March 2013

Centre Line on Portraits and on Figures

In the second stage of both portrait drawing and figure drawing, we are concerned with the construct of the internal anatomy.

The first and most important element to capture is the centre line.  Some of us can benefit from clarification of what this is.

In both cases, it is a construction line.  By construction, I mean that this line does not exist in reality.  We need to understand what it is, why we need it, and where to put it.

In Classical Drawing, any line that is referred to as a construction line, is one that one doesn’t exist in reality.  “Construction” means that such a line is one that we must deduce from observing clues, and that we place this line into our drawing for the purposes of placing correctly smaller forms in the right perspective.  Eventually after placing our other forms correctly, we will be erasing these construction lines.

Let’s look at these diagrams to get a better understanding.

 – Andrew Loomis, Drawing Heads and Hands

These diagrams show the same head at various angles and in various perspectives.  The centre line on a portrait is that line which divides the left side from the right side of the mask of the face.  It intersects the widow’s peak, the bridge of the nose, the philtrum, and the cleft of the chin.  When placing this line, those are the anatomical clues that we look for, and in placing this centre line, we are immediately capturing the angle and axis of the head.

The centre line does not need to intersect the ball of the nose, as that protrudes out from the front plane of the head.

The centre line, then helps us place, perpendicular to it, the eyeline, the brow line, the nose line and the lip line.

Here are some further diagrams to help us practice locating the centre line on different tilts of the head.

Gottfried Bammes, Die Gestalt des Menschen

The centre line is equally important on figures.  It divides the left and right portions of the torso and helps us locate symmetrical forms in their proper perspective.  It also enables us to capture the gesture of the pose and the major change of direction of the torso in a contraposto pose.

After placing the centre line on the figure, we can locate accurately the line just beneath the pectorals and the iliac crests.  The centre line on a torso can be traced from the pit of the neck, down the sternum, down the linia alba, to the belly-button and then to the pubic area.

Here are more diagrams from Bammes, displaying that all important centre line on both the front pose and the back pose.

Gottfried Bammes, Die Gestalt des Menschen

© Mandy Boursicot 2013


I’ve been asked about the use of binoculars in figure drawing from the live model and yes, I do use them myself.

They are mostly useful for the later stages of the drawing, and especially for exact observation of smaller details, especially in the facial features.  Normally I’d recommend that we draw just what we see, and subordinate all those details to the bigger picture.  However,  those smaller forms in the head are sometimes those that we wish to accent, and so that calls for great accuracy.  Some schools allow students to move closer to the model and even touch the model for that purpose, but for me, binoculars from our original viewing position are the way to go.

Of all the binoculars I’ve tried in this context, the best in my opinion are the Pentax Papillo
6.25 x 21.  They are available online.  Try or I actually got mine from

© Mandy Boursicot 2013

Animated Version of the Stages of a Figure Drawing

© Mandy Boursicot 2013

Stages of a Figure Drawing Animated

Here’s a great vote of thanks to Cameron for making this animation … it helps to see what the next steps are going to be !

