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.

Salvaging Old Drawings: Fire Balloons

 

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Figure 5c

Like the initial drawing for Solar Flare, the figure above is an old drawing which I want to make use of. I’ve been thinking of creating layers and using sketches as elements in a larger story.

In my sketchbook, the figure fills the page, but it’s like the detail of a larger image. You get a character and not a full vignette, much less a full story.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Oracle.JPG

The challenge of creating a story for the element goes hand in hand with the challenge of making the new drawing look like everything in it was meant for one drawing. I was looking for something simple and which the figure could naturally support. I randomly thought of fire balloons.

I prepared the paper with tea and created my first layer, which were lines depicting clouds, in the style of old Chinese paintings and painted with coffee.

I then made a carbon copy of the figure with the idea that it would act as a double image: an oracle and a fire balloon on fire.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, sketch (1).JPG

Midway, I thought of titles, but I may have gotten ahead of myself or ahead of the drawing. I thought of “Oracle on fire and there are people watching,” and I let the words guide me, because I couldn’t think of how to complete the drawing and sketched in silhouettes of people on the bottom.

I put it away for a couple of days and when I was ready to paint, I realized it was too much or it felt contrived or it didn’t seem like the drawing was developing organically in that way. (I can’t quite articulate the problem, but people on the bottom was not the right choice.)

So I replaced them with a close up of one of the balloons, which gave me an opportunity to have two elements interact.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons

I knew, even while painting it, there were too many colors or it’s not a unified color scheme, and I definitely need to spend some time developing basic skills in watercolor. However, having completed the drawing, I could look at it critically. I could also look back at the process, which has revealed to me a few things.

Elements

New elements, like the wisps of smoke near the figure’s head and the fire/smoke in the balloon at the forefront of the picture look pretty and I’m already using them effectively as elements in this drawing, so I know I can use them again in other drawings.

They’re simple and can be used as building blocks, unlike the oracle, which seems too complex to use again in the same drawing without it looking like wallpaper or contrived in some way.

Line

In the original drawing, the lines in the bodice of the figure feel like lines from another drawing, so it looks confused.

However, if the bodice is really a balloon and the smoother lines are really fire and smoke, there would naturally be tension between the two elements, and using different lines for each can be seen as supporting this tension.

Story

It’s in the context of the story that this can work. It makes use of the structures that are already there and helps explain them.

There’s also the theme of Man vs Nature, and thus the oracle. Fire balloons are sent to float up into the heavens with the hope of granting wishes, while an oracle is burning. Or is the message too didactic?

The oracle having a girl’s face seems a little too explicit. Maybe I should focus more on the fire and less on the oracle… but the face is what’s pretty about the oracle. … Maybe it’s the hair, which looks too much like hair. Yes.

I’d forgotten the initial drawing had the face as the centerpiece and everything flowed from the figure of the girl, so it looked too much like a girl. It demands your attention and competes with the fire balloon as the center of everything, when it’s not anymore.

Color

I originally had the figure in red, but decided midway that it would be difficult to use it and have an overall unified color scheme, so I added blue to make it purple.

I’m not very good with colors, and it’s something I need to work on in terms of finding what I like. You have to like what you draw in order to gauge whether or not it’s getting better or worse each time you edit the piece.

I tend to approach my work with the idea that Less is More, and for this drawing, as with many others, I want to show off the line. I tend to use the variety of colors (if there is a variety) to help me do this.

Like Flowers II, each color can help a viewer keep an eye on an element while it interacts with another element.

The elements for this drawing are Fire (bodice of the oracle, bottom fire balloon), smoke, fire balloon (intact), fire balloon (not intact) and Oracle. (Some parts double as parts of two elements.)

Technique

Layering two colors of ink looks really cool.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1 sketch

So I decided to limit the colors to red and black (Fire vs Smoke vs Fire Balloon) The smoke and fire balloon will both be in varying hues of gray, which suggests the fire balloons, even the ones intact, are floating up like the smoke; they are both the color of ash.

