So it begins.
I’ve spent a good amount of time measuring. I suppose there could be artists out there who can get a likeness by just putting pencil to paper and drawing what they see – no mistakes. For the rest of us, if you want the drawing to look like your subject, you need to do some measurements and comparisons.
A. I start by taking a string, tying a washer to it, letting it hang down, then holding it up so that the string passes right through the middle of my subject. I draw (lightly) that straight line through the middle of my drawing. In this case. I wanted that straight line to pass through the bridge of the nose.
B. I then draw a line to mark the bottom of the chin and the top of the head. In this case, his head goes off the page, so I only put a mark for the bottom of the chin.
C. The next line I make is the angle that goes from the middle of the chin to the middle of the top of his head. To do this, I take a knitting needle and I line it up from the middle of the chin to the middle of the forehead. I bring the knitting needle (keeping the tilt of the angle) over to my paper and lightly draw that line/angle.
D. I also get angles for the left side of the face and the right side (E).
F. A helpful angle is from the chin, up along the right side of the nose. In this case that showed me where the top of the right ear should meet the head. It may not always be that way, but it was for this instance. I also got an angle from the chin , up along the left side of the nose and that gave me where the left ear meets the head.
G. I measured how far it was from his chin to the bridge of his nose. It’s the same as the distance from the bridge of the nose to the top of the head (H).
I. I got the angle of the eyes. I had to take this measurement a dozen times, because once I drew the eyes, I couldn’t believe them. I think his left eye is a smidge lower than the right. I kept measuring and I have it right, but just couldn’t believe it.
J. Other measurements I took were where the left edge of the mouth ends compared to the eye. Same with the right side of the mouth (K). I just kept finding angles and measurements so that I would get all of his features placed correctly.
The point of that very first line I drew (using the string) gives me something to compare everything else against. When I’m drawing the nose or an eye or the side of the face, I can look at the distance between what I’m drawing and that perpendicular line.
It’s a good idea to NOT draw on a flat surface. If your subject is perpendicular, your paper should be as near to perpendicular as you can make it (on an easel or propped up a bit). When the subject is perpendicular, but your paper is on a flat surface, you get foreshortening where you don’t really want it. To explain foreshortening, hold a pencil or a ruler (some long object) so that you’re looking down the length of it. Notice how the end closest to your eye seems large and the end farthest away seems small. When you draw on a flat surface, one end of your paper is farther away from you and your eye will play a sort of trick on your mind. It’ll convince your mind that the farther end of the paper is small, so your mind will kick in and compensate for it, making the part of the drawing at that end larger.
What you see above a simple line or contour drawing. Perhaps the word edge would be better – an edge drawing. You can see many of the angles that I drew. I used a number 2H pencil, which creates a very light line. It’s easy to erase, which a good thing. I did a lot of erasing. The drawing is looking a little like Brooke, but it’ll be the shadows that will really make the difference.
Taking all of those measurements and finding the angles seems like a lot of work, but I want to have confidence in my drawing. The drawing is the skeleton of the the finished work. Even if I were going to do a very loose or abstract rendition of Brooke, I would want to start with a good drawing. Until recently, I dreaded this first stage. I labored over the drawing for hours, days, even weeks. I was over-confident and would just jump in and begin drawings. The face would be too narrow, the eyes too big, the head tilted wrong. There were a plethora of little things that wouldn’t be right. I’d erase and redraw the eyes, widen the face – all sorts of corrections. Even when I’d finally finish the drawing I would have the suspicion that it wasn’t quite right. Eventually no amount of corrections would fix the problem.
When I read Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier by Juliette Aristides, the pre-drawing work increased, but the overall time decreased. I found that I no longer dreaded dragging myself up to the studio to work on a sketch. I’d found a tried and true method to get the best start possible. Earlier this morning I was out on the porch with the dogs and I wanted them to hurry so I could get up to the studio and continue my work. That, my friends, is a wonderful feeling. It was a long time coming.
The next step is to gently erase the measuring lines and begin modeling. There are no real lines in nature – just edges, where one surface ends and another begins. Modeling is the process of using shadow and value to get rid of the lines, as much as possible, and give the subject a three dimensional look and feel.