drawing. That was kind of her, and I appreciated the extra time.

This also brings up a more general point about modelling. After I mentioned my first life drawing session, a friend suggested that I should model. In theory I'd be willing to do this; plenty of people have already seen me naked, so I'm not shy about it. However, looking at the website for the Croydon group, there's some advice for aspiring models:

And, while I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying modelling, it is only fair to point out that there are a lot of older male models chasing a limited amount of work. I have drawn some excellent older male models, but they were good because they put a lot into it. If you are an older man who wants to try modelling you need to ask yourself, "What is my unique selling point; what will make artists and tutors want to book and rebook me?"

I'm not sure that I'd be able to hold an interesting pose for several minutes, let alone an hour. So, that's something that impressed me about Penny: she was able to go above and beyond the call of duty by holding the pose even after the time limit had expired. Anyway, for now I think that I need the drawing practice more than the extra cash that I'd get for modelling.

Pose 6 (1½ hours)

This pose was almost a mirror of pose 2; the main difference is that her right foot wasn't flat on the seat, and therefore her right knee was on the sofa rather than in the air.

As usual, I had several attempts at this pose, since that's more productive than working on a single drawing for the whole time. I started with the thumbnail:

Pose 6 thumbnail

I think most of that is quite good, but it's not really obvious that her right leg is tucked underneath her. Moving on to my first sketch:

Pose 6a

I've been using A4 paper, and this is the first time I've drawn a sketch in landscape rather than portrait. (Looking at pose 6 from the second session, where the male model was lying on the floor, the drawing is wider than it's tall but I cropped the empty space at the top/bottom of the page.) Actually, the pose is almost a square: the distance from head to toe is about the same on the horizontal and vertical axis. However, adding on the sofa makes the overall picture a bit wider. I think the overall proportions came out quite well here.

I put lines in for the collar bone, but I really didn't like the face: she looked like Mrs Potato Head! More precisely, all her features are squashed together in the lower half of her head. So, I decided to focus on that in my next attempt:

Pose 6b

I only intended to draw her head and shoulders here, but since I had some space left over I kept going and wound up drawing most of her torso. I was aware that it might seem odd to go to a nude model and then ignore her body in favour of her face, but I'll focus on wherever I most need to improve.

I did my best to represent her hairstyle. I didn't want to draw every strand of hair individually (that's a mistake I made in The Gift), but there were sections going in different directions. I think her hair colour would count as "ash blonde", but I did a bit of pencil shading to distinguish it from her skin.

I think the glasses definitely look separate to her face, which is good; in other words, they look like a physical object rather than make-up, partly because they extend past the left side of her face. However, they look more like a ski mask than proper glasses because I didn't put a line down the middle. Also, I've been inconsistent about where the arms connect (higher on her left than her right).

Looking back at the final set of drawings from my first session, I made an effort to draw the model's eyes in more detail, but they still didn't look quite right. In hindsight, I realise where I went wrong: I didn't draw eyelids, so there should be small folds of skin above and below the eyeballs. At this session, Penny kept her eyes closed for some of the time, and that made it easier to draw them. In particular, it meant that I could include her eyelashes, and I think I've got them in proportion to the length of her eyelid. I'm also quite pleased with the slight curve to her eyelids (rather than drawing them as straight lines).

When Penny had her eyes open, we actually made eye contact a few times, which felt a bit odd. I realise that she has to look somewhere and I'm sure there was no judgment involved, but that made me feel a bit self-conscious about staring at her. Part of me wanted to say "I'm not staring at your breasts, honest!" (I hadn't even started drawing them at that point.) However, intellectually I know that I didn't have anything to feel guilty about, since the whole point of me being there was to look at her closely and draw what I saw. If I felt uncomfortable when she looked at me, I'm sure that it would be more awkward for her when she knows that everyone is looking at her, so being relaxed about that is another attribute of a good model. Actually, thinking about it now, it would have been obvious that I was looking at her face (in order for our eyes to meet) but that didn't occur to me at the time.

Continuing downwards to her nose, I could only see one nostril. That was a bit tricky to draw, and I didn't get it quite right, but it's reasonably detailed.

There's a little groove between the mouth and the nose, right in the middle; this is apparently called the philtrum. (I'm hoping that my first aid and drawing will cross-pollinate a bit, as I learn more about anatomy.) I tried to draw it, but it came out looking more like a moustache. It may be best just to ignore it, or I could do that with colour (i.e. use slightly different shades rather than actual lines).

Mouths are tricky too... I tried to include the detail of her lips rather than just drawing a single line, but it doesn't look quite right.

I also wasn't sure about the jawline: how far back should I draw it? As a compromise, I made it a bit heavier at the front, trying to emphasise where it's distinct from her neck. Related to that, her head looks disproportionately large, but I think that's partly because we can't see everything to the left.

Looking at her chest, I've seen some very bad artwork where the breasts are just drawn as circles. In fact, there shouldn't be a line at the top, and I'd say that the border depends on the angle. So, I deliberately drew the right breast differently, although it shouldn't really look smaller. As for the left breast, I went for a thicker line as I moved downwards, trying to show that the cleavage (?) gets a bit deeper there as the breast comes outwards.

Her left arm and hand are the correct length overall (based on the distance from her fingertips to her right side) but the hand looks too small compared to the rest of the arm. I tried to draw the knuckles, but it makes her hand look more like a skeleton; I think it might work better if the lines don't go all the way from side to side.

I then did another partial picture, focussing on her right knee in particular and her legs in general. My basic goal was to build a jigsaw by drawing smaller pieces and then fitting them together.

