Assignment 4 Part 3 A portrait or self-portrait combining line and tone

A portrait combining line and tone

The first thing that I did for this part of the assessment, before I did any preliminary sketches or studies, was to draw a head to go with my headless model from the previous exercise. I concentrated on getting this head the right size to match the existing drawing with some notion that I could perhaps join the too together! However I was more careful to get the features in the right position (i am becoming a little unsettled by doing portraits and I find myself getting a little anxious doing them now which tends to tighten my style up). This has led to a more tonal, less dynamic study, one in which I didn’t use the putty-rubber to draw with, rather just to erase with, so the two drawings don’t match in style Any here it is to try to aswage my guilt of not drawing a head before!

Portrait of Owen. Charcoal. A1
Portrait of Owen. Charcoal. A1

I have managed to capture a likeness although i have managed to make him look younger than he is now. This could have been him 20 years ago. The lighting was quite interesting to draw as it was an overhead light coming not quite from directly above. It became very important to put in some subtle tones around the edge of the face to make the form recede down away from the visage. I framed the whole image to give it some structure, but purposefully left the large areas of blank paper around the portrait. I think that it turns the pose into quite a reflective one. One where you may wonder what it is that the model is pondering with his eyes closed but raised up to the skies.

Having done this portrait I turned to the assessment task proper. I wasn’t really sure how I wanted to proceed with this part so I did some quick studies using different media and different methods. I was keen to do something a bit different for the previous studies. First I tried a quick portrait of my eldest son using an ink wash with conte crayon lines added to darken areas and delineate some features.

Portrait. Ink wash
Portrait. Ink wash and conte crayon

Whilst this was a very quick study it wasn’t overly successful. It hasn’t captured the likeness of my son (or rather I see my much younger son in it!). I am aware that my portraits are all from front on views at greater or lesser angles to the paper. This is mostly due to lighting and space constraints when I am working. I have managed to set this up so I had a light coming in from the side, rather than the ubiquitous overhead light. However I am going to have to be a little more inventive to find more interesting poses.

I still don’t feel I am managing to get facial features down on the paper with any accuracy or with any particular reference to the true age of the model. feeling a need to rectify this, I tried to position my husbands features down on paper with a drawing pen whilst he was reading a newspaper (ie still and not looking at me) and block some tones in with hatching and also graphite and water.

Portrait study drawing pen and ink
Portrait study drawing pen and graphite and water.

Apart from messing up the tones with the graphite and water thus making him look like a panda I am more confident that his features are in the right place here and I have managed to portray him in an appropriate age group! Seeing the results of this 5 minute study reminded me of a Marlene Dumas portrait that I had come across during a research exercise ‘Supermodel’ http://www.moma.org/collection/works/101748?locale=en. I thought it would be interesting to see if  could make a similar image of my husbands face. The Dumas image is quite stylised as it has little in the way of the skull beyond the area of the visage. My husband has a very interesting shape to this facial plane so I though it would make an interesting study in the style of Dumas. I drew the features in place with pencil first, then used a mop brush to apply an ink wash (indigo) to the whole area. I then used a damp tissue to remove areas of the ink. I then dropped in indian ink to make the dark areas, again lifting them out to reduce tones where necessary. I went in a bit too dark in the eyebrow region, but got better at it as I worked down the face. Finally I added the neck with one sweep of a broader mop brush.

Portrait in the style of Dumas
Portrait in the style of Dumas

I got Owen to look at me for this exercise but he was at a slight angle hence the asymmetrical jaw line. This asymmetry isn’t really reflected in his eyes or mouth (but is to a degree in the nostrils) giving the head a distorted look. Dumas’ marks are much more fluid than mine. In addition she has put the head at a jaunty angle compared to the neck which adds a certain tension to the image. A straight head and neck is boring in comparison!

