Portrait de femme, buste

I’d discovered Albrecht Durer in an old book, Dessins et Peintures des Maitres Anciens,while browsing a used bookstore in Tucson. With the exception of the first few pages, it’s comprised entirely of lithograph prints and each page is printed on only one side. They’re almost daring you to take the book apart and decorate your walls with its contents… but of course, I’m not tempted. I’m satisfied with simply leaving a book open on a given print for a few days, so that when I walk past it, I can be in the presence of something quite wonderful a few moments at a time.

I immediately fell in love with the “Lievre” or “Young Hare,” along with a number of other prints. So now, while on a mission to learn from as many great works as I can, I thought of this book. Initially, I was feeling ambitious, because I assumed it wouldn’t be that difficult, but then, looking at the lithographs I coveted, which were the ones more intricately designed, I could see that maybe I should begin with a test run, and so here it is.

Portrait de femme, buste

Step 1: I made a carbon copy. I traced the image onto tracing paper with a pencil and then went over it with a pen before erasing the pencil. I then applied graphite to the other side. Replacing the pencil of the initial trace with pen is an extra step, but it’s less messy as well.

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Step 2: I rubbed the side with the graphite onto some drawing paper.

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As you can see, the lines are kind of blurry, so I “smoothed” them over with a pencil, keeping in mind the flow of the lines, as well as how the eyes made the girl look kind of pretty or — I’m trying to think of something more specific — kind… maybe?

Step 3: I applied ink.

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I think I did a decent job smoothing over the eyes in pencil, so I waited until I applied ink before taking the next picture. Sadly, I applied ink a little too heavily, so the eyes look gloopy. I couldn’t believe it. I waited a day or so before starting again.

Steps 1 and 2 and some of 3: I made a carbon copy, applied the graphite to drawing paper and revised the image with a pencil, and began to apply ink.

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Graphite can be very messy and was distorting my view of the lines, so I quickly smoothed over and applied ink to the lines of the bodice before doing the same to the lines of the head.

Step 3: I finnished applying ink and then added highlights, using a white pastel pencil, to give more volume.

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There’s a prettiness to the subject, which is what I liked about the lithograph, which I couldn’t quite capture in my own copy. I drew and erased the eyes over and over again, before I gave up and applied the ink. I credit sheer muscle memory for getting the lines more or less “correct” with very little fuss, which made for more delicate lines. And yet, there’s still something missing. They are supposed to be “kind” eyes, and I made her frown a little in both my copies.

In Conclusion:

I thought making a copy of a lithograph print would be straightforward. If shadow and volume are all expressed using lines, then such a simple drawing should be simple to copy, line for line. But there is a problem, in producing portraits in general, as a person’s face often expresses complex emotions.

The more complex the emotion, the more intriguing it is — it makes me wonder what the subject is thinking.

I’m not sure which is more difficult: capturing the complexity of facial expression with more detail or less — with the subtle gradations of color, using watercolor or oils, or with a dash of a line using ink.  Making a copy of a seemingly simple drawing helps me appreciate the latter.

Materials

Strathmore Drawing Paper Series 300
Ball point pen, black
Lead pencil, black
Pastel pencil, white

Copy of L’Annonciation (1526) from Dessins et Peintures des Maitres Anciens, Premiere Serie, Troisieme Volume

More Da Vinci

Here’s Da Vinci’s Anatomical Study of a Bear’s Foot, circa 1490, which I copied from Frank Zollner’s Leonardo Da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings.

First impressions: Love/awe of the machinations of a bear’s biology. Visual rhythm in the metacarpals allowed to “shine” in simple lines and contrast between dark ink and white highlighting. And the color choice did more for the drawing than a simple black and white drawing — a case of more is more. The brown showcases the blue and contrasts nicely with the white, and vice versa.

These things I tried to transfer over to my copy of the drawing.

Step 1: I created a carbon copy by first tracing directly from the book and then flipping it over and drawing over the lines with a lead pencil.

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Step 2: I went through a process of applying ink and adding highlights.

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But I didn’t like how this turned out, as I got over-zealous with the ink (which I did for Da Vinci’s Study of a Lily as well).

So I tried again.

Step 1: I made a carbon copy.

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Both carbon copies produced very blurry lines, so when the flow of a line was cut off, I had to meticulously find all the pieces making up its “flow” and connect them by eye to make sure it flowed in the same way.

Step 2: I applied ink, but more gently this time, using the pen the way I did the pencil. When I saw the pen as a pen, I was very heavy-handed, and it’s a delicate drawing. So I needed to strike up a balance between the considerations for delicacy of the lines and the intensity of the contrast between the colors.

The first layer of ink was too light, so I carefully added another layer, etc.

Step 3: I tried to give it a little volume. I’m very new to hatching, and it shows, but the white highlights added volume in a really nice way, especially to the toe bones.

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Overall: It’s not exactly to my liking, but I guess that’s where I am as an artist. I couldn’t quite get the volume of the heel the way it was achieved in the original, and although I chose a very light blue laid paper, it wasn’t as blue as the one in the book. On the other hand, while the first copy had better contrast in some places, I like the second copy better for being a more delicate drawing. I think I’m making progress.

