Study of a Mourning Woman (Part 1)

Michelangelo vs Durer

What makes this a great drawing isn’t in how delicate the lines are. Unlike Durer, you don’t see how pretty a single line flows to and from another. You see bigger “moves,” like the posture of the body and the contrast of the lighter areas with the darker areas, depicting a source coming from the left.

Overall, the figure has a great presence, despite its small size, achieved by Michelangelo’s greatest move(s) — depicting the flow or illusion of the flow of the drapery, which is three dimensional. He does this with many fine lines following the contour of the volume. What’s tricky (but so wonderfully successful) is depicting a given contour line as it coincides with the perspective/angle at which you are viewing that area of the figure.

Durer does this too, but his “moves” aren’t so unified. IE, the overall goal of this drawing was to express volume, whereas Durer filled his drawing of L’Annonciation with individual, pretty lines and objects, so I found myself enjoying Durer in pieces; while drawing Michelangelo, I found myself not enjoying individual areas but sought motivation by checking on how the drawing was coming along and hoping the end result would look as good as the original.

Having said this, I have to admit I liked the body language of the head and hand. If I were to crop only this area of the picture, it would be great to look at in itself.

Flow of Volume

It’s tricky because it’s an illusion. You don’t convey it with a single line, but all the minor lines that follow inner contour lines and which depict areas in light and shadow.

I used guidelines (as did Michelangelo — you can see them in the original) which convey the flow of the volume — the way the fabric falls and moves.

This — the volume — is what’s pretty about the drawing, and the lines that help convey this are what make me say, “Nice moves!” This is not a simple matter of making sure the lines all fit into the space given. You have to make sure these major lines drape the shape of the figure underneath. You have to make sure it does not hide the body language conveyed by the pose the figure assumes. You could say, in the original, it even enhances the body language.

Unfortunately, I have not finished drawing a copy of my own. I made two attempts. The first I worked on and off during July.

I began with a carbon copy, which yielded a blur of lines, so I made another carbon copy, which was less detailed and which I used more like guidelines. Initially, I was focusing a little too hard on getting the lines right and not on why I liked the picture to begin with, and without the latter, I got lazy and was eventually shading more than hashing. I didn’t like the progress I was making and, after a couple of weeks, lost interest.

At the beginning of this month, I began a second attempt, which so far, I’m more or less happy with.

Step 1: I made a carbon copy, but I only used the second trace (the “guidelines”) from my first attempt.


Step 2: I started with something I knew I liked about the drawing, which was the head. Even though it’s not very accurate in my first attempt, I liked how it turned out, so I knew the idea in itself was good (to me, personally).

I made sure I was focusing on why I liked this part of the drawing — I could see a human face peeking through, and, accordingly, I made sure I got a clear sense of the feelings expressed from that face. I also tried to stick more closely to the lines used in the original and to not resort to shading (as opposed to hashing), because that can look sloppy and express less authority over the lines drawn.

Step 3: I went over the lines in other parts, making sure I knew what I was looking at and was conveying ideas with confidence and from a clear sense of what I mean to convey in my version.

And the final stage I reached is below.


Once I finish the drawing in black, I’m planning to erase as much of the ink as I can,  wash the surface in tea and then darken certain lines in sepia. I’m hoping that once I erase the black ink, the paper will be more free to absorb a different color. Probably not, but in my head it’s a cool idea. We’ll see.


Strathmore Water Color Paper Series 300
Ball point pen, black
Lead pencil, black

Copy of Study of a Mourning Woman from Michelangelo: The Drawings of a Genius


Ooh, this was a doozy of a drawing. I was half way done before I realized I didn’t like what I was doing, so I started again.

I’m learning that I developed a heavy hand from line drawings I’ve done in the past. My hand wants to correct mistakes by going over the mistaken line until it’s so thick it’s brought closer to a better line. It’s a bad habit, which has as much to do with confidence than it does with having enough experience (in one’s mind and in one’s hand) to draw the right line, which — hey — are two things copying line drawings can help you develop.

L’Annonciation (1526), by Albrect Durer, is particularly unforgiving. You can’t get away with thicker lines, because he has such a delicate hand. With every thin line you redraw as a thick line, the picture changes a little, until you have a different style of drawing; and it’s Durer delicate style that makes his drawings so beautiful.

First Attempt:

I started by doing all the easy things, namely the top half and the lines that give perspective.

I did this so that I could build up some confidence for myself. At first glance, this picture looked fairly straight-forward to me, but after taking so many hours on the easy stuff, I realized I’d been hiding from my own feelings of intimidation… There’s so much going on here.

The carbon copy I made was a mess of blurry lines (again). I tried redoing parts of it, section by section, but I wasn’t asking myself what made this a great picture… and when I made the face of the angel kind of gloopy, I had to start over.

Second attempt:

My first attempt helped me slow down and appreciate the details that looked “charming” to me. I would regret ruining these elements, because while these details are a part of a larger story, each can stand on their own as well and look just as charming. (I’m referring to the face of the angel and the face of the girl, the drapery of the clothes ((a) the sleeves of the angel, (b) the sleeve of the girl, (c) the leg of the angel stepping forward, (d) the mid-section of the angel and (e) how the robe follows the posture of the angel), the posture of the angel, the hand of the angel, the lantern hanging from the ceiling, the pitcher and the candlestick on the mantle.)

I used the carbon copy to simply tell me where the details go, and then I worked on one section at a time. For each, I did a new carbon copy, so that what was going on in that section was fresh in my mind and I wasn’t blindly going over lines I’d forgotten. It gets tricky sometimes knowing what the lines are trying to show you when there are so many of them.

Going section by section has its drawbacks. I sometimes didn’t have the tracing paper in line with the rest of the drawing so it’s not a very accurate copy. There are folds missing at the bottom of the angel’s robe and at the shoulder or shoulders of the angel and I started making stuff up while filling in the wings.

I also made the unfortunate mistake of using a ruler when applying the ink to the lines in the top half of the drawing, which made me comfortable enough to move the pen slowly across. I used a very fine gel pen (super fine) but I think I’d applied too much pencil, so the ink had trouble adhering to the paper’s surface. Oftentimes, the ink wouldn’t come out and I would go back and forth until it would issue forth little globs, which dot all the lines in that section. I should’ve known to not use a pencil or a ruler after my first attempt, but, ironically, I didn’t want to risk ruining the picture after successfully drawing the girl and the angel.


I was so tired by the time I’d gotten to the “lesser” elements, that I said, “Hell with the pencil!” … and it was so much easier… and it didn’t feel impulsive. My hands had gotten used to drawing relatively straight lines, and the lines that weren’t straight were so light I could simply make correct lines right over them and simply move on. I see random lines in Durer’s drawing as well. I think he was unafraid of making mistakes and simply drew over the occasional bad line, or he made it apart of the drawing, like making a “happy mistake.”

In Conclusion:

There is a whole genre of visual art that depicts The Annunciation, so what makes this one stand out, if it does? I think it’s the overwhelming amount of details, and in the details there is nice “line flow.” You know when a sports commentator says “nice move” when watching an ice-skater twirl or be graceful in some way? That’s my reaction to so much of the line-work in this drawing. Every section has great lines, or you could simply say Durer had great style.


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

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