Progress on large format drawing

I had a blog post prepared narrating progress on my drawing and I did not get to post it while I was working things through. Now the drawing is completed and has been in exhibition at the faculty show for a couple of weeks. It was so energizing to work at a large scale!

I would still like to share what I wrote as I worked on the piece back in August since the process was the focus of the post.

“I’ve been back in the studio working on the “Physiotherapy session” drawing. I have drawn and re-drawn the two figures several times now and love the effect that this restating has on the drawing. The first correction I made on the piece was the pose of the therapist (figure on the right). I felt that the pose was too rigid, not graceful enough. Although static, a standing pose is powerful and can have a  lot of movement. I set out to adapt the figure so that it helped my composition and counteracted with the stiffness of the figure to the left (my dad). This took working from memory and imagination because I was getting away from the reference image.

In the decision-making of how to adapt the pose I looked at some old masters’ drawings. I was particularly looking at the work of Jacopo Pontormo whose work shows powerful gestures and graceful figures. His exaggerated contrapposto and angle shifts in the joints helped me improve the pose for the therapist. I emphasized the forward tilt of the ribcage and backward tilt of the pelvis and changed the position of the legs to add more angles. These subtle shifts really helped the movement in the image.

detail progressThe next session I set out to re-draw the figure of my dad. I was happy with it originally, then I re-drew and the figure lost its original stance, so I went back and corrected. I am still indecisive as to how much I want to show the movement of the different exercises. Looking back at last week’s stages I really respond to the pose where he is holding his hands above his head and would like to show this a little more…

Working on the poses themselves has commanded my attention, but so has the over all composition of the piece. I am working on simplifying the value patterns, at times they seem patchy to me. I am looking for a nice flow and a simplicity to add solidity and power. To work through this, I printed the drawing at one stage and drew into it, exploring different value options on a small-scale. In regards to materials, I introduced some grey and white pastel to show build up some surface on the lighter values.”

Now that the drawing is finished I must say I really enjoyed working large and the constant erasures and corrections. Once I finally decided on the gestures of the figures, I spent a lot of time working the surface of the space around the figures. I loved  manipulating the values to fade and pull out different portions of the figure.   This is only the first of a series of large format drawings. The challenge will be finding storage and ways to exhibit such large pieces, but it will definitely be worth the trouble.

A large format drawing in progress

After a busy academic year, I had the opportunity to recharge in June and July spending time with the family, catching up on reading and having fun in the sun. Now totally refreshed and with the boys back in school, I am back in my studio taking full advantage of some much-needed uninterrupted work time before fall quarter comes around.

I decided to begin working on large format drawings. During graduate school, I worked this way and really enjoyed the opportunity to be expressive and the impact of the scale so I am resuming that practice. Last week I prepped a 3. 5″ x 6″ paper and this week I started laying out the forms.  I normally clip or staple my paper to a board so that is what I did here. The first step was to cut down the paper a littler larger than the intended dimensions of the drawing. For this piece, I am working on multimedia paper from a roll. Many art supply stores sell rolls of paper or have a roll that you can have them cut to your preferred size. Using artists’ tape I created a border at the top and bottom to allow for several options for display later.

I am adding and subtracting marks so after setting up the paper on the board, I layered it with willow charcoal (you can also use vine) to create a base of mid-tone value. I prefer either of these charcoal sticks for this stage because of the softness of the gray and the workability of the medium (easily erasable). For such a large drawing, the best thing is to use the thick charcoal sticks for the base tone. I don’t mind if this initial layer is not perfectly even, since I anticipate heavy layering during the drawing process.

Thumbnail sketch and gestures

First I planned the composition carefully through thumbnail sketches, then I translated my image to the paper once again using  willow charcoal for easy correction. This drawing is part of a series about movements of the body, the subjects here are my father who suffered from PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) for ten years and his physical therapist during a session. I want to show the stiffness of my dad’s body and the importance of simple movements that because of his condition he was progressively losing. When these therapy sessions were taking place he could no longer walk without assistance.

