Part 3, project 1, exercise 1/2: Portrait and Figure – drawing the human figure, linear figure study

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to contents).

18 July 2016. Since there is very little time available at the moment and my tutor suggested that I paint my sketches for this exercise rather than draw them, I decided that I would combine exercises 1 and 2. My husband sat for me in my workshop and despite our everyday worries the sketches with watercolour on A2 sketch paper (Fig. 1-3) went somewhat better than expected. Since I want to paint my linear figure study with palette knives, I also tried my favourite flat watercolour brush in one sketch (Fig. 2 below). Here I found that it requires a lot of practice to switch from the flat side to the edge in rounded objects such as the muscles in my husband’s arm, so there is ample scope for improvement here, but I enjoyed the experience (despite both of us nearly falling asleep after a demanding day).

2_Franz_sketch2
Figure 1
1_Franz_sketch1
Figure 2
3_Franz_sketch3
Figure 3

I like the setup in the third sketch best, because there appears to be – at least to me – a pleasing combination of tension and relaxation. The chair my husband was sitting on is playschool size, so he had to find a position to give his legs the necessary room (tension), while the weight of his upper body was supported by the arm resting on the backrest (relaxation). We’ll see whether I will be able to include both in my painted study.

Before jumping right into the exercise I had a look round the internet to see some palette knife painting tutorials and find some artists, who use a technique I like. What I do not want is a very rough approach, which to me produces paintings looking like the tiles on a stove of the nightmare kind we sometimes used to get in our area (not surprisingly I cannot find any examples on the web, horrible stuff): Some painters seem to be making a habit of placing the same kind of knife mark at regular intervals, which have no connection with the actual subject and consequently appear to drain all tension from a painting. What I would like to try is to see, whether I am able to “draw” with the palette knife in a way that creates believable organic structures.

In order not to get overwhelmed by the new technique I decided to reduce my palette to the denim range of blue and the colour of skin (Fig. 4):

4_Sketchbox_tests
Figure 4. Testing the palette knife and colour range

The background I prepared with a mix of dark brown and titanium white, which dries close to skin colour. Since this was to be my first experiment using palette knives and I am not confident yet regarding my drawing abilities in that respect, I drew the outlines first with charcoal (Fig. 5).

5_Background_charcoal
Figure 5. Background and charcoal sketch

It took some time to get used to the properties of the palette knives, but I think that with some practice it shoould be possible to produce volume and tension with just a few marks. I was surprised to see how easy it was to mold the thigh and folds. But the way, my husband’s hair is not quite that flashy – it was the result of having put too much pressure on the palette knife, which went flying and left some interesting hairstyle in its wake ;o) … (Fig. 6):

6_First_colours
Figure 6. My first attempts at using a palette knife

It was relatively straightforward to outline the chair as well, and then things got difficult. I have no expertise yet in forming limbs and faces and I found the palette knife awkward to use in tight places. Also it was necessary to carefully think ahead. The paint had to be in just the right place on the knife in just the right amount and the mark-making does not yet come naturally. I also had to take into account whether a structure would have to be rounded and smooth, come with a darker and/or sharp edge or merge with another structure (Fig. 7).

7_More_colours
Figure 7

After a bit of a struggle I started seeing some progress. Human forms are still very awkward, and especially faces, where I have not found a solution yet to correct mistakes (sorry, Franz, I promise to be more experienced next time!). Still, when looking at the overall result, the composition, selection of colours and part of the outcome I am not unhappy. In particular I do think that my intention of showing tension and relaxation is visible in the finished piece (Fig. 8):

8_Franz_finished
Figure 8. Finished palette knife “drawing”

 

 

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