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Old 12-18-2008, 10:07 PM   #1
Mara Schasteen Mara Schasteen is offline
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Practice Sketch




I originally posted this idea in the Resource Photo critique section (post entitled "Choosing the best..."). I have completed my practice sketch - on cheap paper and with a less than fancy charcoal pencil. I haven't used charcoal in 15 years. I haven't done my homework. I have no idea what kind of paper to use, or what kind of pencil. My own critique of this piece is that I used the charcoal too harshly and that my shadows and highlights are too evenly dispersed. I do like the drawing itself, except that I notice her left hand is too small. My plan is to go and get some decent paper and re-do this drawing, aiming for a more soft focus, lighter touch with the pencil. Advice welcome!
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Old 12-19-2008, 12:24 AM   #2
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Mara,

I'm a bit rusty on my own drawing skills, but I do think you could try a light toned paper, maybe pale warm grey or beige. Nice paper like this comes in small and large sheets, but I have not seen these colors in pads or books.

Your critique of your own drawing seems to hit most of the important points. The problem of all over spotty shadows and lights might be helped using the toned paper as the light value of the skin. You can put highlights in with white pencil--but sparingly. Watch the right hand, too, as it seems overly delineated or too worked-over so the eye wanders away from her face.
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Old 12-22-2008, 03:50 PM   #3
Patricia Joyce Patricia Joyce is offline
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What helps reduce the spotty shadows is to remember that you are rendering form. Try to see the head as one sphere. Find the shadows and see how you can unify them instead of breaking the shadow as you have done.

Samewith the arm. the arm is a cylinder first, flesh second. Nuances or hills and valleys along the form are secondary to the overal form. Does this make any sense to you?

Good luck, this will be a beautuful piece when it is completed.
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Old 12-22-2008, 04:45 PM   #4
Mara Schasteen Mara Schasteen is offline
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Patricia, Yes! This makes sense to me. Thank you for this very simple advice. I am so glad I read this post before I got started on the final drawing.
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Old 12-22-2008, 07:29 PM   #5
Claudemir Bonfim Claudemir Bonfim is offline
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Mi-teintes paper, compressed charcoal, vine charcoal and charcoal white if you're using a dark toned paper. Use a number 4 and a nuber 10 brush to soften the edges. Stomps must be used carefully or you're gonna mess the drawing up. I also like to dip my brushes into the charcoal powder and spread it on the paper, you should try it on a small piece of paper before you do it on the portrait, you will obtain soft and lost edges and other textures.

Best of luck.
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Old 12-22-2008, 07:30 PM   #6
Claudemir Bonfim Claudemir Bonfim is offline
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Ps. Silicone free hair fixative and kneaded erasers too.
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Old 12-23-2008, 11:36 AM   #7
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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I second the reference to the kneaded eraser. Also, use a sandpaper block to taper your charcoal to a point. Both that point, and the kneaded eraser also rolled down to a point, are useful in getting a more uniform tone and quality laid down on the tooth of the paper.

I'd begin by taking the eraser, fashioning it into a point, and carefully lifting out (dabbing at, not rubbing) the darkest darks in those shadow areas. After just a few dabs (or even one or two), roll another point to continue -- otherwise you'll just be smearing the old charcoal around. Then use the point of the charcoal to fill in between the areas in which the tooth has grabbed the charcoal. Dab and fill, push and pull, to even out your tone and the gradations between value areas, working in small areas with patience, mindful of how each small area fits into the overall value design. It sounds tedious but it provides great control, it comes together quickly and the results are very satisfying, especially on a subject such as this one, where delicate and subtle effects are in order.

Oil from your fingers is always a problem. Wash hands often and try to resist blending with your fingertips. This, admittedly, is advice I am incapable of following sometimes -- but I try to reserve that blending fingertip stroke to a final swoosh or effect, one that I've decided I will accept and not try to amend after I've done it, because laying down charcoal or graphite with the fingers is like adding a kind of fixative at the same time.
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Old 12-24-2008, 02:14 AM   #8
Mara Schasteen Mara Schasteen is offline
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Steven, Claudemir, Patricia and Alexandra,

Thank you, thank you for your critiques and advice for me. While I was working on this final sketch, your words kept running through my mind... don't make the hand too obnoxious, think of the arm as a cylinder first, an arm second, join the shadow areas, use the kneaded eraser, it's going to be tedious...etc. All those bits and pieces of advice have really helped me push beyond where I have gone before with charcoal. I really like my drawing, but I am not loving the photo of it. This photo fails to capture the most subtle, soft places that I like the most.

I would appreciate any further critiques of this piece.
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Old 12-24-2008, 12:40 PM   #9
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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At this point it does become a bit more difficult to critique, because as you've noted, photographing a drawing is a challenge -- values get clumped together, transitions between value areas seem more jarring, and subtle effects are lost.

That said, the photograph can still be instructive. You have to trust your own eye, and not the thrice-removed photo (of the drawing, which is of a photo, which is of the real subject), but if the photo raises a question, it can be useful to answer it.

So these are a few of those sorts of questions:

-- On the shadow side of the hand, the side closest to us, the dark value may be a bit too dark, and the reflected light band below that dark value is probably too light. Putting in reflected light in too light a value is a temptation commonly given in to, but it almost always creates an overmodeled look. The remedy is to squint at the resource for a more accurate reading -- the reflected lights that seem bright when you stare into them pretty much disappear when you squint. The latter is closer to what you want. In this same vein, and since I've just realized there's a reference photo available, I would think about whether the reflected light on the shadow side of the head is a bit too high in value. Same issue, the value of the upper eyelid on the shadow side of the face. Squint at your subject or resource, for a truer reading of the relative values.

-- Until I looked at the reference photo, I thought the line across the wrist was the hem of the sleeve. If you squint at the reference photo, the value of the flesh on the arm and the hand aren't really as different as they appear in the drawing. The bulge of the flesh near where the wrist area touches the lip is perhaps a little too large and too dark. And though it seems that that crease in the flesh goes all the way across the top of the wrist area, the next reference photo you posted in the other thread does show that there's a break in that crease. If you lift out the dark in just a bit of that area and let the light flow across the form, the hand will better connect up with the forearm.

-- The shadow area on the forehead looks much better but might still be improved if the darkest bits of it were lightened, so as to make the value transition as "baby skin smooth" as possible. Just dab lightly at those darkest bits with the point of the kneaded eraser.

-- The spot of reflected light on the surface of the eye on the shadow side of the face is a bit too light. That side of the face is, after all, in shadow, and so that eye isn't receiving the same amount of light as the other. Forcing the brighter reflected "catchlight" into that shadow area is messing with the illusion of form that you're trying to create.

-- The light value on top of the head, on the lighted side with the bow, might profitably be toned down just a bit, at least with a few suggestions of hair.

My point isn't to put a microscope to either the reference or the drawing, but it's tricky to use a written medium to "point" to areas of a visual work. In fact, in keeping with the advice about squinting, the best use of a microscope would be to keep it slightly out of focus. That would prevent that "looking into" value areas too hard and exaggerating them, whether darks or lights.
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Old 12-24-2008, 06:31 PM   #10
Mara Schasteen Mara Schasteen is offline
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Steven, thanks for your thoughtful post. I read it several times before picking up my pencil (or my eraser). Attached is the drawing with the slight tweeks I made in response to your critique. I believe I addressed every point you made, however subtle it was. I hope that the photo of this very delicate drawing will show it off well, but I don't think it really does. I wonder if you'll even be able to see the changes I made....Regardless, the drawing itself has improved. Thank you!
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