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.
I 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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
Strathmore Water Color Paper, Series 300
Gel pen, sepia (small)
Copy of a Study of Lily from Leonardo da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings