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