Sketchbook: National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery has free drop-in drawing classes on Fridays.  There isn’t much tuition as it is normally quite crowded, but they provide free paper and drawing materials  if you need them.  You get a word or two comment from the tutor.  Of my pencil drawing she said “well he certainly has character”, which I am taking as a positive!  It’s a great experience and good practise.  It’s also interesting to see what other people draw as they have a gallery of all the drawings at the end.

National Portrait Gallery sketchbook
A3 Sketchbook: National Portrait Gallery drawings

I have made a few notes in my sketchbook about where I went wrong with the drawings, but I am basically happy with them.  But it demonstrates how much you have to concentrate on detail to get a likeness.  By the way, if you don’t know about the subject Samuel Romilly you should look him up.  He was a very great man with a sad ending to his life.

Project 6: Exercise 3: Portrait from memory or imagination

I thought I would try one portrait from memory and one from my imagination.  I have done both in my A3 sketchbook.  I used gouache and pencil for both as I discovered that Graham Little uses gouache and pencil so I thought I would have a go.

The first drawing was a bit of a disaster (Fig.1.).

Head 1
Fig. 1: A3 sketchbook:  Disaster in gouache and pencil

I tried to remember the head of a life model I drew about six weeks ago.  I got the eye wrong so many times and couldn’t get it right.  I tried to remove some gouache and nearly went through the paper!  I actually had to cheat and Google a man’s profile so that I could see what was wrong.  And of course, if it’s a full sideways profile the eye has a totally different shape – and not one I had practices in my sketchbook previously.  At the bottom of the drawing is a rough attempt to get it right – or at least better.  I also got nowhere near depicting the likeness of the model – he had a much finer nose – and I have stuck the nose on the end of the face rather than embedding it.

This is the original drawing I did of the model (Fig. 2).

Head 3
Fig. 2. Original pencil drawing

Granted, I took about an hour to complete this as there was lots of measuring and changes.  But you would think that as I had concentrated on this lovely man for so long that I would be able to render something a bit better, even if it is 6 weeks later.  Sigh.  Still, I think this proves there is no substitute for careful observation.

Having said that …  my second drawing is one from imagination (Fig. 3.).

Head 2
Fig. 3. A3 sketchbook:  Alien wedding

I started off with diluted gouache to give main tone to the face, then added pencil lines.  I wanted to leave the right hand-side of the drawing untouched with additional lines (apart from the eye).  I may have gone too far with the “fascinator” effect on the head, but I do like the gouache and pencil effect.  Not at all like Graham Little but worth persisting with I think.  The figure looks a little androgynous too – not sure if its just the lack of hair, the mouth may be a little high (or the nose too long) so it looks like a moustache.

Project 6: The Head: Exercise 1: Facial features

Making a start on facial features.  Mostly from on-line images and magazines, but some artist inspired.  I have tried to use a range of drawing materials as well as different aspects  for the features.  I have started with eyes and mouths.  The rest to follow!

A4 Sketchbook: Eyes

As I sometimes wear glasses myself I am interested in how glasses change the shape of the eye and face beneath the lens.  I am very short-sighted so when I have glasses on they make my eyes look much smaller and also distort the shape of the face.  There is also the reflection in the glasses themselves to contend with.  Reading glasses have the effect of making the eyes look larger.  I have noted the different shaped eyes of different races, and some women emphasise their eyes with make-up and change the shape of their eye-brows.

I have noticed that I need to pay attention to shading on the “white” of the eye in order to make it look round.  The bottom eye on the above page I should acknowledge as an attempt to copy a Ambrose McEvoy self-portrait.  It is beautifully drawn and you really can see the orb of the eye in its socket.  The shading in the original is delicate yet definite.

A4 Sketchbook: Mouths

I particularly like my lipstick mono-print.  Not sure if I could complete a full self-portrait by pressing my full face of make-up on some paper though.  Or might it be worth a try?

Update 20th July:  Noses

A4 Sketchbook: Noses

Update:  23rd July:  Ears

Sketchbook ears

Now for an entire head.

African woman drawing
A3 Sketchbook African Woman

I started this portrait without any firm ideas as I wanted to see where my imagination took me.  Rather than start with a blank piece of paper I covered a page in my A3 sketchbook with soft graphite marks and drew two eyes.

