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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
This is continued from Study of a Mourning Woman (Part 1). In that post, I made comparisons between my experiences with drawing Durer’s L’Annonciation and this drawing, by Michelangelo. I also made notes on why I think it’s a good picture, which in a word is its presence and which is achieved by creating the illusion of the flow of volume. I liked Durer’s L’Annonciation for how beautifully the lines flowed; likewise, I like this drawing for how beautifully the volume seems to flow. There is a lot going on in Durer’s picture (EG, the angel is in mid-flight), while this drawing is of a woman standing still; and yet, her sheer presence seems to be greater than the whole scene of Durer’s. I can’t add much more, except to continue with the process of finally finishing the drawing.
Step 3 (cont): Continue drawing in the lines, piece by piece.
Note on using “guidelines”
When I say “guidelines,” I am referring to where the illusion of the flow of volume can be seen, which I made a carbon copy of in Step 1. Sometimes there’re hard lines accompanying these illusory lines. Often, however, the illusion of the “lines” you see are created by many minor lines stopping just where the illusory line would intersect. Sometimes the ends of these lines stay straight, so the abrupt end of the black of these lines depict the edge between light and shadow; EG, the lighted areas of the figure’s left sleeve. Often, the ends seem to curve around some bend in the fabric, so that many lines ending or changing one’s flow in such a way depict a space or surface of the fabric which is curving away from view or changing course in some way. EG, the fabric underneath the arm.
There was no use in trying to make a carbon copy of all the fine lines, because I often couldn’t see all of them through the tracing paper. It was also confusing to go by, because I could see many lines but some were darker than others and seemed to connect to lines which they didn’t connect to, etc. It feels like cheating anyway, and so, I relented and had to eyeball the minor lines. Near the end of a day’s work, I would feel lazy and do some guesswork or very close to making things up. This is when I knew I should call it a day. Fortunately, the mistakes I made in these moments of laziness (or exhaustion) could be edited later on.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
I used two different erasers. The first, I believe, was a white, hi-polymer eraser, and it could lighten the darker areas of ink. When this ran out, I began using a pink, paper-mate, which could erase the ink entirely, if I really went at it and the ink hadn’t been absorbed too deeply.
I wouldn’t recommend the pink, paper-mate, because it can tear apart the surface of the paper more easily than the white, hi-polymer. OTOH, I was desperate. I had clocked in so many hours already, and I wanted to like the end result.
With the new eraser, I was able to clean up the face and the knee and random places of her clothing. When you focus on the lines too closely, you can lose a sense for the quality of the depiction of the flow of volume. I did a lot of work in pencil before applying ink, but near the end, I skipping the use of a pencil. Sometimes, this was a mistake, because when you make a mistake in the flow of volume, you make a mistake which involved many minor lines. Fortunately, these mistakes were usually not where the ends of these lines end abruptly, but instead curve and continue on in another direction, so that what the eraser could not erase could be hidden by newer lines. It’s a bit of a blur where the fabric falls underneath the arm.
I had said, in my last post, that I couldn’t enjoy this drawing piece-meal. I’ve changed my mind, and it’s because I can appreciate his use of visual rhythm. EG, where the knee protrudes from underneath the clothing, the lines seem to follow suit, and bend just where the knee bends. We see how the lines follow the shape underneath while maintaining some rhythm as lines.
There’s something hypnotic about repetitive motions/sounds/visual elements. Just listen to the rhythm of music or poetry or look at random fencing that lines a yard or public garden. You feel like there’s something there that can take care of itself so you stop listening or looking so carefully and allow yourself to get carried away.
When you see it in this drawing, it’s the repetition of one nice flowing line after another, so even when you look at it closely, at one line, you can enjoy how nicely that whole space seems to flow.
Step 5: Add “sepia”
I wanted to make the whole drawing the same color as the original. I didn’t have a writing tool which could make the fine lines in that color, so I used a black ball point pen. I then thought I could go over the ball point pen with a gel pen in “sepia” where the lines were thicker. It looked weird.
It looked a little psychedelic, as though the shadows (which were supposed to recede from view) now popped into view. I didn’t panic, though, because maybe if I gave it a wash of tea, the lighter lines would change to the color of the tea.
Step 6: Give it a wash.
Well, they didn’t. The tea didn’t do much at all, so after daubing the drawing dry, I immediately applied a wash of coffee. The color was really nice, but it didn’t make the black ink brown; instead, it enhanced the black and the psychedelic look of the drawing.
The next morning, I could only hope I could edit of of what I’d done, and to my delight, the pink, paper-mate eraser could erase the black lines underneath the brown. The brown lines didn’t budge, but at least they didn’t look so heavy, so the line-work became more subtle again. I did some more editing and trimmed the edges (because I’d applied two coats of coffee wash after the initial coat of tea wash in the span of 15-20 minutes and it was ruining the paper; IE, the wash had seeped underneath the surface and made parts of it blotchy).
I scanned the last picture and, noticing that part of the clothing underneath the arm didn’t flow very well, did some more editing.
The final version is the scan above.
For fun, I also saved a copy of a version that I tweaked using a photo editor.
Hard to find ink that is a true sepia color and not merely brown and harder still to find writing tools in color as fine as the ball point pen I was using. If I did have such a writing tool, my drawing could’ve looked like the image above.
Note on time
It’s been two weeks and two days since my last post, and I can say that I took a small break (life), but even so, I spent three to five hours at a time between photos, and there are 12 photos between the first photo and the one taken after I finished applying the ink. So this itty, bitty drawing (about the size of a sheet of paper) took me 36-60 hours, not including the time I took to give it a wash and do more editing, as well as the time between photo 7 and photo 8 when I lost the use of the camera for two to three days of work.
There was a lot of thinking and staring at the original, and trying to figure out just what I was looking at and how the lines work to create the illusion of the flow of volume. I want to say here, that while editing, I focused on how the flow of volume supports the illusion of some presence of a figure, but I only focused on the flow of volume. I think having the right proportions lends itself to the presence of the figure, for which I used a carbon copy.
Finally, you could say the last bit of work occurs when the picture is actually viewed, when the viewer sees the illusion.
Ball point pen, black
Gel pen, sepia