Category Archives: Figurative

Many of the pieces listed here are full on live figure studies. Others are pieces of deconstructed realism based on a photograph. Relative to the live studies, in 2011 I was lucky enough to find a regular figure drawing session in the studio of a local artist in Bruges, Belgium. Bruno cranks up the jazz and off we go with short or long poses. The four minute poses are great for capturing the gesture quickly and decisively; the fifteen minute poses allow for more refinement. The photo-based studies shown here are alternate ways to explore the human figure.

Fifteen minute study. Conté crayon tightened with pastel on tinted Canson paper. 32 x 50 cm.

Figure Drawing, August 22, 2022

Three minute gesture study. Charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Three minute gesture study. Charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute study. Conté crayon tightened with pastel on tinted Canson paper. 32 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute study. Conté crayon tightened with pastel on tinted Canson paper. 32 x 50 cm.

Last night I was happy to see our beautiful young man there again. He has slowly become more relaxed and creative as he learns the posing ropes. Nice. But indeed it was to be his last evening modeling for us, as the summer winds down and soon he will be off to school. But I did discover his name, Kobe, like the Lakers’ famous basketball player. Ha!

Additionally, I had also heard that last night was going to be our last evening at the kasteel (!) but in fact, that’s next week. 😦 Turns out, is was only a summer lease as there is no heating in the place and barely enough electricity for some spot lights, so we will have to go elsewhere. Apparently a new location has already been found – and with a year’s lease. Though sessions will not begin again until the end of October. OK.

Fifteen minute study. Conté crayon tightened with pastel on tinted Canson paper. 32 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute study. Conté crayon tightened with pastel on tinted Canson paper. 32 x 50 cm.

Three minute gesture study. Charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Three minute gesture study. Charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Back to tonight. It was one of those evenings where for some reason it took me awhile to warm up. The first half did not yield any keepers but the second half did. I had purchased some new Canson paper in a grey-brown hue which I was eager to try out. The two fifteen minute studies displayed here are from that batch. Since it is a lighter tonality than the sepia I have been using, I can see that in the future I will want to leave enough time to zap in some shadow accents, too. As it is, I feel these two displayed here are quite successful though a little too light overall in tonality.

As the evening progressed I found myself repeating an artist’s mantra that a friend of mine who studied at the Ecole de Beaux Arts back in the seventies once shared with me:

  • mise en page (placement on the page)
  • circulation de la lumèire (circulation of the light)
  • ne tombe pas dans les détailes (don’t fall into the details)

The first one is appropriate for any two dimensional drawing (like the three minute gestures) but the second two are especially useful for the fuller development of any drawing (for example, the fifteen minute poses included here). Also, you do not need to restrict yourself to figurative work to apply these rules. They apply to abstraction and can help you to evaluate why a good abstract piece actually works – when it does. And, as I think about it, I would add a fourth: the appeal of texture. En français: l’attrait textuel?

Conté crayon on Canson tinted paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Figure Drawing, August 8, 2022

Conté crayon on Canson pastel paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute study. Conté crayon on Canson pastel paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Conté crayon on Canson tinted paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute study. Conté crayon on Canson tinted paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Tonight we had another new model. New to us but also new to being a model for figure drawing. So, besides setting the length of the poses, Patrick, our new co-ordinator, does not tell the models what to do. (Bruno our last maître didn’t either) It’s always best to let the model sit, stand or lay in ways that are comfortable to them. Then we figure out how to make that interesting.

 

All that being said, there are models who intuitively understand what makes for a good pose. In that context, our new guy seemed to possess a comfortable bodily solidity so that the poses he took, though extremely simple and without any contrapasto or inner movement, were quite interesting to draw. That was my experience at least. These are a few fifteen minute studies as well as some three minute gesture drawings.

Three minute sketch, charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Three minute sketch, charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Three minute sketch, charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Three minute sketch, charcoal on tinted sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute pose.Conté crayon tighten with pastel on toned Canson pastel paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Figure Drawing August 1, 2022

Fifteen minute pose.Conté crayon highlighted with pastel on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute pose. Conté crayon highlighted with pastel on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute pose. Conté crayon highlighted with pastel on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute pose. Conté crayon highlighted with pastel on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm.

We were so lucky to have the same model again tonight.  I smiled to see him and could observe over the course of the evening that he was a little more relaxed this time. He even brought his girlfriend and the two of them modelled together during the second half.

All that being the case (the first half or the second) I did not feel that I had a very successful catch for the night. The double session drawings did not play out for me. (Both were very sweet but unsure how to make such a venture interesting for us to draw.)

Three minute pose. Charcoal on toned sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Three minute pose. Charcoal on toned sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Displayed here then are a few that made the grade.

Fifteen minute figure study. Conte crayon highlighted with patel chalk on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm

Figure Drawing July 25, 2022

Fifteen minute figure study. Conte crayon highlighted with patel chalk on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute figure study. Conte crayon highlighted with patel chalk on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm

A new model tonight. A classically beautiful young man. Strong, healthy. He reminded me of a young puppy that is now growing/becoming a big dog. So his head, hands and feet were slightly larger proportionally than the rest of his body. At maybe 17 years old, he appears to be on the cusp of catching up. A wonder to behold. Shy, actually tense: this was his first time.