I don’t know what it was about this eyes but I immediately thought “this is a portrait of an African woman”.  So I continued shaping her features, and when it came to her hair I knew she had to have a head scarf/wrap.  I gave her looped earrings which echo the shape of her eyes.  I wanted the emphasis to be her eyes so I didn’t add too much detail to clothes and other features.  I took out some graphite with a putty rubber to indicate highlights and used a purple coloured pencil to pick out some details.

I can see now that it is complete that this is rather stylised.  The eyes and ears are at the right level (the ear was too small at first).  The eyes are probably too large for the face shape I have drawn as they appear too close to the side of the head.  A broader face would work better, and there appears to be no back to her head as she is turned slightly to face the viewer I now can see there probably should be some head shown behind her right ear.  It reminds me more of a mask than a real person, but it was an interesting exercise which didn’t take long to complete.


Project 5: The moving figure: Exercise 2: Groups of figures

For this exercise I decided to draw figures as they walked towards me rather than past me.  I thought this would allow me to capture more of the movement.  I also decided to try blind drawing, only moving my eye back to the paper after completing each figure.

Groups of figures 1
Sketchbook Group of figures

I think this is more successful as the more fluid lines capture the movement better.  Also, the different size of the figures give some depth to the image, and a sense of them moving towards the viewer.  Having some structure of the buildings also adds to the solidity of the sketch.

Desire lines transfers

As well as drawing figures I wanted to try out a techniques I had been introduced to at the Rauschenberg exhibition – transfers.  I looked this up on-line and there are a number of ways of doing this but I decided to try transferring using acetone.

I am interested in maps and how people use them to navigate.  Some people follow prescribed routes, others take short-cuts.  There is a term in town planning called a “desire path” or “desire line” where people deviate from the planned routes and pathways and over time new paths are created from the erosion by foot-fall.  The “desire line” is usually the shortest route between two points.  It can be seen as a metaphor for triumph of the common man/woman over authority.

Starting with two laser prints (open source material) of images of a local map and walking people.


I then combined them by transferring with acetone on to a new sheet of paper and added marks in graphite, fine-liner pen, and eraser.

Desire lines 3
Desire lines. A4. Ink, graphite, fine-liner pen.

I could have thought through the composition more on this, but I mainly wanted to see the effects.  Depending on how much or little acetone you apply, and how heavily you scratch the paper, the images transferred are more or less clear.  I wanted to give the impression of people randomly wandering along, perhaps heading home after work, and taking the shortest route possible through well-established desire lines.  I have contrasted the hard graphic of the map with the softer graphite marks, which I have erased in parts to indicate the eroded paths.

Project 5: The moving figure: Exercise 1: Single moving figure

My first attempt at sketching single moving figures was at Liverpool Street Station.  Perhaps not the easiest start.  I was on the same level, but sat down on a bench.  People were rushing everywhere, all I could aim to do for each figure was to catch a line of an arm or leg or tilt of a head.  I am not sure I have captured movement, I tried to get some striding legs, there weren’t many swinging arms as most people were carrying things, and a great number staring at mobile phone.  This is going to need a lot more practise.

My second attempts were on holidays.  This was much more relaxing as people were walking more slowly and in less of a rush to get places.

I feel here that I have achieved more of a sense of movement as I have captured more of the whole body.  The angles between the legs and the swinging of arms helps with this (though many people had their.

Smartphone zombies

Back to London again and I decided to try a few sketches of individuals walking along with their mobile phones.  I was reminded of this modern phenomenon when at the Giacometti exhibition (notes not blogged yet) and one of his sculptured in which three figures appear to be walking past each other in different directions, without noticing each other.

Single figures 5
Smartphone zombies

These aren’t particularly good drawings but the idea of people weaving around each other without looking could provide an interesting idea for a drawing.

I was reminded of some of Julian Opie’s paintings of people walking around in the rain.  The main subject of interest, apart from the figures, is the umbrellas but I note that some of his figures are also using mobile phones.  This image is from a flyer for a 2015 exhibition at the Alan Cristea Gallery and features Opie’s Walking in the Rain, London, 2015.  I admire the simplicity of line in Opie’s drawings, which make them graphic in quality, yet they clearly spell out people moving about in a busy, wet city.  It’s the gait of the legs mainly, but also how the figures are transitioning across the frame of the paintings.  You just know they are part of a long stream of people moving back and forth.