© Mandy Boursicot 2013

Stages of a Fully-Rendered Figure Drawing


Stages of a Fully-Rendered Figure Drawing
In Classical Drawing, we are not so much drawing the figure, as drawing the light and shadow, which will reveal the human form.  This is a step-by-step approach that employs layers of increasing refinement and sophistication at each stage.  The rule is always, to go from the general to the specific, to work from the big form, to the ever-diminishing smaller and smaller forms, but to always stay in the context of the large statement.
Different stages will require a different way of seeing, and a different way of thinking, and a different way of handling our material, all of which will be covered in class time.
I have used a drawing from an unknown 19th century Portuguese academic artist for this demo.  Please excuse the graininess.  As you will see in real life in class, the original demo drawings are much smoother and much more subtlely rendered.
1.The Block-In
Spend the first five minutes observing the model.  Specifically we are assessing the pose and how the weight is balanced in this contraposto arrangement.  With a plumb bob, we make mental or written notes of vertical alignments, and decide which plumbline to choose for this pose.  After making a small thumbnail (about 3” high in the corner of our paper), we then set about measuring the halves and quarters on the height of the model.
Then we start the block in of our drawing.  Mark the top and bottom, and with a ruler, draw the vertical plumbline and measured quarter marks on that plumbline.
Using comparative measurements, we block in the feet, then using vertical alignments, we work our way up the legs, to the knees, which should be in the vicinity of the first quarter.  Continuing with very general envelope-type bock-in sketchy-ghosty lines, we make our way up to the hips and the major changes of direction there, then the waist and eventually to the armpits. 
Once we have reached the armpits, we start from the head down.   First the head, then the shoulders and then the arms.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013
2. The Construct
The construct stage is fairly quick, but crucial.  We observe where the centre line of the model’s torso is.  That is a construction line that starts at the pit of the neck, down the sternum, down the abs to the bellybutton, and then down to the pubic region.  This construct line will give us the gesture and swing of the torso, as well as the division of left and right for proper perspective. We can then place a line across the centre line that is the bottom of both pecs or breasts.
We will also place a centre line on the head for the centre 
© Mandy Boursicot 2013
3. The Shadow Shapes
Just as we blocked-in the outer contours in a general fashion for the first stage, this is the stage where we block-in the general idea of where the shadows will go, and then place a light tone in the shadow areas.  This tone can be #2, or #3 value.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013
4. The Articulation
We are now in a position to judge all our shapes better, because of the light tone placed into the shadow areas.  The drawing has moved from a general line drawing to one that is concerned with masses.
First we should assess whether all the large shapes are right, and make corrections to the big picture first.  We assess whether our measurements for quarters and halves were right, whether our alignments and placements of hips, waist hands were right, and most importantly, whether that top quarter has been properly apportioned to the head and shoulders.
Once those major corrections are done, we can now go through form by form, with all the smaller undulations of the shadow areas, and their corresponding light areas.  We make those smaller articulations, and tone in that shadow area darker, to a value #5 or #6.
In this stage we are creating a two-tone light-and-dark silhouette.   The two tones are the white of the paper for the lights and the #5 or #6 of the shadows.
We make no differentiation between anything in the lights, nor anything in the darks.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013
5. The Fall of Light
This stage and the next one are concerned with establishing a context for the lights only.  Not the shadows. 
The fall of light is the idea, which can readily be observed, that the brightness of the light from our single, overhead light source, diminishes as it travels further away from that source.  So the top part of our model receives brighter light and then brightness gradually drops off the further down or 6 feet model that it travels. 
So we place a smooth gradation of tone from the ankles up to the bottom of the rib-cage.
Typically down by the ankles we can start with a value #3 and gradate slowly and evenly till we get to the #1 (the white of the paper) and the bottom of the rib-cage.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013
6. The Big-Form Modeling
This stage is also conceptual in nature.  We should understand our guiding principle, that we always work from the biggest form, the biggest idea, the most general statement to smaller and smaller ideas, forms and details.
In this stage therefore, we need to step back from the notion that we are drawing all the details of the model in front of us, and engage our conceptual brain, that is going to see each part of the model in its most basic geometric form.
Once again, we are concerned with creating a context in our lights (not the shadows). 
Right over top of the Fall of Light (above) we model the big forms of the cylinders (all the limb segments, and the torso), the sphere, or ovoid of the head, and the semi-spheres of the shoulders, and the cubes of some of the joints, such as the knees.
This stage changes the graphic look of the previous stages to one of a volumetric statement.

© Mandy Boursicot 2013
7. Variations of the Darks
Now that we have established the context for our lights, we turn our attention back to the shadows.  In this stage, we aim to bring all our shadows to a complete finish.
We deal with the absolute darkest areas first, that is the hair in shadow.  Then we move to the bed-bug line and the turning of the outside form away from us.  There may be some more variations in the dark areas such as the armpit or a continuation of some forms such as ribs, pelvis into the shadows. 
The tonal range in the darks should be minimized, so that the viewer’s eye is less drawn to the shadows. 
Reflected lights should not be erased out of our initial shadow value, but rather, they should simply appear by virtue of the darkening of surrounding bed-bug lines, turning of the form and cast shadows.
We should pay special attention in differentiating form shadows and cast shadows and use the rules which govern each of these separately.
And we should look for opportunities to include lost edges, and soften edges where edges need to recede.
Try to simplify the darks as much as possible.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013
8. Rendering of the Lights
This is the final stage of the drawing, and should be the stage in which time slows down, and we focus on rendering in order, the biggest forms, the medium forms, the small forms, the micro forms and so on.
Since we have already established the general context of the lights, it’s a good strategy to develop and render each form, segment by segment, to a complete finish.
In rendering these forms, we need to be delicate and subtle, and maintain the dominance of the governing larger volumes.  Small details must always be subject to fitting into a larger context.  For each form and subsequent smaller and smaller forms that are rendered, we need to turn those forms and ensure that within its own context each form has a light, a mid- and a dark value to create the illusion of volume.
In this way we can convey the entire breadth and complexity of the human form in one drawing.