This makes room for the color of the clouds, which are painted with coffee.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1, sketch 2

I had considered not having clouds and actually freaked out a little when I added them midway, because they seemed to be overwhelming the figure, but after applying ink to the bottom fire balloon, it all balanced out again. One of those things you don’t know until you try.

Because they are in a different color and are a different style of line, they do not readily interact with the figure and fire balloons, and therefore add another layer or the illusion of depth. They also make the transparency of the ink more noticeable, which underscores the idea of the fire balloons being beautiful and fragile, which creates tension with their being dangerous and their power to wreak havoc on the environment when their thin shells inevitably burn and start fires elsewhere.

WIP

I still have to finish the larger balloon and add and color in a few smaller balloons but the overall idea is there.

 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III B)

In my last post, I said I felt “primed to make a mistake.” It was because, for this drawing to work, I would need to follow the rules of perspective, of which I have had very little practice.

Well, this drawing was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (2)

 

First, I made a couple of studies… and made some obvious mistakes.

 

I really like the outlines and want them to shine. I need to support them, the way merely coloring them in with watercolor did not. While looking to Michelangelo’s  Study of a Mourning Woman, however, I got carried away with the details. Or I thought only of light and shadow, and it was the wrong approach, and it became a mess.

I had to decide on how the lines could work for my flowers. In what way would they serve a realistic depiction of flowers and in what way would they be for effect?

My flowers were abstract from the beginning, and their outlines didn’t justify that much detail. I decided to borrow just one move from Study of a Mourning Woman — using multiple lines to emphasize the direction of each petal.

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (1)

I drew guidelines, the kind you use to draw a person’s face, to have an idea where the middle of each petal is, the direction it’s going in, and where there will be a curve that travels perpendiccular to its given direction. The curves will have their own path which needs to be consistent, so when a line crosses the path of a given curve, it will curve at the right moment.

 

flowers ii, edit i, wilted study (3)

It was all trial and error. I used a pencil to put down tentative lines which I had to edit by simply asking myself, “Does this look right?” I didn’t draw a single petal the way I wanted to at the first go. But that’s okay. Like I said, it was very good practice.

flowers ii, edit i 012119

It helped me appreciate how multiple lines can be more substantial in doing what a single line can do — express movement and even feeling. Giving each petal a direction was like giving each a personality, and in this way, it went beyond style.

Flowers II, Edit I  012119, detail (1).JPG

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (2)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (3)

flowers ii, edit i 012119, detail (4)

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part III)

Whenever I get “blocked” (think “writer’s block” but for artists), it’s psychological. I mean it’s not because I’ve inexplicably run out of ideas. It’s usually something else entirely. I’m distracted or… well, it’s usually because I’m distracted, but for a variety of reasons.

Maybe I was looking at Michelangelo too much… but I kept getting the feeling that I was primed to make a mistake, and I just didn’t want to botch something that could look so awesome. Which is absurd at my age… to buckle under some imaginary pressure to do well.

Or the pressure was real but not because of the work itself. It was pressure from just wanting to do it well. Have you ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn, when Holly Golightly starts going on about the “mean reds?” I can’t say it was as dramatic as that, but I was responding to something outside of what I was working on and the work is what suffered.

Not sure where this falls under the bell curve… but I’m better now. I put it aside for Christmas and New Year’s… and on… and then said, f*** it, and started going at it again.

I decided to keep doing what I had already been doing, which I had told myself not to do for fear of making the drawing look too simple. To my surprise, it does not look too simple.

Moreover, while seeing something that works take shape, I began to see the why’s and how’s behind how it works.

VS Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman (SOMW)

 

I had done a few studies with the ambition of making my flowers look as cool as SOMW.  I tried to apply the technique, above, and although I succeeded with the petal that points towards the left (fourth flower, below), I can’t say the same for the petals that are vertical.  Only when I reverted back to doing what I did for the first set of flowers (the drooping ones), did I realize the ambition to look like SOMW was a major part of what “blocked” me.

