So we have a really neat resource on campus, called the Orma J. Smith Museum of Natural History. It’s right here on campus at the College of Idaho, under the math and science building, Boone. It has a lot of fine specimens available to study. I’ve visited this museum a few times with art classes, and used the museum’s displays for sketching practice and inspiration.
On my most recent visit I was charged with creating a portrait composition, inspired by things on display. I ended up settling on a sketch of our model sitting in front of a stuffed and mounted zebra bust. Later, when I went to pursue the project further, I ended up blocking out the values of the stripes and the shadows on the model’s face, comic style. As I was doing so, I was inspired to combine the stripes of the zebra with the hair of the model. I flushed out the idea with water-soluble pencils. It took me about three days to finish the very tedious piece, but I very much like it. The most difficult part for me, aside from the stripes, was deciding how to capture the value of the model’s face. I felt like the face needed three values – white, gray, and dark gray – but I was limiting myself to only two. It was challenging for me to ignore the mid-tones. I don’t think it’s my usual style, though the illusionistic morphing of the model and the zebra reminded me of my figure drawing final project.
It’s the end of week two of our month long winter term. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s wearing on me. I used to say “I could do art all day long!” or “I wish art was the only class I had.” I still love art, I truly do, but having art classes for six hours a day is beginning to try my patience. It becomes physically exhausting, being hunched over a drawing board, fingers tightly gripped around a small pencil, eyes straining to see details. When I’m not drawing I’m making jewelry, and my finger tips are covered in tiny nicks and cuts from the sharp ends of cut wire.
But all griping aside, I feel that I’m making a lot of progress in both classes, especially so in the portraits. I’ve been practicing drawing the features for most of my homework assignments (in a sketch book), and I can see evidence of this practice showing up in my live-model class drawings. The features are looking more realistic, and I’m getting a little bit closer to making my pictures accurately resemble the models.
Since this homework has been helping me a lot, and it’s fun to watch my progression, I thought I’d share some of my practice in my sketchbook. Keep in mind that I do better at replicating portraits from 2D photos than I do with real models. Some of the drawings are studies of David Cobley’s paintings, and were assigned by my professor.
As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, I’m taking Drawing the Portrait as one of my winter term classes. I have the class four hours a day, four days a week, for four weeks. 😛 That’s a lot of fours. But numbers aside, I’m really enjoying the class, though the long hours can be trying sometimes. I’m seeing a lot of progress in my work, but I still need to work a lot on proportions and achieving a likeness. This past week we focused on the skull, started drawing from a model, worked in charcoal and conte crayon, drew using tonal values, and ended with ink wash and gouache. I thought I’d share some of my pieces, both practice and more finished studies.
Although I wasn’t excited to go back to school so soon, I’m looking forward to my portrait drawing class. This week we’re focusing on drawing the skull, with some three-dimensional practice using clay.
Today started International Week off at C of I, beginning with a soccer tournament, a sidewalk chalk competition, and a fair. As an act of support for my friend who organized the sidewalk art festival, as well as general interest, I joined the competition! I worked for about two and a half hours in spectacular weather! It couldn’t have been better. In fact, it was so sunny I got a sunburn. (Unfortunately it later began to sprinkle a little bit in the evening hours.)
I joined several other students in creating fantastic chalk creations either for the competition or just for fun. You could compete individually or in teams, with categories including original piece, reproduction of a masterwork, or famous characters. One student did a lovely Van Gogh reproduction. Another created an original, a massive globe observed by spectral eyes, with white feathers gently falling down.
I chose to do a Barn Owl. I began with the intent to make it very realistic, but when faced with mostly bright and colorful chalks, I changed my tune. I’m really glad I did. Instead I created an owl of a spectrum of colors, inspiring the title Aurora Borea-owl-is. I worked mostly with white and blue tones, but there are yellow, magenta, violet, teal, pink, and terra cotta tones mixed in. The final product really has a fantastic energy to it that reinforces the chalk medium.
I was also pleasantly surprised by an unexpected degree of depth. I made the feet a bit larger than I intended, but it makes the drawing pop forward, like the owl really is swooping talons-first toward you. It’s certainly not the 3D chalk art of some experts, but it has a nice illusionistic feel to it. It was also fun to walk around the piece and experience the distortion from different angles. Depending on where you stood, it felt like one wing or the other was closer to you.
I’m sad to acknowledge that these wonderful sidewalk art pieces won’t last. They face a multisided threat of rain, student feet and nearby sprinklers for the grass. I guess it’s part of the medium you have to accept and come to terms with. At least they will live on in my photos.
I thought I’d post the final symbol portrait, in case anyone wanted to see it. Sorry about the general lack of posts. At this point in my life academics comes first, so I haven’t had the time to produce quality posts.
A portrait made out of symbols varying in size, shape, and proximity to create value scale.
I struggled the most with the eyes. I always struggle with eyes. It’s hard to make sure they are level (or in this case on a correct angle). It’s also difficult to make sure the eyes (especially the pupils!) are pointing in the same direction. Since the eyes are gently downcast and not fully open, I struggled to shape the lids properly. The eyelashes also bring in further difficulty in this picture because they curl above the lids in some places while moving down and obscuring the eyes in other places. The right eye (viewer’s right) is slightly smaller, but it appeared that way in the photograph. Nevertheless, I don’t think I curved the lower lid correctly to match that of the left eye. I always spend a great deal of time on the eyes in portraits, for they humanize the image with the spark of life. We also automatically look into the eyes, making them a prime region of focus. If you get it wrong – even the slightest bit – it becomes terribly obvious. Eyes also vary greatly from person to person, and getting the eyes right is critical to capturing the personality of the subject, rendering them recognizable.
Other areas I struggled with were the nose and the cranial shape. In the initial drawing I struggled to shape the nostrils properly, but eventually got it down. Modeling with value helped a lot for it transformed the flat image into a three-dimensional object. As for the cranial shape, I’m still not sure about the forehead and back of the skull. I felt like the forehead of the original sketch was too shallow, so I lengthened it, but I’m not sure if I overdid it, or if it’s still too short. I’m also not sure if the back of the skull does not project out enough. It’s difficult to tell with the angle of face.
We’ll critique our portraits in class on Tuesday, so maybe I’ll recognize others strengths and weaknesses then and be able to better address my concerns.
For my Intro to Design class we’ve moved on to value, the relative lightness (black/white) of a color. Our current assignment is to draw a portrait in grayscale, using various symbols to create value. The strength, size, and proximity of the symbols control what value the end result is.
See how the symbols such as asterisks, smiley faces, dollar signs, swirls, Xs and Os determine the value of their respective sections? Up close we see them as individual pieces, but from afar we see the total image.