© Mandy Boursicot 2013

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© Mandy Boursicot 2013

Class Schedule for April 2013

Here’s the class schedule for April.  Beginners’ Figure Drawing and Intermediate Portrait Drawing are already full, but I still have a couple of spots for Beginners’ Portrait and Intermediate Figure.

© Mandy Boursicot 2013

Making a Value Strip


In Classical Drawing we use a range of values to convey the volume of a form.
Here we are using 9 values, from 1 to 9, where 1 is the white of the paper, and 9 is the blackest black we can achieve with our medium. 
This means that if we use white paper, or cream coloured paper, or grey paper, that #1 value will vary.  It also means that the medium we are using will determine what our #9 value will be.  If we are using 2B pencils as our darkest pencil, our #9 value can’t get quite as dark as carbon pencil, or charcoal or paint or even computer printer ink.

It’s a very valuable exercise to make our own value strip. Some of the  benefits of making our own value strip are:
we become familiar with which pencils to use
– we learn how much pencil pressure to apply
– we understand how many passes we can employ
– we exercise our pencil dexterity and become more in control of our drawing 
Here are the steps.
1.    draw on a piece of paper a strip consisting of 9 square each of ¾”, leaving a ¼” gap between the squares.
2.    Number them 1-9
3.    First work on the #9 square. Lay down many layers of 2B with some pressure on the point.  You want this to get really black.
4.    Next we will work on the number 5 square which is exactly half-way between #1 and #9.  Please check your values against these examples or the value strips given to you in class.
5.    After this we should work on number 3, which is exactly half-way between #5 and # 1.
6.    Then we focus on square number 7, which is exactly half-way between #5 and #9.
7.    Then we fill in the remaining squares that will each be respectively between the adjoining 2 values.
If you go over the edges of the squares with laying in the tones, at the end, we can use our eraser to clean up the edges.
Lastly we should spray the finished value strip, with correct values, and cut this out to have on our drawing board for future drawings.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013

Light and Shadow on Geometric Forms


Considering Light and Shadow in Basic Geometric Forms
The three most useful geometric forms we are going to consider are the sphere, the cylinder and the cube. 
Let’s look at these and consider the lighting situation that we normally find ourselves in. 
Typically if light is coming from above and off at and angle (in these cases the light is coming from the top left), then the lightest light will be inside the form, nearer the top and nearer the left of the form.  As the various planes of the form turn away from the light, the value of the light gets progressively darker, until we arrive at a part of the form that turns completely away from the direct light source.  From that part on, the rest of the form will be in shadow.
This lighting situation is called crest lighting, and will occur far more frequently in classically lit subjects and scenes.  The second lighting situation we may encounter is called rim lighting, where, as the name suggests, the lightest light falls directly on an outer edge.
In either case, we have one part of the form in the light and one part in shadow. 
When we have blocked-in our figure or portrait or still life, the next step is to map out a light and shadow pattern, and then to get that shadow area to a value #6.  This would give us a drawing that consists of a) light, and b) shadow.  The light are is the white of the paper, and the shadow area is a flat value #6.
Most students can immediately identify variations in the shadows but not so many see those in the lights. 
In fact, we need to invert this thinking and “seeing”.  In classical drawing, the shadows are areas of rest.  Details here are subdued and the range of values is compressed, in favour of bringing out details and full rendering and expanded values in the lights.
As we consider our most basic geometric forms, let us identify the variations in both the lights and in the shadows.  Once identified and named, we can more easily recall the rules of each part, and apply these logically to our drawings.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013

