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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Portrait de femme, buste

I’d discovered Albrecht Durer in an old book, Dessins et Peintures des Maitres Anciens,while browsing a used bookstore in Tucson. With the exception of the first few pages, it’s comprised entirely of lithograph prints and each page is printed on only one side. They’re almost daring you to take the book apart and decorate your walls with its contents… but of course, I’m not tempted. I’m satisfied with simply leaving a book open on a given print for a few days, so that when I walk past it, I can be in the presence of something quite wonderful a few moments at a time.

I immediately fell in love with the “Lievre” or “Young Hare,” along with a number of other prints. So now, while on a mission to learn from as many great works as I can, I thought of this book. Initially, I was feeling ambitious, because I assumed it wouldn’t be that difficult, but then, looking at the lithographs I coveted, which were the ones more intricately designed, I could see that maybe I should begin with a test run, and so here it is.

Portrait de femme, buste

Step 1: I made a carbon copy. I traced the image onto tracing paper with a pencil and then went over it with a pen before erasing the pencil. I then applied graphite to the other side. Replacing the pencil of the initial trace with pen is an extra step, but it’s less messy as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Step 2: I rubbed the side with the graphite onto some drawing paper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As you can see, the lines are kind of blurry, so I “smoothed” them over with a pencil, keeping in mind the flow of the lines, as well as how the eyes made the girl look kind of pretty or — I’m trying to think of something more specific — kind… maybe?

Step 3: I applied ink.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think I did a decent job smoothing over the eyes in pencil, so I waited until I applied ink before taking the next picture. Sadly, I applied ink a little too heavily, so the eyes look gloopy. I couldn’t believe it. I waited a day or so before starting again.

Steps 1 and 2 and some of 3: I made a carbon copy, applied the graphite to drawing paper and revised the image with a pencil, and began to apply ink.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Graphite can be very messy and was distorting my view of the lines, so I quickly smoothed over and applied ink to the lines of the bodice before doing the same to the lines of the head.

Step 3: I finnished applying ink and then added highlights, using a white pastel pencil, to give more volume.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a prettiness to the subject, which is what I liked about the lithograph, which I couldn’t quite capture in my own copy. I drew and erased the eyes over and over again, before I gave up and applied the ink. I credit sheer muscle memory for getting the lines more or less “correct” with very little fuss, which made for more delicate lines. And yet, there’s still something missing. They are supposed to be “kind” eyes, and I made her frown a little in both my copies.

In Conclusion:

I thought making a copy of a lithograph print would be straightforward. If shadow and volume are all expressed using lines, then such a simple drawing should be simple to copy, line for line. But there is a problem, in producing portraits in general, as a person’s face often expresses complex emotions.

The more complex the emotion, the more intriguing it is — it makes me wonder what the subject is thinking.

I’m not sure which is more difficult: capturing the complexity of facial expression with more detail or less — with the subtle gradations of color, using watercolor or oils, or with a dash of a line using ink.  Making a copy of a seemingly simple drawing helps me appreciate the latter.

Materials

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

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