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Life drawing - John C. Kirk

Jan. 10th, 2015

10:37 pm - Life drawing

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Last March, I wrote about improving my art. My goal was to make 1 new comic per month, but I haven't even come close to achieving that. So, today I tried a new approach: I went off to a session at the Croydon Life Drawing Group. The idea here is simply to get some practice at drawing, without having to worry about whether it's good enough for the story I want to tell. This went well, and I'm glad that I dragged myself out of bed for it.

I've included copies of my drawings below, which (sort of) contain nudity. I don't think I need a model release for these: I'd be amazed if anyone could recognise the model based on my artwork!

The sessions are held at the United Reform Church in Croydon; conveniently, I can cycle there from my flat in about 10 minutes. However, it took me and another new person a while to figure out how to get in, because the main entrance was locked. It turns out that you need to go via the rear garden.

These aren't classes, so you just turn up and do your own thing. Similarly, nobody is wandering around to look at your work. They provide art boards to lean on, but you need to provide your own supplies. I took a minimal approach, with a stack of A4 printer paper and a couple of pencils (4B and HB). When I'm at home I use a Wacom tablet (Intuos 3), but that needs to have a computer attached; similarly, it works a bit like a mouse pad, so I need a separate monitor to actually see the results. That means that it's not really practical to take it along with my little netbook. I've been thinking about replacing it with a Cintiq, where I would be drawing directly onto the picture (like pen and paper): this may make things easier, but I've been holding off on that until I actually do enough drawing to justify the purchase. If I got the Companion Hybrid then I could also use it as a standalone device in situations like this, but I've read mixed reviews. So, for now I'll stick to the low tech approach, then scan the pages back into my computer when I get home.

There was a single model who did a series of poses for us. When I arrived, there was already a 5 minute pose in progress, and I may have missed another before that. Then another 5 minute pose, then 4 x 10 minute poses. These all had short breaks in between, mainly to give the model a chance to move around, so it took at least an hour. We then had a tea break and resumed at 11:00 for the final pose, which lasted until 12:30. She turned in different directions for each pose, which was useful for people sitting in different parts of the room.

Starting with the first pose (5 minutes):

Pose 1

This is slightly more elaborate than a stick figure, and I think I captured the basic pose (standing with hands behind her back), but it's obviously lacking in detail.

Here's the second pose (also 5 minutes):

Pose 2

When I draw from imagination, I start off with a wireframe model: a slightly more detailed version of a stick figure, where I have horizontal lines for the shoulders and pelvis, then the arms and legs hang off the ends rather than coming directly from the spine. I also put in circles for each joint. I tried to do something similar here, although I omitted the vertical line for the spinal column.

In digital art, I'd put the wireframe in a separate layer, and use it as a guideline for the layer above, then it would be hidden from the final picture. However, that doesn't really work so well when I'm using pencil and paper, as this case demonstrates! So, for my subsequent drawings I started out with a quick thumbnail sketch first. I'm not quite sure whether these count as "gesture drawings", but it's something along those lines: I want to work out which way each part of the body is pointing. Basically, they're prototypes: "build one to throw away".

Moving onto the third pose (10 minutes):

Pose 3 thumbnail Pose 3

I think this is a step forward. Although I'm still showing my working (e.g. the overlapping arms), at least the hands are more detailed.

The fourth pose was also 10 minutes:

Pose 4 thumbnail Pose 4

I found this pose quite tricky. The model was lying down on the sofa face up, so I was basically looking up her nose. Her right arm looks quite small, but that was about right from my perspective. (It was bent at the elbow, with her hand on her shoulder.) However, I'm not sure what happened to her left arm! I'm sure I didn't intend to draw it coming out of her hip, but it's a bit confusing about which lines are her body and which are the drapes of the cloth on the sofa. (Colour would help with that.) On a more positive note, her feet are more detailed, and I think the toes came out well on her left foot.

The fifth pose was also 10 minutes:

Pose 5 thumbnail Pose 5

The diagonal lines on the model's back are where I could see the outline of her ribs. She was sitting/kneeling on a folded sleeping bag; again, colour would probably make that more obvious. There may seem to be an extra arm line, but that's deliberate: going from left to right, we have her left arm, then the lower half of her right leg, then her right arm. (Her right knee was against her chest, and her right hand is underneath her left knee.) From my angle, most of her face was hidden: I could see her ear just above her shoulder, and her nose just below her armpit. So, the black blob there is supposed to be her nostril.

The sixth pose was the final 10 minute pose before the break:

Pose 6 thumbnail Pose 6

This may be the first picture where it's obvious that the model was female. Unfortunately, I ran out of time, so her hands are quite crude and I didn't have time to draw her feet at all.

After the break, the final pose was the long one (1½ hours). The organiser did a painting, and the extra time would certainly be useful for that level of detail. In my case, I finished my picture with loads of time to spare. I could see that it was lacking, but there wasn't much I could do to improve it, so I made multiple attempts.

Initially, she was just sitting on the sofa with her legs together, but a couple of the other artists asked whether she could make it more interesting. So, she brought up her right leg, putting that foot flat on the sofa next to her left thigh. That was still a position that she could comfortably maintain, and I think it was a definite improvement. Actually, she needed to stretch a couple of times during the final hour, so the organiser put marks down on the sofa/floor so that she could get back into the same position.

So, starting with my thumbnail and the first attempt:

Pose 7 thumbnail Pose 7a

It took me a while to figure out what went wrong here: it's the chest area. Technically, her breast isn't too low (e.g. it's supposed to be roughly level with her right knee), but her shoulder etc. is too high. Trying again:

Pose 7b

I think the body proportions are better here, and the face looks a bit more realistic (e.g. she actually has pupils rather than blank white eyeballs). However, I didn't really do justice to the model (i.e. I made her look ugly). So, I tried again, just focussing on her head:

Pose 7c

I'm pleased with the curved line between her lower lip and her chin: that came out exactly the way I wanted. The rest of it, I'm less sure about. I made an effort to draw what I could actually see rather than what I expected to see, and I looked closely at the relative positions (e.g. eye and ear), but my picture still didn't look much like her.

Finally, I put it all together:

Pose 7d

I think it's an improvement, but the left femur is too long, i.e. her left knee should be closer to the rest of her body. Also, based on how she was sitting, her left arm should have been further forward. Her hair bears an unfortunate resemblance to a shower cap; I was trying to show that it was tousled without drawing each strand individually, but she had blonde hair and each black line I drew made it look darker.

Overall, though, I think I improved during the 3 hour session: the final picture looks significantly better than the first. So, that was £10 well spent. I won't be able to attend the next session on 24th January (because it clashes with the UK Cold Water Swimming Championships), but hopefully I can go again on 14th February.