Pose 6c

This is more detailed than my first attempt, but it doesn't look right. If I didn't actually know what I was looking at here, I'd assume that she was an amputee.

I then tried putting the pieces together:

Pose 6d

This didn't work at all, so I abandoned the attempt. Basically, when I'm staring at a blank piece of paper, I need to know where to start. In my first attempt, I think I used her torso as my first lines. In this case, I tried the top of her left leg, then worked outwards from there. However, when I got towards her right shoulder I realised that I hadn't left myself enough space. Normally I crop these pictures, but in this case I've kept the whole page so that I can show where I positioned the picture.

A tablet would make it easier to drag the whole thing over a bit if I run out of space near the edge of the page; on the other hand, it may make me a better artist if I can get it right with a pencil. Maybe I should be drawing "construction lines" in pencil and inking over the top? That way, it won't matter so much if I screw up and make adjustments.

I had another go at putting it all together:

Pose 6e

There are some faint lines visible from where I initially drew her torso further towards the top/left of the page, then erased it and tried again. I'm glad that I got her mouth lined up with her nose/eyes, i.e. they're roughly parallel rather than converging. After the "ski mask" problem from the close-up, I drew a central section of the glasses frame to separate out the lenses; however, I think I drew the rim too thick.

Like last time, I wanted to do some finished artwork at home, i.e. cleaning up stray lines and colouring it in. However, looking at my various attempts, I was actually happier with my "throwaway" torso picture than my final attempt, so I went back to that.

When I scan in my artwork, I go through various stages in Photoshop. I start out with a grayscale image, then convert it to a black and white bitmap. That involves setting a threshold value, then each pixel becomes black or white depending on whether the shade of grey is above or below that threshold. If the threshold is too low then some of my lines disappear, but if it's too high then I get random dots appearing. I personally set my threshold at about 200, which I know is higher than some other artists. (I'm not sure what the units are for that.) So, the clean-up involved deleting all the unwanted marks that came in as artefacts from the scanning process.

I've also modified her glasses, so that the lenses are separate and the arm joins a bit lower down on the left. Similarly, I've deleted the lines from the curve of her face where it overlapped the glasses rim, because the rim is in front. The left lens (from her point of view) looks bigger than the right lens, which is wrong; it's further away, so if anything it should be slightly smaller than the right lens. However, I'm not sure whether I should make the right lens bigger or the left lens smaller; that fits in with my general concerns about the size of her head.

I've deleted most of the shading from her hair, and just left a few lines in to give an idea of which direction her hair is going. This is slightly annoying because I'm undoing what I originally drew, so it would have been more efficient not to do that shading in the first place (or to keep it separate from the line art).

I then coloured it in. This involved converting the image from bitmap back to grayscale, then again into CMYK colour (more on that below). Traditionally, comics were coloured using 25% increments of cyan/magenta/yellow. That gives 5 possible values for each colour (0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%) so there are 53 = 125 combinations. I downloaded that palette from Neil McAllister's blog; although Photoshop allows roughly a bazillion possible colours, I think it may help me to work within a more limited range and then move on when I've exhausted what I can do with it. So, that means that I effectively have one shade for Europid skin tone.

Normally I would colour up to each line. However, that's a bit more tricky here, because I didn't continue drawing below her waist. I thought about cropping the image so that I could use the outer edge of the page, but that won't work here because "camera right" is higher than "camera left". So, I'd either have to chop off everything below her left elbow or I'd implicitly be drawing extra skin without any features. Instead, I settled for a wibbly line going across, which I think worked ok.

Pose 6f Pose 6g

Photoshop tips

When you convert from grayscale to CMYK, don't use the "Image | Mode | CMYK Color" menu option. If you do that, Photoshop asks whether you want to use the "U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2" profile.


Instead, use "Edit | Convert To Profile..."
Then select CMYK and choose this profile: "Coated FOGRA39 (ISO 12647-2:2004)"


This is better for UK/Europe; see Which CMYK Profile Should I Use?" for more detail.

When I chose the 125 colour swatch, it initially looked like this:

Swatch 1

That's 6 rows with 18 colours, then a 7th row with 17 colours. I resized it to have 5 rows with 25 colours each:

Swatch 2

I think that makes it a lot clearer! Rather than a jumble of colours, you can see how they all fit together. For instance, the top left corner has 0% yellow and the bottom left corner has 100% yellow. The trade-off is that it makes the window a lot wider, so it's probably best to undock it, otherwise you're losing screen area for the actual image.

General thoughts

Last year I read The Webcomics Handbook. There's a quote near the start: "It's impossible to get worse at something you do every day." I understand the idea, and when I look at some other people who've been doing webcomics for several years (e.g. Questionable Content, I can see a massive improvement between their early strips and what they're drawing now.

On the other hand, I'm not sure how well that works as a general rule. For instance, there's the cliché of doctors with terrible handwriting: I think that some people start out at primary school with very neat writing, but over time it turns into a barely legible scrawl. Similarly I see some people on the road who would never have passed their driving test if they'd behaved like that, so I assume that they've relaxed into bad habits rather than improving.

Over at DoodleAlley, the author said: "Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent. [..] After each attempt, evaluate why things worked or didn't work." I've heard other people refer to this as "directed practice" or deliberative practice. That's what I try to do with my drawings, and it's mainly why I'm writing these blog posts; as with most of my blog, my primary audience is myself.

Next session

There was only one session in March, which I missed because I was off LARPing. However, there are two sessions in April, and I hope to attend both.