Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Portrait Practice

Lately I have been feeling the need for speed.

Well, more truthfully, I have been wanting to improve my combination of drawing speed and accuracy. I believe I could draw anything I wanted given an infinite amount of time. And on the flip side, there is very little (if anything) that I could draw accurately in say 30 seconds.

So when I found out about a portrait group help by the Bethlehem Palette Club, I decided to give it a try. The group is for club members and is held every Wednesday morning during the colder months (January through April I think).

Each week we have a different model to draw. The models are all volunteers, but I have to say that so far each one has done a fantastic job. It is surprisingly difficult to sit without moving for 20 minutes at a time!!

Prior to joining this group, I had drawn or painted a grand total of 2 portraits. The first one was of my Grandfather. It was a gift for my mom. I drew it in graphite using an old photograph as my reference. I was pleased with the outcome, but it definitely fell in the "I can draw anything given an infinite amount of time" category.

My second ever portrait I did in watercolor at a workshop. I worked on it for a full day and added some finishing touches the next day. You can read about the experience and see the finished portrait here.

The first week of the portrait group I decided to use watercolors since I had had success with the watercolor portrait last year. Unfortunately, I didn't have a hair dryer with me, and I only had about two hours of total painting time. This made the portrait significantly more challenging and it shows in the results, which is exactly why I won't be sharing that portrait here.

Since there really isn't a good place to set up a hair dryer, I decided to try charcoal on colored ground for week two. The good news is that I felt the portrait was an improvement over week one. The bad news is that I was working on Mi-Teintes paper for the first time and I forgot that one side had a pretty pronounced textural pattern. Guess which side I drew on.

Also, earlier in the week I had been working on a graphite drawing. I don't typically use any blending tools when I work in graphite, but I do like to blend with charcoal. Of course, I forgot I liked to blend charcoal until about two thirds of the way through that session. Needless to say, I'm not sharing that portrait either.

But this week, this week I was prepared. I made sure to use the smoother side of the paper. I blended early and often. And I listened to my iPod to distract that inner critic. And the result... a definite improvement - not a masterpiece by any means, but something I am willing to share.

9" x 11"charcoal portrait on colored paper

Working from a live model under a time constraint is a great way to sharpen my skill at getting the pertinent information down in a timely fashion. My goal for joining this group is not to become a great portrait artist, but to see improvement in my portraits over the course of a few months. I am thrilled that I have already seen improvement in three weeks, and I hope I continue to improve from here.


Anita said...

I've never really understood the need for speed except for capturing light. I know that accuracy goes right out the window when I try to be fast. Looks like you did a great job here. Envy you the chance of a class.

Jeanette said...

The ability to put down accurate marks can't be measured by time and I agree with Anita, the more you try to time yourself, the less progress you make.

I have found that practice does make a big improvement as does letting yourself concentrate on the process of finding shapes and values instead of the overall piece.

Drawing from life, as you've found out, helps hone your skills. Its great to have classes to go and be inspired by others too.

With your watercolour, you could try something a lot looser perhaps in a class instead of a tighter piece where drying time is required. Experimentation - you never know where it will lead. :)

Rose Welty said...

Looks really good Stacy! I'm so glad that you are making feels so good doesn't it?

I'm sure great things are ahead.

bluelilac said...

I am so glad you are finding time for the portrait group with a live model. What a wonderful idea.
your drawing is warm and vibrant and honest.
Go girl!

Mary Rogers said...

You did a great job! I love the colored paper look. I'm a slow drawer too.

Stacy said...

Anita and Jeanette, I'm not trying to draw and paint fast, just faster than I do now. I find the more I draw from life, the better I get at it in terms of speed and accuracy. When I draw a lot from photos, my process seems to slow down. But sometimes creating from reference photos is necessary. This group insures that I regularly draw from life and keep those skills honed.

Thanks Rose! Yes, it does feel good to see progress. Seeing improvement in my own work can be pretty motivating. :)

Thanks Blue! The group gives me great drawing opportunities and a way to connect with other artists in my area. That's a nice combination.

Thanks Mary! I've always enjoyed looking at other artists' drawings on toned paper, but this was the first I've tried it. I'll definitely be using it for more of these portraits.

Billie Crain said...

i think speed drawing is an excellent way to improve your skills. of course, it may depend on where you're headed with your art. I tend to get bogged down in details and I'm trying to get away from that. time contraints don't allow for fiddling so you tend to focus on the basic elements of your subject. what are the most crucial lines/shapes, etc. that represent the subject best? I think you did a wonderful job on this portrait!