Materials

Laid paper, 90 gsm, light blue
Ball point pen, black
Lead pencil, black
Gel pen, sepia (small)

Copy of Anatomical Study of a Bear’s Foot, circa 1490, from Leonardo da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings

Coffee, Tea and Da Vinci

Do you ever browse through art books and think, Wow, I wish I had that. Well, I do… and often. Obviously, drawings you may find in a book by a renowned artist is likely out of anyone’s reach, and obviously anything by Da Vinci is in a museum by now. But damn, I still want one… of this drawing… and that drawing…

So I got to thinking… I have a very limited budget — and I want to be happy — and if money can’t buy what I want anyway, how about some good ol’ fashion elbow grease? I then had an ah-hah moment. I could use this desire for stuff as motivation to develop some skills for my own work.

Da Vinci Complete Paintings and DrawingsI have a bad online shopping habit, and I recently purchased a few art books, one of which is Leonardo Da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings, by Johannes Nathan, et. al.

It includes a biography and treats Da Vinci’s work by categories as well as offers notes on individuals pieces, so you can spend a nice afternoon with it or simply pick it up to look for a specific work and read a little at a time. It is the perfect coffee table book for people who love coffee table books.

I’d also bought Christopher Nichols’ Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind, and in it there’s a small picture of Study of a Lily, which immediately caught my eye… and using both books, I set out to make a copy of my own.

Step 1: I used tracing paper to copy directly out of the book. I know I should be using this step to develop an eye for proportions, but… I’m lazy and am limited in time (I see my life dwindling away before my eyes… always), and this is what takes the longest to perfect in a drawing.

Da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings 

As you can see, the drawing is clipped at the bottom, so I used Christopher Nichols’ book, which has a smaller but full picture, as a reference for the bottom of the stem, as well as for seeing how the lily was framed by the paper.

Step 2: I flipped the tracing paper over and traced over the lines with a pencil, making a “carbon copy.” I then used the dull edge of my lead pencil’s eraser cap to rub the image onto water color paper.

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Step 3: Using a “carbon copy” produced a blurry image, so I had to smooth out the lines; IE, I had to consider the “gesture” or flow of the lines. (See Nicolaides and Me.)

From far away, you can see a lily, but up close, the lines didn’t make sense, and I had to continually ask myself, What am I looking at? What does this line do for the overall drawing and does this line connect to that line or that line?

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I then went over it with a fine pen in sepia.

Step 4: Color. I began with a light wash of tea. Yes, red tea. I shameslessly used the good kind too. I mean, there’s good tea and there’s bad tea… and I used the good tea. (This is my idea of seizing the day.)

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Step 5: Volume. So far, I have two browns: the bold lines of the sepia pen and the wash, which makes the background the same color as the lily. If I kept the background white, the lily would’ve stood out more like a cartoony graphic, especially with the bold outline. By sharing the same color range, the lily looks more like it’s in its natural setting.

I then used coffee to add shadows or, by deliberately leaving certain areas clean of coffee, I created the illusion of highlights.

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I also added actual highlights, but only to mimic the original drawing, with a white pastel pencil.

Here is the final drawing in detail…

Not a perfect copy. After applying ink, I realized I’d gotten a few places wrong. I also overdid the ink, so the outline is much more bold and makes the lily look more cartoony and less natural than in the original drawing. (I have a tendency to obsess over making perfect lines.)

I mean, there is definitely a lot of “me” in this drawing; however, I think it has its own charm and I was able to produce the same “gesture” as the original.

Materials

Strathmore Water Color Paper, Series 300
Gel pen, sepia (small)
Tea (wash)
Coffee

Copy of a Study of Lily from Leonardo da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings

Nicolaides and Me

NicolaidesThere are so many art books you can find online alone. One in particular is Kimon Nicolaides’ The Natural Way to Draw. It emphasizes the importance of the work itself by offering a series of schedules of exercises. You may know the line, “Don’t think. Do.” Well, this book is telling you to think and do.

By thinking, I am referring to how Nicolaides begins each schedule of exercises with a small lecture on how to approach each exercise, which is important, because the more approaches you are aware of, the more choices you have when you are approaching new work of your own.

Steal Like an ArtistLet me borrow from another book, To Steal Like an Artist. The overall advice, if you allow me to paraphrase, is that if you want to learn how to be a better artist, you learn how other artists think. You see and think as others did/have, until you find something that works for you. Over time and with more “doing,” you will naturally use some amalgam of skills and/or approaches you’ve learned from others, along with what you do intuitively.

Full disclosure: I only got through the first few exercises of Nicolaides’ book  before I moved on to my own way of doing things. Even so, I’d like look at something he discusses in those first few pages: what he calls a picture’s “gesture” or an element in the drawing which conveys movement of energy. If you are drawing an athlete throwing a discus, for example, the “gesture” may be that of a circular motion and the potential of somebody just about to throw a discus or just having thrown one.

I would like to add that the flow of the line itself is as much of the “gesture” as the idea of the subject being drawn. In fact, it was much easier for me to access the idea of conveying a “gesture” by thinking of the line, as opposed to thinking of the subject.

More on this in my next post: Coffee, Tea and Da Vinci