Fifteen minute figure study. charcoal highlighted with pastel chalk on sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Fifteen minute figure study. charcoal highlighted with pastel chalk on sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

I really enjoyed drawing him though, allowing even his tension to reflect through. As it turned out, I think the fifteen minute studies were the more successful. This is because a three minute pose is all about gesture. And it took him awhile to get gestural, to relax. With one exception, his short poses were not very interesting (to me). I had difficulty getting a quick read. But the longer ones allowed time for roving and searching and because he had such a solid figure there was plenty of material to feel my way through.

Fifteen minute figure study. Conte crayon highlighted with patel chalk on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm

Fifteen minute figure study. Conte crayon highlighted with patel chalk on Canson paper. 30 x 50 cm

Three minute gesture study. Charcoal on sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

Three minute gesture study. Charcoal on sketching paper. 35 x 50 cm.

A few fifteen minute studies. and one three minute gesture.

Conté crayon on pastel paper.

Figure Drawing, July 18, 2022

15 minute pose. Charcoal on toned sketching paper.

15 minute pose. Charcoal on toned sketching paper.

Rear entrance to Kasteel Rooigem in Sint Andries, Belgium

Rear entrance to Kasteel Rooigem in Sint Andries, Belgium

After a very long hiatus (2.5 years!) the open studio figure drawing sessions here in Bruges have finally resumed. Hooray!!! During this interim, while the pandemic raged, Bruno Van Dyck, our resident artist-host, moved to a new studio in an old castle. Thanks to him, we now have a lovely setting for drawing in an outbuilding of the (former) Bishop’s Palace, on the outskirts of town. A great setting: some clouds do have a silver lining.

3 minute pose. Charcoal on toned sketching paper.

3 minute pose. Charcoal on toned sketching paper.

15 minute pose. Conté crayon on toned Canson paper.

15 minute pose. Conté crayon on toned Canson paper.

So the place is new but the crew and the set-up is not. Bruno too, has passed the baton to a new “master of ceremonies”, who now collects our coins and instead of delicious jazz or fantastic guitar licks plays Piaf and French chansons. For a Belgian castle it all seems quite appropriate. Maybe next week we’ll get Jacques Brel? As the session began I wondered how rusty I would feel but as it turned out, there were a few keepers for the night. Included here are a few – plus the castle’s back door entrance.

 

silverpoint composite underdrawing

Silverpoint Composite

silverpoint composite underdrawing

Composite silverpoint underdrawing, silverpoint on pastel ground over tinted acrylic gesso on HDF. Final size: 106.5 x 168 cm or 42″ x 66″

It’s taken me approximately one year to complete this series of sixty four panels. Not that it should have taken all that time – it’s just that life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. However, all sixty panels are now completed such that the composite image can be assembled. And here it is. The final size is approximately 3 1/2 feet x 5 1/2 feet. So, almost life size.

I love the soft daguerrotype atmosphere that the silver creates. Also, how the somewhat fuzzy, sandpaper-like pastel ground that I applied over the tinted (acrylic) gesso panels adds to that softness. Drawing in silverpoint necessarily means a compressed value range, which in this case, I was able to increase through the addition of white highlights.

Silverpoint assemblage along the way.

Silverpoint assemblage along the way.

As I have insisted all along though, my aesthetic intention for these panels is that they serve as an underdrawing for the final painting – yet to come. Now, due to a number of technical considerations, I will need to perform a few experiments before I apply further layers of paint, fixative and/or varnish – not necessarily in that order. Thankfully, the University of Delaware hosts a forum, consisting of professional artists, expert conservators and product creators who freely offer sound, technical advice to geeky and experimental artists like myself. What a gift! Here’s the link for anyone who may be interested. So, though it may take awhile I truly hope I will be able to post the final outcome sometime in the (relatively) near future. Stay tuned. 😉

 

#13 Silverpoint on tinted panel, highlighted with titanium white.

Silverpoint underdrawings, batch #4

Perhaps because I haven’t posted in awhile, a number of friends have asked recently if I am still working on my silverpoint drawings. The answer is emphatically: “Yes!”. Since I’ve had a few other projects on my plate, I just haven’t done a post. So here is batch #4.

Actually, I am coming down the home stretch of these sixty four (underdrawing) panels (there are still twelve left to do). Each is a jewel in its own right, though clearly some are more interesting compositionally than others. I had  about thirty panels to sort through in order to select these five to showcase here.

As you’ll see, the panels that contain body parts with differing textures and conditions of light make for the most interesting compositions. It’s important to recognise that the silverpoint can never create a really dark line. The best that’s achievable is a 50% warm grey (which is drawn on a panel already tinted with a terra verte toned ground). So after transposing the basic form-describing lines, I fill in the dark values with silver cross-hatching. Through this process, the three quarter tone, deep shadow information inevitably gets lost however the composition does come to life when I introduce tints of (acrylic) titanium white.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #36 over toned ground, highlighted with white.

