Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Value of Values

This week I began to add white chalk to my cast drawing. I've decided I absolutely love working on toned paper, because it really allows for a look of softness that can be difficult to achieve when working on white paper. 
The focal lesson of this project is how to work with Values. Simply defined, a Value is a degree of brightness or darkness. A form is made up of many values, brighter ones on planes that catch the light, and darker ones of planes which turn away from the direction of the light. 
Here is an example of a value-scale. It is helpful to make a scale like this before starting a drawing, to see how light and dark you can get with the particular medium you are using. When drawn seamlessly, a range of values give the illusion of form.
 When one sets out to do a drawing, they must organize their range of tone (light to darkness) based on the value of the paper and on the degree of darkness attainable with their pencil or charcoal. Rarely is it possible to achieve the level of darkness or brightness one observes in nature; but to achieve a look of form, the artist doesn't have to replicate the precise shade of tone seen in the model; all that is necessary is to maintain the correct relationships between the values you have at hand.
When working on white paper, the brightest parts of the subject are assigned to the tone of the paper; but when working on toned paper, as I am with this cast drawing, the value of the paper is assigned to what is called the halftones: the intermediary tone-value which is found somewhere between the shadow shapes and the light forms.
The goal of my Cast drawing, with the added challenge of working on a mid-tone paper, is to learn how to organize the values in my mind and apply them with the proper relationships. If done correctly, I should be able to finish the drawing without mixing white-chalk and charcoal together, by using the tone of the paper as a halftone to bridge the lights and darks.
I am adding white chalk to set the value scale, then cautiously modeling it to achieve form, still adjusting shapes as I go.
This week I also began another school project, a portrait. Here is the block-in:
 I am very happy with the model for this portrait. She is a sweet Italian girl with luminous eyes, and is an excellent, tranquil, sitter. This is definitely the kind of work I live for; after staring at a plaster cast all week it is so wonderful to work with a living, breathing person and try to capture that sense of life.

Unfortunately, I did not get much work done on my long-pose figure drawing, as I had to spend two mornings at the immigration office for my Permesso di Soggiorno; however, here are two more sketches I did during evening figure-drawing sessions:

  Once again, when doing these small unfinished sketches, the importance of line quality becomes increasingly evident. In a quick drawing, there is no time to add the varying degrees of value that I am carefully studying in Cast drawing; the next best way to describe form, then, is by utilizing different levels of softness and sharpness on the edges, as this conveys the type of plane-change on the form.

Italian word of the day: Tonalità, "tone, shade"

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Block-in and Coffee-Break

After opening school with a week of small drawing studies, I am now ready to begin working on my main projects. As mentioned in the last post, I will have two main projects to complete this trimester: one, a large, fully-rendered figure-drawing; the other, a cast drawing. Both will be done in the medium of charcoal and white chalk on toned paper.
Cast Drawing:
In the beginning stages, drawings look somewhat geometrical and blocky. This stage is appropriately called the “block-in”, because it entails breaking the subject down into its most basic shape and capturing only the major angles, which are connected by straight lines.
Personally, I like to think of the block-in as a carving block, which I will later cut into to sculpt the smaller forms. The goal here is to capture the overall size and general shape of the subject, providing a good foundation for the details that will come in more advances stages.
I’m beginning to wrap my mind around how Florence Academy’s approach to drawing differs from the method I have used it the past; When I approach a drawing, I usually tackle the shapes, then determine the values of light and darkness, then render the forms and edges. Florence Academy’s method is different in that it seems to simultaneously keep all three concepts in mind throughout the development of the drawing, merely keeping everything at a consistent level of simplicity.
For example, the lines in the cast drawing, (just as with the previous figure drawings,) already consider the edge quality – something I have in the past saved for the end. The instructor calls this the “language of the lines”, because the breadth of line provides a visual description of the type of form I am trying portray.

Here's the progress of my Cast this week:

The next step will be adding white chalk and then modeling the forms, continuing to adjust shapes and add details as I go.