Julian Opie
Julian Opie. Walking in the Rain, London, 2015. Alan Cristea Gallery flyer.

Project 4: Structure: Exercise 1: The structure of the human body

I have started a new sketchbook for this exercise.  I am hoping that Leonardo Da Vinci will inspire me.  I have found Life Drawing Class by Diana Constance invaluable for my learning on life drawing and many pages in this sketchbook draw on the book’s contents.

sketchbook cover

Most of my commentary is written in the sketchbook but I may add some further reflection in my blog as I add pages.

Body 1Body 2Body 3Body 4

More to add as I complete more drawings in sketchbook.

Additions 2nd July 2017.

Leg and arms bones.

Leg and arm bones
Leg and arms bones

My hand.

My hand
My hand

Quite a few discoveries looking at my hand.  First, I have so many lines and marks on my hand – the few scribbles I have added don’t do them justice.  Second – I have discovered a new bone in my thumb!  Daft I know, but I didn’t know how long the thumb really is if you count its length from the third joint which comes nearly to the wrist.  Knuckles are hard to draw.  Interesting exercise.  Who knows what I will discover when I draw my feet.

Update 19th July 2017:  My feet

I decided to try a different drawing approach for my feet.  I started by incising the outline of my feet (taken from a photograph) in my sketchbook and then drawing over with the broad edge of a graphite stick so that the incised outline could be seen (Fig. 1.)

Feet 1
Sketchbook Feet 1.

Then I worked into this with hard and soft graphite pencils and a putty and hard rubber, and added some Tombow pen for the stool (which was probably a mistake) (Fig. 2.)

Feet 2
Sketchbook Feet 2.

The graphite, smoothed out and left rough, allowed me to capture the different tones and textures of the feet.  I am not sure about the incised line though as it looks a little artificial – I could go over it with a fine pencil I guess, but I am going to leave it as it is for now as a reminder of my technique.

Research Point:  Look for historic and contemporary artists whose work involves the underlying structure of the body.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 -1519) is an obvious place to start when looking at artists who strove to understand the structure of the human body.  Such was his passion to learn more about the structure of the human body he dissected corpses to make anatomical drawings which he used as a basis for his developed works.  (Honour, 2009:467).  His accurate drawings were unprecedented and he is said to have discovered things about human anatomy which were not independently researched until long after his death (Popham, 1973: 60).  He used this exploration to underpin many of his drawings and paintings, although he was also interested in proportions and composition (and many other things!).

An admirer of Michelangelo and Durer, William Blake’s drawings and illustrations often featured the “stripped” appearance of musculature and sinew.  Although, as Blake was most keen to portray meaning through his work, it seems to me that his attention to physiological accuracy was nowhere near to that of da Vinci, and that a great deal of “artistic license” was used.

Laura Ferguson says she aims to draw herself “from the inside out”.  She has visited medical schools to draw bodies from “life”, and her work shows how intricate and beautiful the internal structure of the body and its organs can be.  I must admit that I do wonder, however, about the ethics of letting an artist look (and even at one point dissect) cadavers if it isn’t for the furtherance of medical science.  I just hope that permission has been obtained from relatives of the deceased or those donating their bodies to science.  Source:  website:  Laura Ferguson:  The consciousness of the body.




Sketchbook: Backgrounds and portraits

Practising backgrounds, acrylic this time, and some techniques for portraits in A3 sketchbook.  I can’t spell acrylic.

Sketchbook portraits
A3 Sketchbook Black. Page 24.

The eyes are probably too close together on two of them (top left/bottom left).

In the Max Beckmann influenced drawing (top right) the eyes are probably too far apart, but I don’t think Beckman was a stickler for accuracy over expression.  I like the dry brush acrylic in burnt umber, it makes it look a little like it’s painted on a wood surface.

Bottom right was based on a Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) Self-portrait 1942.  I haven’t quite caught her look which is more scary in the original.  Queer British Art 1861 – 1967, in which Gluck’s work appears, is an exhibition I want to visit at Tate Britain.

Sketchbook: Movement

In preparation for Exercise 4 Energy I practised some mark-making and ideas in my sketchbook.

Sketchbook Page 21
Sketchbook A3 Page 21 Movement
Sketchbook page 22
Sketchbook A3 Page 22 Movement

I have been reading some research on how we perceive placement of a figure on the page.  I have hinted on this in the sketchbook but I will write up more fully when I have finished reading.

