Self Portrait Charcoal: #1

I took two weeks off of painting. During that time, I dedicated time to learning a little bit about drawing. I have no desire to specialize in figure drawing, but I do think I can learn a lot about painting by learning how to draw.

There are a few things I learned are important, which I have neglected in painting.

1) Mass – I need to pay closer attention to the mass of the objects I’m painting. In order to convey a sense of place, and depth, I need to focus not only on value structure and atmosphere, but the mass of the objects I’m trying to represent. When I neglect to consider the object’s mass, I end up with flat elements that feel lifeless and plain. Focusing on mass, and trying to better represent the weight an object has will help me make my compositions more interesting, and tell a better story.

2) Shapes: I want to try to reduce the shapes in my compositions to their basic shapes more consistently. Too often I try to either rush through an element, and it appears flat or disproportionate. Or, I spend so much time focused on a small detail that it gains a prominence that I don’t intend to represent, or see in life. By focusing on the shapes, I should be able to improve compositions, and assist my endeavor to better represent the mass of objects in my paintings.

3) Rhythm: I want to work on gesture and Rhythm in my paintings. This is something I have entirely ignored until now because I simply didn’t know it existed. Stan Prokopenko talks a lot about rhythm in his figure drawing videos, and I am inspired every time I watch him lay a confident graceful curve. I want to think more about the energy of an element in a painting in order to capture it better. Maybe a good mindset is to think about painting verbs instead of nouns. I love the way a strong gesture can portray dynamic, graceful power with nothing but a confident, fluid S line.

4) Tonal gradations. Sketching is done a lot like watercolor in that you draw the darks, and add more charcoal in order to create more value contrasts. You can’t draw white in charcoal – unless you get a white pencil I guess. Watercolor works a lot like pencil drawing. I have to preserve the whites of the paper.

5) Top-down: I’m left-handed, so in order to draw this without smudging, I had to start at the top right and work my way diagonally in order to avoid dragging my hand through parts I had already drawn. I would like to do better in this regard with my paintings. Here’s a shot of the drawing half-way through to show what I mean. (Ignore the rag hanging in the top right corner.)

As a sort of “pre test” I decided to draw a self-portrait. I tried to incorporate some of the lessons I learned about Andrew Loomis’s Method for drawing heads, as well as the Reilly Method. I like the Reilly Method, but I did find it difficult to use the Reilly Method in this drawing. I clearly need to learn more about the Method in order to use it well.

I also decided to grade myself by putting the reference photo on the drawing to see where my proportions were wrong. It’s much more obvious how badly out of proportion the neck and hat are. I should maybe do this after I have the first lines in to see how far off I am before I start adding detail.

I also watched and tried to follow along with a lot of the videos by Stan Prokopenko. He really is an incredibly gifted and highly knowledgable artist, and his videos have an approachable pedagogy. If you want to learn more about figure drawing outside of formal classes, I highly recommend Proko. If you like the content he provides for free, he has a pro offering that appears to have a LOT more detail and resources for self study.

Here’s a recent Proko video on self-portraits. The style is different, but I wanted to take his advice to draw what I see before trying to stylize.

Anyway, I tried to focus on a few things here: I tried to carefully honor the values I saw in my self, I tried to accurately capture my likeness with careful attention to proportions. And I tried to draw hair without making “spaghetti hair.”

There are a few things I would like to do better:

1) The lightest darks were too light. There was not enough contrast between the dark side of my face and the light side. Ideally, (As Proko says), “The lightest darks should be darker than the darkest lights.” I decided to go back when I thought I was done to try to fix this. Below you’ll see the drawing before I went back and darkened my darks.

I’m proud of this one, especially considering I have only seriously practiced drawing for two weeks.

2) My neck is about a mile too long. this makes my gesture feel hopeless, and makes me appear skinnier than I really am.

3) My right eye is too big. Way too big.

4) My lower lip is a lot off. The line on that lip makes a sneer I didn’t intend.

Here’s the photo for comparison.

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