WIP01As you can see here, there are many construction lines to analyze alignments. Although my preference is to work from observation or memory, in this case I have photos for reference. I will compensate for the flatness of the image by drawing volumetrically and by visualizing the skeleton under the figures. For beginners, the most beneficial practice when developing drawing skills, is to work extensively from direct observation to gain an understanding of form and space. With a solid understanding of these concepts artists can go on to create convincing images using many resources later.

WIP02Once I worked out the proportions and planes of the figures, I set out to lay out the basic value patterns It is important to establish a strong over all design before focusing on details. In this case I want value (the lights and darks), to bring emotion to the piece and create points of emphasis. I approach my drawings with the mindset that there is still room for change in every stage, but mapping things out from the general to the specific is extremely important for the process and allows for important decisions early on.

With the main value shapes down, I introduced compressed charcoal for denser layers and more permanent marks. Compressed charcoal can include charcoal sticks and charcoal pencils. Due to the size of the drawing, I have not been using the charcoal pencil.  For the lights, I am erasing with a chamois cloth and white plastic eraser.

At the moment I am working on creating a sense of movement in the figures and have drawn and erased the pose of the figure to the left (my dad) several times, to show the exercises. I am also considering doing this on the figure of the therapist. Below are some of the changes the drawing has gone through. I’ll be working on the piece more this week and will be posting progress. For the different poses, I drew lightly with compressed charcoal so that I could rub it off but still keep the pentimenti (the traces of the drawing). With willow charcoal, the marks would’ve disappeared.

This drawing is still in its initial stages, I will be posting about the progress next week. Time to go into my studio now. Thanks for stopping by.

On Planar Analysis

People draw for many reasons, to communicate ideas, to brainstorm, design, create characters , express emotions, observe the world, to name a few. In drawing, like in many other artistic disciplines, it is important to build on fundamental concepts and processes in order to give free rein to your creativity. When it comes to the study three-dimensional form through drawing, understanding planes is very important. There is a process many artists utilize to break down form called planar analysis.

Planar Analysis is the break down of a complex form into flat planes. It is very helpful when trying to achieve volume in drawings of irregular non-geometric forms. Applying planar analysis goes hand in hand with a structural or constructive approach to drawing and it is beneficial when working from direct observation and when inventing. When drawing from direct observation the artist is responding to the subject observed and re-interpreting the form. When working  from memory or the imagination an understanding of planes can help in the construction of a believable volumetric image.

Above, is a detail image of one of my drawings from the toy series at the planar stage. This post focuses mainly on the drawing process, but I will take this opportunity to write a little bit about how this body of work originated. At the time, as a mother of young children, toys were scattered all over the house and were part of my every day life. As a college art professor, teaching observational drawing inspired me to get back into drawing from life myself, and I found toys to be a great subject due to their interesting forms and the potential for the exploration of metaphor through the still life. For that series, I worked both on toys of organic and geometric form and thoroughly enjoyed the process. This dinosaur is of organic form since it is made to look life like. Below are the steps I took to get to the planar stage of the drawing.


First I mapped a light intuitive gesture with vine charcoal which allowed me to see the composition on the page.  Vine charcoal comes off easily so I could make adjustments to the over all design  just a few minutes into the work.

Sighting the gesture

I kept refining the drawing by analyzing proportions, angles and alignment, which are all aspects of sighting and measuring. Some of you may be familiar with the process. As you can see, this next image shows further development. The horizontal and vertical lines surrounding the figure show the study of placement of the different parts to the whole. For example, where does the top of the back line up to the tail? Where does the top of the head line up to the legs? Where does the hind leg on the floor line up to the tail or other leg?. This is typically done after checking key measurements. I also observed the changes in direction of the curves by checking angles.

Analysis of planes

In this stage, you can see the break down of the object into planes. To break down the form into planes, an artist drafts a line at the edge where the surface changes direction showing that there is a turn. It is important to keep in mind that planes are always connected to one another and that perspective has an influence on the shape of the plane. When working with planar analysis, it helps to think as a sculptor and imagine that you are creating a three dimensional model of the subject with paper or cardboard. Ask yourself where you would fold the cardboard to turn the form and that would be where you draw the line that defines the plane change. Going from big to small planes is the most effective. It is important to practice the process over and over to fully understand it.