Figure Long Pose:
This week was also the beginning of the long pose drawing. To study the pose, the students were encouraged to first do small pencil drawings. This is extremely helpful to do before working on the large drawing, because it helps one become familiar with the pose and know what challenges to look out for.
The greatest challenge is learning to deal with the changes of the model; as the model tries to hold his position, over time he begins to unconsciously shift and alter the pose; the task of the artist is being aware these changes, knowing which areas affect each other and why, and selecting elements of the pose to draw which are consistent with each other. 

One of my pencil drawing studies of the long pose
From my reference point, the greatest trouble is the severity of the model’s lean. Over time, he leans on his standing leg more and more, creating a more inclined angle and changing the slant of his hips; this is turn affects the overlap of the bent leg over the standing led. Sometimes, as in the case of the shoulder and left side of the torso, this means parts of his arm and upper body that were previously obstructed become visible.
By taking the time to do these small pencil drawings, I have pinpointed these trouble-areas and learned to understand how they relate to each other. For the final drawing, I will have to choose the pose I like best, then make sure these elements are consistent with that choice and – the hardest part – look natural.

The block-in of my long-pose drawing, and another small pencil drawing beside it
Well, that was a lot of information to absorb in a week, so now I’m relaxing with a nice cappuccino :)

Ciao for now!

Italian word for the day: Construire, “to build, to construct”.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The First Week

This week was the start of school at Florence Academy. If I were to describe the schedule in one word, it would be “rigorous”! The days are long and the workload heavy, but it is wonderful to be able to devote so much time doing what I love best.

The beginning of the day is made up of figure drawing; every morning we spend four hours working on a small pencil drawing based on a different pose each day. Four hours may sound like a lot of time to spend on one drawing, but for a realist artist, it’s actually rather short. A finished, fully-rendered drawing can actually take weeks, and so it can be a challenge to capture the desired amount of visual information within this smaller time-frame.

Here you can see some of the four-hour figure drawings I have done; because they are unfinished, they still look somewhat geometrical, and there is little form, only flat shadow shapes: 
Day One

Day two: the foreshortening of the limbs from the seated pose made it extra tricky!

Day three: I feel like this was a real turning point, even in just that short amount of time. The instructor, whose rough sketch is beside my drawing, pointed out how I was limiting myself to only one breadth of line, thus making my drawing feel too mechanical. She suggested I use various qualities of line to describe how the light was affecting the specific area, (lighter, sharper lines in the light, darker, softer lines in areas in shadow.) The difference between this and my first drawing is especially evident; the result of paying attention to line quality is a much more organic description of the figure, giving it a feeling of more life. 
Day four (there aren't five drawings because the first day I had orientation)
Next week we are to embark on long-pose drawing, a large, finished drawing to be completed over a course of four weeks.

After lunch, I spend the second half of the day working on my cast drawing; Cast Drawing is a drawing of a cast of a sculpture, usually done in charcoal. I selected the mask of Saint Theresa from Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. This is one of my favorite sculptures of all time, right up there with Michelangelo’s Pieta, so I could not resist making a cast drawing of it. Below you can see the original sculpture:
Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, by Bernini
Detail: This is the original sculpture of the face I will be drawing. I love how the highly polished marble allows for very soft, smooth forms, which will be a beautiful challenge to capture in chalk and charcoal.
 Before I begin, however, I am working on a value-study, a small version of the cast which captures only the basic values and shapes:
This tiny drawing represents the simplified values of the light's affect on the cast.

 This is not the final drawing, but a very small study for the larger, finished drawing. The goal of this exercise was not so much to capture an accurate likeness of the cast as it was a study of the varying degrees of light and shadow that will be used in the final drawing.

And there’s my first week at school. Next week I begin working on the major projects, a finished figure drawing and the cast drawing.

That’s all for now, Ciao!

Italian word of the day: Studiare; to study, as the first week has been spent mostly making studies to prepare for the greater projects to come in the following weeks.