 

Michelangelo was probably looking at a real live woman, so his ambition was to draw her realistically. On the other hand, it’s not perfectly realistic; IE, there are some “short cuts” or places that don’t require as much detail because other places deserve more attention. These “short cuts” are abstractions  and involve choices having to do with style.

Choosing the balance between realism and abstraction can be a very conscious choice (especially if you’re like me and over-analyze everything).

My Flowers (1) are a product of my imagination and (2) I began with outlines, so my end goal must be an abstraction or much more of one than SOMW. To finish Flowers, I had to decide on the style of lines and follow through with that style. I had to decide on “doing more of the same,” regardless of my fears of ending up with a “simple drawing.”

Flowers II 011319.JPG

People believe SOMW was an early drawing of Michelangelo’s. He was doing what many others were already doing. He just did it extremely well. He had good lines and kept them evenly spaced apart, which yielded great visual rhythm.

My Flowers also rely heavily on visual rhythm. The technique is simple, but it relies on me doing it well. It’s a matter of having good eyes and good hands. and has manifested, thus far, from what was already there, organically.

 

To be continued… 

Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part II)

When I got the idea of filling the flowers in with hashes, I was probably thinking of Michelangelo’s Study of a Mourning Woman. I’d made a copy of it in 2017, and one of the most important lessons I learned, while making copies in general, is that you have to know what you’re looking at.

Study of a Woman in Mouring, scan

When I tried doing the line-work for my flowers, I realized I didn’t have a clear idea of what they looked like if they had volume. It’s tricky because they’re imaginary. I have the freedom to make them look however I want to but it also has to make sense. I mean it can be easy to miss when my mind cheats and makes the contours move a certain way because the lines that represent them look prettier that way.  When adding hashes, it became more obvious that the flowers in my had couldn’t actually work that way… or something interesting must be happening to explain the shape of the outlines.

Maybe it’s the weather… but my head turned to pudding… or as the cliche goes, the work wasn’t “speaking” to me… For some guidance (and maybe some ideas), I took another look at how Michelangelo represented the Mourning Woman.

There are some moves that are very familiar because we see them everywhere in illustrations and cartoons. I imagine many of us used these moves as children when drawing rudimentary representations of household objects, clothes or even people.

Above, I’m looking at the edge of the sleeve, where there’s more light and no shadow between the threads. In real life, we don’t see the total absence of shadows but we do see a contrast, and that’s what this move creates for us. To apply this move ourselves, we need to know where the lines are between light and shadow, while remembering that each line follows a given contour which coincides with some perspective.

Same goes for the depiction of the edge of a fold. The lines, above, follow the contours of the lines or threads which follow the curve of the fabric, and where the lines end creates the path of another line, the path on which the light follows.

Below, the move is a little more sophisticated, and it’s something I hadn’t noticed before. As with the other moves, there are multiple contour lines which individually move in a curve, while the place of each curve varies along a path of a second curve moving in another direction, but the second curve isn’t represented by the lines ending. The lines continue, so the flow of contours continue in both directions.

And finally, below, I’m looking at the straight lines which are more for effect than posterity. It underscores the direction of the hand, which counters the downward direction of the bottom of the dress. It also adds a stiffness or a stillness to the area, which contrasts with the folds and fluidity of other areas. I borrowed this move for some of my flowers.

My flowers are represented in three stages of maturity: before they open, their being newly opened and their wilting. I borrowed the straight lines for the flowers which are not yet opened.

First, I made a carbon copy of just those flowers and then experimented on them. I began with the bottom right flower and tried using straight lines, just as it’s done in Study of a Mourning Woman. This didn’t work, because having lines calls attention to where you don’t have lines, especially where the lines end. It makes it look like there’s a lot of light in the middle of each pedal. It also makes it more childlike and playful and too much like it’s an abstraction. In a Study of a Woman in Mourning, it was for effect, and I realized that’s not what I’m doing here. So I extended the lines in the flower at the bottom left. The lines follow the contours of the flower so they curve in places but they also maintain the freshness of new flowers as their curves are minimal and there are no signs of aging (or softening and eventually wilting).