Silverpoint underdrawings, batch #3

Silverpoint underdrawing #38 on toned ground highlighted with acrylic.

Silverpoint underdrawing #38 on toned ground highlighted with acrylic.

After a long hiatus (at least from here) I’ve got another batch of silverpoint underdrawings to publish. These were created during our recent trip to California – in my new studio there. The new studio is in our garage, so besides the new working-space, I envision that I will have more room there to create larger pieces (who needs cars anyway?). My current working-space here in Belgium measures about 4 x 10 feet but since Euro-compression-design rules the day I have been able to pack many useful features into it. Still. it’s cramped.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #57 on toned ground highlighted with white.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #57 on toned ground highlighted with white.

When I began this project I knew of course that the silverpoint pencil nib is quite restrictive, so the challenge in these panels is how to render various highly textured, amorphous and abstract shapes with a very fine, low in value line. Mostly impossible. For many of these compositions then, if I were to use just silverpoint, I’d have only very flat uninteresting underdrawings to offer. But since they are executed on a toned ground, the addition of the while highlights (using tubes of titanium white in acrylic) allows for greater manipulations. Washes quickly establish the tonality, texture and gesture – things which are otherwise difficult to achieve in silverpoint alone.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #36 over toned ground, highlighted with white.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #36 over toned ground, highlighted with white.

The silverpoint then establishes the basics of the design and hints toward the darker values, while the white moves the image forward. I enlisted the help not only of brushes but also sponges, hands and fingers. And since each panel is about the size of a standard book, I could rotate the panel to get my washes to drip in whatever direction I needed. Nice. That’s really hard to do with a big panel or canvas. 😉

Underdrawing in silverpoint #58 over toned gesso, highlighted with white acrylic.

Underdrawing in silverpoint #58 over toned gesso, highlighted with white acrylic.

All in all I created fourteen panels during this recent time. They are still resting in their little beds in California, however I was able to take some photographs of them before leaving. I’m hoping to put the whole series together during our next trip, where I will have enough space to throw some paint at the final assemblage. As ever, we’ll see.

Silverpoint underdrawing on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawings, batch #2

Silverpoint underdrawing #05 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawing #05 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

I’ve completed six more panels, so I figure it’s time for an update. Illustrated here are a few of those that I that have found to be particularly interesting/beautiful for various reasons. The most evocative appear to be those whose compositions include human beings or parts thereof. It’s as though each one is from some unwritten comic book – captions not included (Hergé would have understood). Additionally, the abstract panels cause me to wonder/admire anew at how the iconoclastic impulse of Islamic art continues to produce such interesting varieties of texture and pattern.

Silverpoint underdrawing #07 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawing #07 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Further, one very general note. I feel I am serendipitously creating 21st century daguerreotypes(!). (Who knew?) It’s as though by using silver to recreate images based on a digital photograph the mechanistic process has come full circle: human to machine back to human. And again, because the drawing stylus is silver it’s almost impossible to achieve a line that is darker than a 50% grey value. All values are compressed thereby, necessitating a multitude of small decisions. Adding in the white highlights makes each panel come alive – my own gevoelsmatig pleasure.

Silverpoint underdrawing #11 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint underdrawing #11 on toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

The raison d’être for these remains as underdrawings. And I have no doubt that their beauty and subtlety will contribute to the whole in as-yet-to-be-experienced ways. However, some will be held back for individual display and appreciation. For this, I think I have a plan…

Silverpoint over tinted acrylic gesso ground, highlighted with (acrylic) titanium white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 /1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint Studies, Batch #1

Panel #10, Silverpoint over tinted gesso ground, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 /1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #10, Silverpoint over tinted gesso ground, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 /1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #01, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlight with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #01, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlight with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

I’ve been doing some underdrawings for a new project. It will be a different approach to the same image/subject matter as the “A Piece of Me” project, completed in December 2020. However, instead of being executed in a full textural and chromatic range this one will be untextured,  monochromatic and ghosted back. It will be done in silverpoint on acrylic and overpainted (in acrylic or oil, TBD) on sixty four panels.

Here’s a selection of some of the individual panels I’ve created so far with some notes. 1) Using silver point means that I can never reach a rich dark value (this is not india ink!). So that’s fantastic and exactly what I’m looking for. 2) In addition, since I’m creating them on tinted grounds, the darkest value provides less contrast than if I were starting from a white ground. Again, excellent! 3) The tinted ground itself establishes a middle value and allows me to lay in white washes to bring in some highlights. 4) Inevitably, the value range is compressed and subtlety reigns. Nice.

Panel #02, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #02, silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #03, silverpoint underdrawing, silverpoint on tinted ground touched up with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Panel #03, silverpoint underdrawing, silverpoint on tinted ground touched up with white. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

I can already see that, when the composition warrants it, a few of the panels are or will be worthy of individual display, though I’m not sure how to handle that. Should I create them (only) for integration into the final piece? Or should I create some for appreciating in isolation (only)? It’s a great problem to have which, at the moment, I don’t have to solve. I can simply create the little panels, fall in love and see where it all goes.