After spending so much time doing controlled exercises it was time to get messy. Expressive drawing still benefits from some control or discipline, but to me it’s drawing with feeling and energy, using your whole arm to draw and not worrying about mistakes. Even if it’s not your thing practicing this kind of drawing is great for dusting off cobwebs or warming up before your main project.
Technical pencil – 2B lead
I was hoping to be very controlled with this but whenever I sketch freehand it becomes very loose and proportionately inaccurate. Why did I want to control it? Possibly as it was a tech pencil and would have been hard to get line variation and the lead would have kept breaking if I drew too quickly.
It looks like it’s spewing forth pine cone scales, which I don’t mind, however it’s not how I planned to approach this initially. The process was equivalent to speaking out loud before thinking about what you’re going to say.
I quite like this one, though not entirely reminiscent of a pine cone. It was hard to get various levels of tone with a 2B. I’m pleased with myself for keeping the top left section clean and ‘under worked’ to give the whole picture light direction.
This grade allowed me to give the pine cone more volume. I had to keep sharpening my pencil because if I had let it dull down the linework would have created an overall flatness to the shape – having that slight contrast with the finer linework and the denser lines gives the subject more depth.
POI – Point of Interest
Something I will elaborate on another time. In a nutshell, the artwork I’m always attracted to will have one or more areas that I keep going back to and get lost in. They may not necessarily be the busiest areas or the most colourful, but they keep luring my eye back wanting to explore it more and find out why it engages me so much.
I try to keep that in mind (when I remember) and as this was a line exercise, my linework had to generate that interest or energy. It’s always about balances for me as that creates contrast. Here it’s not only line widths or tonal balance but quiet areas versus busier ones; longer, fluid lines against short jabs and dots (not continuous line obviously); controlled pencil work versus expressive.
I chose portraits with lots of feeling and emotion as they are perfect for expressive drawing. I went online and found some amazing photos, which are more like artworks, to help me with this exercise. I used both 2B and 4B pencils.
The first exercise was me being me, not really planning too much ahead, using my instincts and dive bombing into it. Though I decided to stop when I realised my face, compare to Mahesh’s incredible photograph, was verging more on being sinister than just angry. I couldn’t see how I could change it. The more I tried to fix it, particularly around the eyes, the muddier it became. I wasn’t too pleased with the outcome, but I guess that’s one of the pitfalls of gestural drawing –its impressionistic and spontaneous making it very hard to reverse.
I do like the freeness of it but it needs to be balanced with more controlled areas like the mouth, nose and eyes. It’s really hard to switch from high gear to cruise control.
The next drawing I approached with more thought and the results are much better. The nose and possibly forehead could have been a bit better but I’m really happy with the variety of linework and texture, which took a lot of restraint not to overwork it.
A much better result. I started off by using the continuous line method for my structural lines then towards the end added speckly and short lines for contrast.
Another factor that does count, as I’ve had this happen before, is that if you are spending the whole day drawing it can take a while to warm up, so by this stage I was feeling more confident, therefore more instinctive too.
The other thing I did this time was before I began I spent a few minutes studying the subject – seeing where all the highlights were, the mood of the image, what areas were of interest to me. I saw it as a whole before I drew the first line so I could then see my drawing in its entirety as I was working on it.
This one was challenging because the top of his head was cropped off. It was difficult knowing where or how to end my drawing. As an overall observation I need to work more on my eyes and noses, despite today’s exercises not really focusing on drawing portraiture per se.
I do like his beard and mouth. As the subject had darker skin I found myself wanting to shade in the more subtle areas where again I was falling into my habit of focussing on sections rather than seeing it as a whole. Which was also counter-productive with regard to the areas I kept working on, as they were losing a lot of tonal value and volume. I was also really conscious of not slowing down and becoming too controlled.
I managed to pull back but the cropped head kept throwing me off and I was subconsciously trying to compensate for it. Apart from the anatomical ‘bumps’ I’m quite happy with this exercise.
I bypassed this exercise as I felt I had covered it with the last one.
I attempted this before but it failed. The idea was a smudgy, textural feel where all the light areas are erased out. My original test was admittedly half concocted but the paper I was using had a rough tooth which I don’t feel allowed the eraser to slide and smudge the pencil work enough. This time round I used a smoother paper and built up more pencil layers for the base.
This exercise turned out better than I expected. I used a mix of 3B and 4B. The animated gif shows how I layered the base tones in a very broad hatching style, this was to build up the darker areas as well as the surface planes.
Once it started to take shape I introduced the use of the eraser as a pencil to create the lighter tones and highlights. I also started to use the graphite pencils to draw in the detail and more controlled shading.
I enjoyed it so much I did another one. It wasn’t just the final result I was happy with but I enjoyed the process of creating it and seeing it develop.
This is a technique I definitely will practice more, and it will be interesting to see if it translates well across various subject matter or if its only suited to energetic or gritty/textured themes. One of the keys was also using two different graded pencils – one as a base, the other for detail and volume.
A lot of people comment on how loose and expressive my style is and that it’s very confident too. This is largely due to having spent my childhood drawing with pens rather than pencils – I couldn’t rub out my mistakes so had to train myself to be more sure with every line I drew. Then in highschool I was introduced to life drawing where I spent several years practicing quick gestural drawing, the completely opposite approach!
I never thought these techniques would have such a long lasting effect not only on my work but the way I approach new ideas. Do you have a similar beginning where what you learnt earlier in your life carries through to what you do now?