Michelangelo (Copy of a portrait)

I found a good picture of Michelangelo online, and assigned myself the task of copying it to a sketchbook. I’d copied pictures before but I’d cheated by using grids (or other means). This was my first time I’d copied something with such intricate line work by eye.

There are a couple of things that helped me along the way.

1) General rules for proportions of the face. EG, you can divide the face into equal thirds between the hairline and bottom of the nose and chin. You might notice some lingering guidelines in the first picture.

2) The face is seen at a 3/4 view and on a slight tilt, so I made a guideline that followed the contour of the eyes to get the relative height of the eyes and drew everything else by using my best judgment.

3) I had been thinking of following lines so much that it felt like too much of a challenge to gauge the relative placement of the lines. For this drawing, I learned to think of the face as a three dimensional object and to gauge the relative placement of pieces of the face. EG, I had seen the temples as two curves in an outline, like the face was two dimensional, but here I saw the temples as pieces that sat at the upper right and upper left of the eyes.

I was tempted to leave it at that… but what was so appealing about the original picture was its line work

So to get the courage to begin, I allowed myself to draw the way I felt most comfortable drawing, by shading and with a pencil. I then went over it with a colored pencil so I wouldn’t have to worry about rubbing the lines away and to minimize second-guessing myself. I then took a deep breath and started applying ink… which was fine until I got to the creases of his eyes, which is when I took the fourth picture. I was filled with regret and thought that I should’ve stuck with the pencil… and glued some paper over my “mistakes” to go over it with pencil again.

I waited a day and after looking at it again I realized this was stupid and scratched off as much of the glued pieces of paper as I could… which muted the harshness of the lines but still allowed something to show through what was left of the paper and glue.

Not my proudest moment. But I felt inclined to add more ink over other features… then eventually went back to the eyes because there was a level of anguish expressed in the pencil that I had erased or which was overwhelmed by the intensity of the ink.

I realized that once you have ink the pencil can’t compete. You have to fully commit to ink and use colored pencil to supplement the ink.

Or I want to say I could fully commit… but I didn’t have the nerve.

Instead I focused on the jacket. There was some very obvious “moves,” like hashing in opposing angles. Similar to something Michelangelo did in his drawings was branching off of opposing lines, so the lines didn’t appear out of no where. I didn’t see this in the collar and so I didn’t try doing this in my own drawing, and I think it made the collar in my own drawing more two dimensional. I notice now, in the original, that at the bend in the collar there is a corresponding branching off of opposing lines; IE, the horizontal lines dip just where the vertical lines dip as each follows its own contours.

I know, it’s a far cry from the original (below). But there was a lot to learn here.

I wish I knew who to credit for the original. If you know, please comment below and I’ll add an attribute.

Copying Li Xue Ming (Part II)

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming b 082419

This is Part II of Copying Li Xue Ming. In the video, I’ve chosen a portion of a painting by the artist to sketch. It’s the same painting as the one in Part I, but I focus on the cave, as opposed to the figure inside. I begin by commenting on the work as a whole and then talk through (often rambling, sorry) what I’m thinking while responding to the work with a brush.

It’s fairly long (30:06), and I start sketching (after a trial run) at 6:25 or so.



Copying Li Xue Ming (Part I)

Li Xue MingI recently moved, and out of the 437 that I own, this is one of the few books I could bring with me. I bought it at a brick and mortar store in China Town in San Francisco a few years ago.

I was having fun exploring the area, so discovering the artist, Li Xue Ming, may seem a little random.

I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, so to speak (IE, just one of those days when you want to discover something that sparks joy in your life), and hitting two birds (or if you want two bottles or two inanimate objects) with one stone, it also gave me a chance to think about how to develop my own style of line by looking at somebody else’s.

This video is of me preparing and using Chinese ink the old-fashioned way while sketching a figure inside one of his paintings.

I’m also preparing Part II, where I give a response to the work and sketch what surrounds the figure.

Gaa Wai Copy of Li Xue Ming 082419

Dessin puriste (1925)

This is another response to an individual work, a copy of which can be found in Krauss’ book, The Picasso Papers.

Before I get to this, though, let me offer some quick notes to the essay, “The Circulation of Signs.” Krauss brought up an interesting issue in the introductory essay, while discussing Picasso’s work in general: if the meaning expressed in a given work which is abstract is self-referential, the meaning can be without value. (Please see All signs lead to Picasso.) Because this is in the introductory essay, I thought she would spend the length of the book addressing its main concern. She does somewhat, and I’ve included what I found useful in my post, Violin (1912); however, she spends most of her time discussing how several different works refer to ongoing political concerns during the time that the works were created. (So the works refer to issues that lie beyond the work, and issues very specific to a time and place, and thus, they are not self-referential.)

I am a little disappointed. To address the issue in her introductory essay, I can again only offer my own opinion, and that is that if a given work has good form, it has something of value. OTOH, art is inherently a social medium; IE, it is made with an audience in mind. It doesn’t have to be political, but the more it comments/engages with issues that lie beyond the work, the more it engages with its audience on a level that is beyond form itself.

Okay, moving onto the work I am responding to. I thought it was by Picasso but it’s  actually by Amedee Ozenfant. It can be found in the section entitled Picasso-Pistache.

Krauss goes on at length about how Picasso was criticized for creating pastiches of works/styles which were created/used by his contemporaries. I have not finished the essay, so I can only say that thus far she offers two responses: one which is critical and one which seems to justify what Picasso did by saying that he took the style of a given artist and then did more.

Today, we seem to allow this but call it “appropriating” the style of another artist while “making it one’s own.”


Ozenfant’s Dessin puriste (1925) may seem to look like a pastiche of Picasso’s work in that it is a flat representation of the objects, and the contour of one object may share the same lines of the contour of another object. But Ozenfant does something that does not make me think of Picasso, and that is how the picture is scored horizontally and vertically by how the contours of certain objects run along what would be one of two grids, one which divides the picture into thirds and the other into quarters. This does not happen with all the lines, but it happens so often that it looks intentional. It creates some interesting visual rhythm which is not very obvious.

What it fails to do which Picasso does so well in his cubist work is create tension between the flatness of the work and the illusion of dimension. This is because there are no vanishing points. You can compare this to Landscape with Posters (1912), which has multiple vanishing points. It is only flat and thus less engaging.


I tried to do this by eye, but eventually I had to use a grid, because so much of what is effective of this drawing depends on how well certain lines match up with other lines.



When I was done with the pencil version, I simply added ink using a ball-point pen.


I only wanted to make sure I had smooth lines (so I compulsively went over the lines until they “flowed” well). However, looking at the finished version, I think the variation of thicknesses in the lines creates some illusion of depth and thus creates some tension between the illusion of depth and the flatness of the drawing.

In short, it doesn’t look as flat as the original, which I guess is neither better nor worse, as the effectiveness of the original was achieved, in part, by its flatness. Either way, it was interesting to see the drawing move in another direction by merely changing the quality of line.