Sketchbook page 23
Sketchbook A3 Page 23 Movement Duchamp and Rodin

I took inspiration from Marcel Duchamp (Nude Descending) and Auguste Rodin (Cambodian dancer in profile) for page 23 of my sketchbook.  I tried to emulate the Rodin drawing in watercolour and pencil.  I was worried that the pencil wouldn’t work well on damp paper but it was fine.  I used watercolour paper so it was sturdy enough when damp.

The Rodin drawing has achieved a sense of lively movement through the fluid medium used and the loose but accurate way the body is described.  I like the way the background adds to the sense of movement too.  My figure is a little too stiff but it is a method I am now keen to try for a life drawing.

Duchamp’s method of depicting movement was to duplicate the figure in a series to show changes in level (walking down a stairs) and forward movement.  I tried to attempt to roughly copy this by a printing method.  I had a glass plate with some grey watercolour paint on which I wetted and drew into with a cloth (Fig. 1.)

Duchamp plate
Fig. 1. Glass, watercolour A4.

I liked the outcome which I think did convey a sense of movement.  I then decided to try a mono-print from this.  The problem was that the watercolour had dried and I know that if I tried to wet it I would  lose the marks.  So I tried to apply wetted rice paper to the plate.  And that was not at all successful.  It just turned out a muddy mess.  However, I was glad a took a photo of the plate with marks on it, which I guess was a temporary drawing (remember those in Part One?) and I have put the photo in my sketchbook.



Sketchbook: Diebenkorn meets Rivers

I have borrowed a book of Richard Diebenkorn’s drawings from the wonderful Morley College Library.   The book presents a number of studies Diebenkorn made of nudes, portraits and still lifes while he was artist-in-residence at Stanford University 1963-64.

I love these works seeming simplicity and the way that they cut to the essence of what he is drawing.  Some are un-self-consciously scribbly: yet confident and deliberate.   I was interested to read in the introduction that, influenced early on by Still, Rothko and de Kooning, “he developed rapidly from geometric abstraction to a freer abstract-expressionist style” until around 1955/6 when he “turned to figure, landscape and still life.”  This was “sufficiently contrary to the supposed main direction of modern art to cause surprise.”  (Lorenz Eitner, March 1965)

I have started life drawing classes and one of the things I have been unsure of is what size paper I should use.  Its very prosaic I know, but particularly with quick sketches I am often flustered with changing large sheets of paper and trying to keep up with things, which makes me stressed.  So I am interested to read that Diebenkorn’s studies reproduced in this book are mostly 12.5 x 17 inches (so a little larger than A3).  For my next class I am going to try an A3 sketchbook so I can flicks though the pages when I am using dray drawing materials.

This book also helpfully lists the range of drawing materials used for each study, variously: pen; pencil; ink wash and conte crayon; graphite; pen and wash; wash; ball point pen; wax crayon; pencil and wash.  This serves to remind me that I need to experiment with a range of media with my life drawings.

I have also been reading about Larry Rivers’ experimentation with “tracings and accidents “Tracings and Accidents” (Kaupelis 1980: 95) and the use of coloured carbon paper placed between two sheets of paper to produce unexpected results.  I managed to get some dressmakers’ carbon paper which comes in red, yellow, black and white and did some experimenting in my sketchbook based on one of Richard Diebenkorn’s studies (Fig. 1.)

Sketchbook Diebenkorn
Fig. 1. Black Sketchbook A3. Page 20.

Using carbon paper (coloured or not) has potential for adding an interesting layer to drawings.  I also played around with drawing while parts of the paper were masked off with masking tape, but I need to think that through more.

Larry Rivers is worth looking at further too.  According to the Guardian obituary “his closest [English] contemporary stylistically was Peter Blake.  Which reminds me, there is an exhibition Be Magnificent:  Walthamstow School of Art 1957-1967 at the William Morris Gallery opening soon that I want to see.




Part 4: Sketchbook

Still clinging on to Part 3 with a line and wash sketch and a mono-print of trees.

Also foraying into life drawing by looking at my very old book The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci by A. E. Popham, which provides much inspiration and also technical detail of anatomy.  I have attempted a few copies of figures in stick and ink.  I must pay more attention to the direction of limbs so that I get centre of balance right.

Trees and Leonardo
Indoors Black A3 sketchbook