Get your act together. A little time getting your tools ready for drawing goes a long way towards productive drawing sessions.
Graphite pencils come in a wide range of leads running from the softest of lead which produces the dark tones to the hardest of leads which leave delicate, lighter marks. A pencil marked B is a soft lead while a pencil marked H is a hard lead. And the higher the number, the softer or harder the graphite, for example 6B is softer than 2B and 6H is harder than 2H. HB is in the middle of the scale. I used to carry around a complete range of pencils with me and then found myself really only using three or four pencils over and over.
A great tip I learned from artist Shane Wolf while he lead a life drawing workshop at Manifest Drawing Center in Cincinnati was to simplify the process by using three lead strengths as opposed to upwards of a dozen or so. For example the following picture shows what I have with me now during drawing sessions.
Taking Shane’s advice, I now carry a sufficient supply of pencils typically of three values: 3B, HB and 3H. Here is the most helpful of advice: keep many pencils sharpened and ready to go so while you are in the throes of creation and a lead breaks, simply grab another pencil and keep your momentum going.
Here is a short riveting video that is sure to go viral…seriously though, it illustrates helpful knife skills to get as sharp a lead as your OCD tendencies desire. Please be careful when handling an x-acto blade. The thumb acts as a counter-balance actually providing much more control in whittling off the wood.
After whittling wood off the pencil exposing as much lead as desired, use a sandpaper pad to sharpen the point. This short clip demonstrates moving the pencil vertically to the length of the pencil instead of swiping it horizontally back and forth across the pad. This allows for finer control in pointing the lead avoiding breaks. This small detail hardly seems worth mentioning, but it makes a huge difference in the control an artist has in draftsmanship.
2-day drawing marathon at Manifest Drawing Center
Manifest is a creative research gallery and drawing center in Cincinnati. They offer excellent workshops and provide weekly life drawing sessions as well as a monthly life drawing marathon. Check out their exhibition schedule, publications, workshops and all they have to offer.
The following drawing is from one of the weekend marathon drawing sessions I attended. The beauty of this opportunity is that the model holds this pose for two days offering the artist a more in-depth study than typical group life drawing sessions.
For thinking out loud
If every moment spent in the studio is considered “precious” and rare, the product of each moment spent is then expected to be of excellence. That allows no time or space for improvisation. Improv is when real art happens: when skill and the freedom to get lost (and perhaps fail) meet and create.
This pose was a 30-minute, charcoal starting with the wipe-out method to quickly establish lights and darks.
Share your tips and tricks to get started in your studio. Sometimes simply getting started is the hardest part.
Successful short drawings
“Over-modeling destroys the effectiveness of the picture.” - Max Doerner in The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting.
In the spirit of this quote, especially during figure drawing sessions, I try to walk away with at least one drawing that can stand on its own as a finished piece. By finished I mean a complete statement that when viewed can be taken on its own and where the eye does not need any more information to process the image and expression as a whole. The character of each drawing can be quite different from works that take many, long sessions to complete. This pose was 45 minutes so quick, decisive first strokes that communicate immediacy and freshness are key. I try to put aside any conscious academic steps and simply go for it. Of course, this is when all the tedious exercises spent rendering hopefully kick in: where instinct and practice work together. Given days to work on a single pose, an artist can afford to spend much time in each phase of drawing from initial block-in, gestural considerations, comparative measuring, rendering tone and refinement.
My studio work involves paintings that I work on over long stretches of time where I continually return session after session and refine and rework whatever needs attention at that moment. Figure drawing sessions are a refreshing break from this on-going rhythm of work and walking away with a piece that is complete in and of itself is most gratifying.