Looking at the whole picture, I noticed I may have a problem with how this flower overlaps with an opened flower. Would it be too many lines?

I added to the carbon copy and experimented with those two flowers, and yay, there aren’t too many lines. But in the original, the colors of one object change when overlapping with another, I thought maybe I could make every other line blue where the flowers overlap with the vase, so I tried it… and no, it just doesn’t seem necessary, and if it’s not necessary, it’s too much. Also, using the same move on the opened flower made it look a little too stiff.

Here’s Flowers II again.

Flowers II 120418.JPG

And here’s a close-up of where I made changes.

Flowers II 120418, detail

To be continued…

 

Vendors

Salvaging some old work. I drew “Vendor” in 2009 and applied ink in 2010. I kept making the lines thicker and thicker, because I couldn’t get the outside edges smooth enough . I think I botched the lower left-hand corner too, so I cut it off and glued another piece of drawing paper to the back of it, to make it a whole rectangle again. (So desperate was I to make it work.)

Well, after eight relatively uneventful years, i decided to try again. I made a carbon copy in pencil, applied ink, and then added another figure to balance out the composition.

Vendors 110418

I was tempted to use circle stencils to make perfect circles for the heads, but they looked a little too perfect.

I used a ruler for the straight lines and the circle stencils to make partial circles until I completed the head, shoulder and… pop-belly (?) of the top most figure, but I had to go by eye for the heads of the other figures. I kept making the “lines” thicker and thicker again, but I didn’t get heavy handed (yay!), which I did for the original.

… and that’s it.

Happy holidays, everyone 🙂

Materials

Drawing paper (Strathmore 400)

Bic fine gel pen

Don

Trees Don 101818

Here’s another version of Don. Getting better acquainted with applying ink onto paper. Very flexible medium. Training myself to be as gentle as I can be… like a whisper of dandelion blowing through the wind… sigh… Or like a machine set at a certain height above the surface. Any random shake or spasm in the hand and you have to do another layer of ink to make up the difference in how dark one line is compared to all others.

Sigh.

For a discussion about Don and previous versions, please see Trees and More Trees.

Materials

Ink (Blic fine gel pen)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

 

 

More Trees

 

You could say this past week has been a lesson in the value of knowing my materials before committing to them. As you can see, the ink on the version on the left leaked out of the lines after I applied a wash (Lipton tea), so I redrew it.

This is Lenny, by the way. Between the two versions, above, the line work and where I applied the ink is a little different but… it’s still Lenny… or Lenny 2.

Trees Lenny 101518To the left is Lenny 3 or Lenny 2 with a wash. I applied the wash seven times, so I could see the difference between using the tea for George (seven washes of Best Tea, a Taiwanese brand) and Lipton. If not for this little experiment, I would’ve stopped at four or five washes, because at six, the lower left hand corner started getting splotchy; as in, the tea started to stain the inside fibers and made it darker than the rest of the surface.

On the far left is George and in the middle is Lenny 3. On the far right is a close up of the lower left-hand corner of Lenny 3. I guess I could just trim the edges, but… there’re also the tea streaks. I don’t know if you can see them. They’re finally beginning to fade after the seventh wash. This happened with Val and Don (below) as well, and all after the first wash. No additional streaks stained the paper after any additional washes were applied. I’m guessing that after the first wash, the fibers have been saturated… ?

Sigh. Knowing how to apply a smooth wash seems basic, but it’s proving more tricky than I thought it would be.

Trees Val 100618Well, moving on. To the left, we have Val. She is also a brand new tree.  (Yay!) For the ink, I went back to a fine gel pen, which I also used on George. It does not leak, but applying it can wear down one’s hands because the ink doesn’t come out as readily as from the other pen. Time flies by once I get going, even when my hands are sore. I have to remind myself to take breaks and to not apply so much pressure. Moreover, lighter and more abundant lines will yield a smoother finish.

Trees Don 101218To the right is Don (who first appeared with other trees in the previous post). He and Val have similar proportions, but Don has bigger moves. He’s also bigger in size. He is 12 3/4″ x 13″ and Val is 9 3/4″ x 11.”

