Friday, October 24, 2008

Tone Paper Studies

This scene shows captured prisoners from the Moche culture of ancient Peru, painted for National Geographic.

It was developed entirely from studies from the model, not from photography. (Photography is a useful tool, too, but I'll cover that in other posts.) If you’re doing a reference study of yourself or a model taking the pose, you can capture all the reference information you’ll need by working on tone paper.

In most art schools, the tradition of drawing posed figures on tone paper tends to be regarded as an end in itself, or else purely as a timed practice exercise for training the eye and hand for observational drawing.

But for most of the last five centuries, tone paper drawings were merely a means to an end, and the drawings themselves were not highly valued.

A light gray or tan paper works best for figure studies. The tone of the paper should be approximately equal to the darker halftone—the point where the form turns away from the light just before it enters the shadow.

You can begin either with vine charcoal or with a soft charcoal pencil and draw the pose lightly in line, noting the dividing line of the shadow and the boundary of the cast shadow. Once you’ve got the pose where you want it, reserve the charcoal for the shadows and accents.

The light side of the form can be defined with just a few careful touches of white chalk or white charcoal pencil. Where the form turns more to the light in the brightly illuminated halftones, you can scumble a light tone overall, saving your strongest touches of pure white for the highlights and accents.

As you work on your studies from life, don’t just draw what you see. As Howard Pyle said, “Don’t copy the model, but make a picture.” Accentuate the muscles and tendons that are important in telling the story. Describe to your your model the character you want them to act out. Better yet, act out the part yourself, and ham it up a little. Your model will feel less inhibited if you make a fool of yourself.

Let your imagination guide your eye. This mindset leads to better drawings than ones where you are just copying what you see. The drawings you produce as preliminary studies for a finished work will have more urgency and confidence than the standard 20 minute studies that are done without feeling or imagination.

5 comments:

Erik Bongers said...

...and as a last tip of this list: always store your finished drawings properly so they don't get torn up, cracked or wrinkled!

Nice sketch. Has a bit of Leyendecker to it. Possibly the parrallel lines in the shadow area.

I had my first model group a week ago. Wow, that felt like riding the bike for the first time! I naievely hoped I would have little trouble at this but there is a BIG difference between drawing it from imagination and drawing what you see.

And that brings me to one of the remarks in this topic "...Don’t copy the model, but make a picture...".

I'm not sure about that. I'm not saying I disagree, but I'm just not sure.
I know that if I 'add' to what I see that the final sketch will be better, because it more resembles what I do from imagination.
But that's not the reason I joined the sketch group. I want to learn from observation in the hope that that will improve my imaginary drawing skills. Errmm...I mean, my skills in drawing from imagination.

The end results of those drawings are dull, sure...but I'm not there to make 'nice drawings', I'm there to observe.

Nevertheless, I'll give it a try next time : 'add' to what I actually see. Perhaps the combination of observation and imagination is indeed beter to improve my skills.

arecol said...

cette scène est pour moi insupportable en tant que spectateur.
Dans ce cas précis la photographie est un choc désagréable ; bien que le dessin soit beau
Lorsque vous aurez des dessins de ce style merci d'avertir les spectateurs (spectatrices) trop!?
sensibles.

DavidStill said...

I guess that with enough practice, pretty much anyone could become good at drawing the figure accurately from life. This is what I'm doing right now at my atelier. But I agree that there's a difference between an accurate figure drawing and a piece of art. For that, the artist has to give something to the picture. And that probably is far more difficult to learn than technical skills.

r8r said...

the little note about 'making a fool of oneself' is telling.

not only is that important in making a model feel that it's okay to 'emote', just as it is to directing acting or animation, it's important to the artist too,

by contorting one's body or face, feeling the forms, you're priming yourself for the work of portraying it. look at any kid sticking out his tongue or baring his teeth while drawing Godzilla - same thing. you're activating your 'muscle memory'.

there's a physical, visceral aspect to this supposedly cerebral and spiritual work...

Munchanka said...

Excellent drawing Jim, you can really feel the muscles in the arms straining against the bonds.