Never Say Never

We have over 7 billion people in this world, and I have honestly never seen a true doppelganger. You know how people compare photos of two or more celebrities and call them “twinsies?” Maybe I’m guilty of confusing one for another in a movie in which only one appears, but looking at photos side by side, you can tell who is who. And let me underscore the fact that it’s a photo comparison and not videos in which you can compare body language, etc.

All this to say… When it’s not the girl, it’s not the girl. In this case, it is not Da Vinci’s Study for the Head of a Girl, c 1483.

I thought it was a simple drawing, so I wanted to aim for the true size, which was maybe fifteen percent bigger than how it is in the book. I want to say that the subtle change in size, as opposed to making it an even 100% bigger, threw me off, but I think it was in how complicated the drawing really is. It’s simple in that there are fewer lines, but it’s complicated in that each line does more work: a small change in a small line, especially those depicting the eyes, can make a big difference and their being “off” that much more noticeable.

Attempt #1

Step 1. I began with a grid.

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I divided a photo copy of the original into ten, horizontally, and then because it wasn’t easy to divide it vertically into ten, I cropped some from the top and bottom before dividing the middle into ten. I then made a similar grid on a slightly larger piece of paper.

I remembered to crop a proportionate amount off the top and bottom before dividing the middle into ten. Each division was now 1.69 cm, which was difficult to draw lines for… but I had to let this go because if I tried to crop more from the top and bottom, to make each division an even 1.5 cm, for example, I would have to adjust the divisions again in the original.

… and grids can only help you so much anyway.

I then did my best in pencil… but looking at it now, I can see the right eye (what the figure would call her left eye) is a bit off.

Step 2. Apply ink.

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I know. It’s bad. She either looks “haunted” or she’d just been in a brawl… and you might not notice but there’s a hole in the right eye.

I realized after applying ink how off it was and tried desperately to fix it. “Fortunately,” I could erase the ink, but only at a cost to the quality of the surface of such delicate paper. Well, it’s not that delicate, but I learned the hard way that I had to be careful with how many times I went over it with ink or pencil.

Attempt #2

Step 1. Make a carbon copy of my first attempt.

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Step 2. Go by eye to clear up the lines.

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I didn’t go further than this, because it didn’t look like her and that blasted right eye… I was already boring a hole into the paper. So I put it away for the day… which then turned into more than a week.

Attempt #3

Step 1. Make a grid.

Step 2. Line up the carbon copy of the first attempt onto the grid. The carbon copy helped me save time on the hair and body, while the grid helped me redraw all the lines for the face.

Step 3. Apply ink.

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It’s better than my first two attempts. However, she doesn’t look quite as “sharp”… and I really can’t explain why. I further divided each square, around the eyes, into eight, vertically and horizontally, and I still couldn’t get it right. I finally relented and erased the grid lines, and then had to go by eye and redraw what the eraser had erased, which made no difference — I’d memorized how to draw her eyes a particular way, including whatever I was doing wrong.

Well. Like the title says, Never say never! I mean, I’ll try again… but not any time soon.

Materials

Lead pencil
Ballpoint pen, black
Laid paper, slightly grey-blue, 90 gsm (I purchased this online but I forget from where.)

Copy of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Study for the Head of a Girl, c 1483, from Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings.

More Da Vinci

Here’s Da Vinci’s Anatomical Study of a Bear’s Foot, circa 1490, which I copied from Frank Zollner’s Leonardo Da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings.

First impressions: Love/awe of the machinations of a bear’s biology. Visual rhythm in the metacarpals allowed to “shine” in simple lines and contrast between dark ink and white highlighting. And the color choice did more for the drawing than a simple black and white drawing — a case of more is more.¬†The brown showcases the blue and contrasts nicely with the white, and vice versa.

These things I tried to transfer over to my copy of the drawing.

Step 1: I created a carbon copy by first tracing directly from the book and then flipping it over and drawing over the lines with a lead pencil.

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Step 2: I went through a process of applying ink and adding highlights.

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But I didn’t like how this turned out, as I got over-zealous with the ink (which I did for Da Vinci’s Study of a Lily as well).

So I tried again.

Step 1: I made a carbon copy.

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Both carbon copies produced very blurry lines, so when the flow of a line was cut off, I had to meticulously find all the pieces making up its “flow” and connect them by eye to make sure it flowed in the same way.

Step 2: I applied ink, but more gently this time, using the pen the way I did the pencil. When I saw the pen as a pen, I was very heavy-handed, and it’s a delicate drawing. So I needed to strike up a balance between the considerations for delicacy of the lines and the intensity of the contrast between the colors.

The first layer of ink was too light, so I carefully added another layer, etc.

Step 3: I tried to give it a little volume. I’m very new to hatching, and it shows, but the white highlights added volume in a really nice way, especially to the toe bones.

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Overall: It’s not exactly to my liking, but I guess that’s where I am as an artist. I couldn’t quite get the volume of the heel the way it was achieved in the original, and although I chose a very light blue laid paper, it wasn’t as blue as the one in the book. On the other hand, while the first copy had better contrast in some places, I like the second copy better for being a more delicate drawing. I think I’m making progress.

Materials

Laid paper, 90 gsm, light blue
Ball point pen, black
Lead pencil, black
Gel pen, sepia (small)

Copy of Anatomical Study of a Bear’s Foot, circa 1490, from Leonardo da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings

Coffee, Tea and Da Vinci

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.

Da Vinci Complete Paintings and DrawingsI 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.

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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?

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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.)

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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.

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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.

Materials

Strathmore Water Color Paper, Series 300
Gel pen, sepia (small)
Tea (wash)
Coffee

Copy of a Study of Lily from Leonardo da Vinci: Complete Paintings and Drawings