In this whole part of the course I haven’t paid much attention to colours, having concentrated mainly on monochrome studies. Working from a photograph of my eldest son I decided to dig out some old oil sticks and try drawing with these on canvas. These are quite chunky sticks and fine marks are not possible, however you can draw with them in a similar way to soft or oil pastels. The only problem being that they don’t dry very quickly!

This study took about 40 mins and was made by just layering and re-layering to adjust colour and form. As the paint got thicker, the surface retained the mark of the stroke. I have tried to use this to describe form, drawing with the oil paint.

Portrait in Oil Sticks
Portrait in Oil Sticks

This is a better likeness than the quick ink wash above. I am pleased how the lines of the paint add to the form of the cheeks in particular. I haven’t quite got all my shading right, the left side of the face is a little too bright I think, making the dark hair seem very flat. I quite like the cropped view this drawing has. Does this count as a drawing or a painting? I am back to that old question again of where is the line drawn between the two (or painted). I used paint (suggesting a painting) but I held the paint in a stick/crayon form and drew lines (suggesting a drawing) onto a canvas (again suggesting painting). I have used colour for tonal variations and you can see the lines of the paint that help produce form, but I am not sure that this counts as combining line and tone in the sense of a drawing. I am coming down of the side that this is a painting after all. One thing that did come out of doing this was that I realised that I needed to sort out a palette if I was going to use colour. I changed my colour scheme at least twice in this portrait, firstly from more blue greens to adding some yellow and purple tonal areas and then some more red tones. The result is quite a busy mess of colour although I have tried to put all the colours in across the drawing/painting to try to tie it together. Not having used colour in a while this was quite an important lesson.

I feel that I have got very bogged down with this assessment and have lost sight of what it is I am actually supposed to be doing. With a deadline looming in just 3 days time, I took my ideas gained from the quick studies above and tried to formulate some kind of a plan. I decided that I wanted to try to use line to produce tone, but to include some colour. I started to think about the ways in which line can be used to create the tone. As I was doing this I was thinking the self-portrait by Mikhail Vrubel who has created a wonderfully dynamic image using different tones of lines to combine tone with line and pictured on my line-tone continuum.

Self portrait by Mikhail Vrubel 1885
Self portrait by Mikhail Vrubel 1885

I decided to try to find a palette of conte crayons that would allow me to use lines of similar thicknesses to create different tonal areas. I chose a series of pinks to work with.

Studies for portrait combining line and tone
Studies for portrait combining line and tone

I am very aware that I needed to find an interesting angle for my portrait. Having got my by now long-suffering husband to again agree, we had the problem of lighting and space to work in. I decided that the best was to do this was to use the bright light coming in from the outside to light up the side of his face. If I could get low enough I could draw a slightly imposing view of him looking down. I couldn’t get low enough and still use an easel so I ended up taking some photographs and used those to produce my drawing.

Portraite. Conte crayon
Portrait. Conte crayon

I have tried to match the lines to the form of the face and use the darker tones for darker areas. I haven’t totally avoided sweeping, curly lines, but I have tried to stick to straight lines throughout. Compositionally I am pleased with the drawing. I have managed to get a view that is quite imposing. By positioning the face to the left and leaving the space to the right there is a sense of the model looking down at the viewer with a slight air of superiority. There is an intimacy about the drawing, the viewer and the model definitely know each other. This is heightened by the fact that I have, as an afterthought, let the model’s hair, which was originally cropped by the framing, extend out over the frame bring the whole body forward into a different plane. I like this effect. As I was quite low down when I took the photograph for this image, the lines of the walls and ceilings are at interesting angles. I have preserved this and have depicted each wall and the ceiling in lines that run in different directions. I hope this has the effect of making the image quite dynamic. Your eyes are caught by the deep black eyes of the model, following he ceiling lines down to the right, pick up the wall lines down to the left then follow the highlights along he side of the face back up to the eyes again.

Assignment 4 Part 3 A portrait or self-portrait combining line and tone

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