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


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