I knew the ink would leak before applying the wash, but I wanted to see how it would turn out. The verdict? Not as well as it did for Lenny. I can pass off the leaks in Lenny 3 as Lenny being in the rain or fog or being a willow tree, but I can’t make those excuses for Don, because (a) he doesn’t have as much detail and (b) he didn’t have as much of the water soluble ink (as I’d used a Sharpie to fill in the larger areas), so, as a result, the leaks occurred more sporadically and did not do enough to create patterns or develop into a language of its own.

Overall, I think the trees do pretty well as smaller drawings. Lenny is, by the way, 8 3/4″ x 10″ … give or take a couple millimeters.

Materials:

Lenny 1 (with leaks): Bic fine gel pen (for outline), Pilot “Precise V5” rolling ball, extra fine (for larger areas), Lipton tea (applied as a wash x4).

Lenny 2 (without leaks): Bic fine gel pen. No wash.

Lenny 3 (without leaks): Same as Lenny 2 plus Lipton tea (x7)

Don (with leaks): Same as Lenny 1 (but Lipton tea was applied five times) plus a black Sharpie.

Val: Same as Lenny 2 plus Lipton tea (x7).

 

Trees

Meet Simon. He’s one of a handful of trees I drew this week.

Initially, I only wanted to draw something in ink and then add a tea wash. In other drawings, the tea wash made the ink brighter, like it was glowing. I wanted to see if I could do it again.

After applying ink, I wasn’t very happy with Simon. The trunk was too thin. The branches seemed too safe, in that they stayed away from each other; there was no interaction. And then, the black of the trunk just stopped at the circle, so that the circle seemed to be doing something I didn’t intend for it to do.**

I immediately drew another tree on another, larger surface. Even while drawing Simon, I was getting ambitious… and a little side-tracked.

Trees

The first tree, George, is on the bottom-left. Frank, who I drew on a separate sheet of paper before transferring him to the same surface as George, is on the upper-right. And Don is in the middle. There is a balance I need to find between the trees, which I haven’t yet, so this is as far as I’ve gotten.

Trees Simon 092918

I’m thinking of putting leaves over parts of George, because he has a little too much detail, and I like the bigger moves of Frank and Don; there are fewer lines and you get more cohesiveness. It’s a case of “less is more.”

(The first drawing of Frank is to the right and, below, there are now four trees, but it looks a little crowded.) Trees b

I’ve also transferred George onto a smaller surface and have gone back to my original idea of making a simple ink drawing with a tea wash.

I added some line work to the trunk, to break it up a little, which developed into another motif and its interaction with the branches. So there are the following interactions: the line work (branches vs. trunk, branch vs branch, line of trunk vs. line of trunk), the color distribution of the branches vs the color distribution of the trunk and, overall, the path of the black spaces vs that of the white.

Trees George 093018 d

This is George with about seven washes of tea. I somehow made the wash for the other drawings much darker, a golden brown, but I also made them splotchy. I had to stop adding more washes to George because the bottom edge seemed to be getting darker than the rest of the surface, meaning it was starting to seep into the inside fibers and is on the brink of getting splotchy.

Trees George 093018 d (2)

Here’s George next to a clean surface. It’s about a shade darker.

I got a clean, even wash (finally) by swiping my brush once across the very top edge and working my way down. With each swipe, I cleared the excess tea while applying more. Lines appear when you let the edge of a new wash dry in the middle of the surface, or when you use something to blot out the wash. This sounds obvious… but it took me a while.

** I have since decided that Simon is simply Simon… and I shouldn’t be so judgy. I have also realized that I’ve subconsciously made circles a default motif; if I can’t think of anything to interact with a given motif, like trees, I’ll add circles to represent, in this case, sun light or the circles you might see from staring at the sun directly. It feels very natural, but I’m weary of getting lazy.

Moreover, I don’t think I would be so conscious of this and any decisions regarding circle motifs if it weren’t for this blog… so that’s interesting.

Materials:

Ink (fine gel pen, black)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Tea (as a wash)