The Lights

Value #1 the white of the paper will be the lightest light, the diffuse highlight and the spectral highlight.
Value # 2 following on from the lightest light, is some slight darkening of the lights, and possibly turning of the form away from us, in the lightest area (see sphere and cylinder).
Value #3 this is the light half-tone or the normal local value of the object
Value #4 this is where the light half-tone gets a bit darker so it’s the medium half-tone
Value #5 this is the dark half-tone or the turning tone of the lights are they are at their darkest, which is just before the form turns into the shadow.
All of the above would be either the white of the paper, or rendered in gradations with a 2H and then HB in the darkest half-tones
When we render the lights, we should work with pencil strokes that follow the basic geometric form and work from the darkest part towards the light with gradations of tone that are getting perceptibly lighter.
Form Shadows
The shadows were originally set at a value #6.
Eventually we will need to make those variations in the shadows, so here is an brief explanation of what we see:
Value #7 is right on the edge where the light and the shadow meet.  This is sometimes referred to as the “bed-bug line”, or the “terminator line”, or simply “the terminator”
Just past our bed-bug line is the core of the shadow and reflected light, which would be our original value #6. 
That is followed by some turning tone in gradations which might lead us to a value #7.5 or 8.
On the ground plane is the cast shadow. 
Cast Shadows
Cast shadows have their own rules.
Firstly, they are darkest nearest the form casting the shadow (value #9) and then get lighter the further away they are from the form casting the shadow.
They have an edge or an outline, which is sharper and darker nearer that original form, and this outline gets lighter and more diffuse the further we go from that form.
In addition to this, just outside of the cast shadow is a penumbra.  This is an extra secondary and lighter shadow that becomes more visible and more diffuse the further we get from our original form
Occlusion Shadow
The last kind of shadow is the “line” right under the form.  This anchors the form to the ground plane.  It is called the occlusion shadow or proximity shadow.  This occlusion shadow is the darkest shadow and occurs at the point of contact of the form with the ground plane.  It often leads into the cast shadow.
© Mandy Boursicot 2013

As can be seen, in these drawings, the space occupied by value #1 and #2 are fairly even, and then 3, 4 and 5 occur in rapid succession.  This is because the light diminishes at an exponential rate as the form turns away from the light source, and heads towards the shadows. The dark rim directly under the cylinder is the occlusion shadow.  On the perimeter of the cast shadow is the penumbra.

 © Mandy Boursicot 2013

In this cube, the lights are very light, only using values 1 through 3, and then the form of the cubes turns a sharp corner into the shadows.  The shadow directly under the cube is the occlusion shadow. 

Great Art Museum Shows in Seattle !

Portrait of the Artist, Rembrandt von Rijn, ca. 1665
Last week I went to Seattle to visit a couple of art shows.  The one I booked was Rembrandt, van Dyck, Gainsborough, Treasures of Kenwood House, London, at the SAM (Seattle Art Museum).
There was a companion show that I was excited about.  It featured a number of old master works collected by individual collectors in and around Seattle during the last 20 years.  I was happy to see that there is such a revival in interest in realist art in a metropolis so very close to Vancouver.
 Portrait of an Unknown Man, Franz Hals, ca. 1660-1665

Both shows were well worth the drive down to Seattle, and the SAM is always a great environment to be in.
But for me, the highlight of this Seattle visit was the Frye Museum.  
The Frye is a private museum, with always free admission.  The museum’s permanent collection features amongst a long list of nineteenth and earlier twentieth century works, so many of my own art heroes from that period: 
William Adolphe Bouguereau
Frank Duveneck
Thomas Eakins
Nikolai Fechin
Anselm Feuerbach 
Winslow Homer
Franz von Lenbach
Isaac Levitan
Berthe Morisot
Camille Pisarro 
Iliya Repin
John Singer Sargent
Richard Schmid
Alfred Sisley
Franz von Stuck 
John Henry Twatchtman
Andrew Wyeth 
Anders Zorn  
Not all the museum’s large collection is on display at one time.  Indeed the museum periodically lends out part of its treasure and brings in visiting shows.
On this occasion, I had the great pleasure of seeing a large ensemble of Nikolai Fechin’s paintings and drawings.  These cover his life in pre-revolution Russia, to his immigration to USA, and travels around the world.  There are over 50 paintings and 20 drawings on display.  
To do justice to this great master, one must see Fechin’s work in person.  It is impactful, powerful and full of emotion, and handled with amazing mastery and  spontaneity.  And for students of technique, it’s a marvel to witness the successful juxtaposition of delicately rendered faces and hands with heavy impasto in the drapery and backgrounds.  Fantastic !

I’ve included here a few images, but most of all, I recommend seeing the show for yourself.  Nikolai Fechin runs at the Frye from February 9, 2013- May 19, 2013. 
Lady in Pink, Nikolai Fechin, 1912

Portrait of a Young Woman, Nikolai Fechin, 1912

Maincure Lady, Nikolai Fechin, 1917

Portrait of My Father, Nikolai Fechin, 1917

Self-Portrait, Nikolai Fechin, 1948

Nikolai Fechin

 Nikolai Fechin