Value block-in

Planar analysis helps with the development of lights and darks (value) in a drawing. This image shows the initial stages of value development. I was aiming for simple patterns of light and dark shapes (three to four tones). This simplicity reinforces unity in a composition.

Finished piece

In the finished piece, you can see a wider range of lights and darks as well as mark-making that follows the form. In this particular drawing I had a lot of fun developing the surface of the surrounding space and using color emotionally. I found working on the toy series enriching and appreciated the narrative potential in the subjects I was using. It was also good practice to work from toy animals, fun and challenging at the same time. This led me to create a major assignment in which students draw animals from life-like toys for my Drawing II class. Teaching and learning to draw analytically is not necessarily easy. It takes transforming the way you see and understand form which is not always comfortable, but allows for growth.

More examples of planar analysis in drawing

A planar approach is widely used when drawing subjects such as the human form, animals, bones, drapery, fruits, vegetables, shoes and plaster casts are some great subjects to draw from when practicing planar analysis. Below are samples from one of my Life Drawing  class demos showing the progression of the structural study of a skull. The first image shows the intuitive gesture, this takes about one minute. Then comes the analysis of proportions angles and alignment, which can take about 20 minutes and finally the analysis of the planes. I consider each stage a layer in the drawing process.

The study from a life-like toy gator below shows the planar process as well. Many artists and designers construct their drawings this way; animators, concept artists, sculptors, industrial designers, painters  to name a few.  One important artist who relied on planar structure to create compositions was Luca Cambiaso click here to see one of his drawings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection: Alberto Giacometti, one of my personal favorites created some wonderful planar studies as you can see in this group of drawings

Keep in mind that planar analysis is a helpful approach in the study of volume through drawing, but not the only one. Many artists will use cross-contour or chiaroscuro to study the three-dimensional quality of a subject. Personally I am a big fan of constructive drawing and find that it helps me when drawing from observation, photo references and memory. To many this process may seem overly analytical at first but it can give you the freedom to develop your drawings loosely with a lot of expression yet maintaining clarity.  I hope you found this helpful. Come back and visit for future instructional material.

On contour line drawing

One of the great things about teaching is that you never cease to learn. As an artist, I can choose to focus on the drawing and painting processes I enjoy the most. As an instructor however, I teach for specific course outcomes and encourage my students to gain a better understanding of the broad scope of drawing.

Over the years, I have grown to love the contour line drawing process. This is an approach in which the artist slowly records the inner and outer edges of an observed subject with a pure deliberate line. Many drawings by David Hockney, Henry Matisse, Egon Schiele, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Ellsworth Kelly, are great examples of contour line drawings (as you can see in this link to an article about Kelly’s plant studies)

It is the end of the second week of Fall quarter, and we have been working on contour line drawings from complex still lives in my Drawing I class. Although the emphasis of this unit has been on form and space, the question about drawing texture came up. I decided I would do some studies from textural forms myself to make handouts. Looking around for good subjects, I thought it would be fun to draw the pineapple that had been sitting on my kitchen counter and this was the result.

pineapple demo

Pineapple study, Adriana Burgos 2014, from the sketchbook

It was fun to interpret the texture and the radiating patterns of the leaves. I wanted to make sure the drawing did not look flat, so I relied on line variation to show the pineapple’s three-dimensional form.

To me, the beauty of contour drawing lies in the purity of line and its expressive potential. Great results can be achieved early on, from simply observing intently. The best subjects for contour drawings (even for beginners) are complex forms or setups. Botanicals, the human form, bones, urban-scapes, drapery, shells, shoes are ideal to work from. Complexity will allow the artist to get lost in the observation process and focus on developing keen perceptual skills. Over time, the practice of a variety of drawing methods and a deeper understanding of form has a positive effect on how much can be expressed with a single line.

I prefer working in a gestural manner for my large drawings, but enjoy exploring many approaches in my sketchbook. Below is a selection of contour studies from my sketchbooks.