I’m not sure that this post will be very interesting or useful to anyone here since it seems that what I do, artwise, is not something anyone else does. I have not even heard any aspirations in the direction of classical figure drawing either, but here, nevertheless, is a quick synopsis of my method.
I decided to attempt to recover some of my earlier methods in order to illustrate the story, but lacking pastels for the moment and furthermore basically despising using the computer to simulate the effects, I recovered only certain aspects of the earlier style — mainly a sense of dynamic motion and form. If you’d like to see some more, you can have a look at the non romantic exposé of my penultimate post. I lacked the time before, but this past week and a half, I’ve done nothing but make time and pick up the pace, so here’s my first recent blush at a classical theme in a long time — the fight between Heraklos and Antaeus.
Antaeus was a Titan. In Hellenic mythology, the Titans were the makers of the universe while the Gods came later. Titans were usually portrayed as large and crude while the Gods were represented as refined and beautiful — an intentional association with the nature of their relative types of creation.
I have intentionally ignored a certain protocol for the representation of Titans and Antaeus here though. History, as they say, is written by the victors, and I decided to eschew the dehumanization of Antaeus. So he is not a wicked and frightening giant but a handsome youth, and Heraklos is an older, larger, stronger guy. That is in keeping with the story.
This first sketch took about, I don’t know, maybe fifteen minutes. There were some dozen other versions that I did over the course of several days, however. But I am an advocate of alla prima freshness, so if it’s not right the first time, I don’t rework. I start over until it is right the first time.
I have had to exaggerate the contrast of the pencils here, sorry, but the images barely show up if I don’t. The fact is, I draw so lightly one can barely see the picture. I used ultra smooth paper. My favorite: Bordon & Riley #234 Paris. That’s 108 pound stock. When I use Bristol board, it’s always the ultra white two ply kind. I just use an ordinary 0.7 mm mechanical pencil with 2B leads. My eraser is a kneaded rubber only. The Bordon & Riley paper is so polished smooth, I need no other.
One of the things you have to accept when working without models is that your figures will lack the details of individual, idiosyncratic characteristics. Second, all the subtle and beautiful effects of light and color will have to be largely ignored. To a certain extent, drawing from imagination is drawing the “felt object” rather than the “seen object.”
However, one can achieve forms that will never appear in life because their exist no models who can do things like hang upside down in space or fly through the air and such; moreover, humans are frail, imperfect things while drawings of ideal types can transcend any reality.
“When one door closes, another opens,” the Chinese say.
Here, I was fooling around with background. I had this idea of a dry lake bed.
But I have to stop here and explain something. Reading the above, I realized I did not talk at all about how one comes to get a good set of mental models in the mind. And that’s of course the key to the biscuit in figure drawing.
Well, the lengths and breadths I have gone to to learn the figure might not even be something you would believe; for example, by the time I was fifteen, I had drawn, traced, and labeled every bone, muscle, and organ in the human body. In my collection, I have some twenty anatomy books. When I look at people, I can see the lay of every single part of their insides. In another life, I was probably a doctor :). So I have an intellectual base which permeates my rendering of figures. One of the reasons you hear me bitch about modern art training is due to the paltry, pathetic, pretenses made towards the dedicated intensity it really takes to get good followed by bilious justifications about why the old ways are no longer valid.
But the people vote with their wallets. Talk is cheap. If you wish to master the figure, sitting around in class sketching those fat ugly models won’t do you much good. You have to have a theoretical base — what the Hellenes called “ideal form.”
I should say too, that I first got interested in mythology when I was ten. My first attempts at drawing themes like this occurred then. These taught me that I had a lot to learn about the figure, and so I began to study the figure (and classical representations of the figure) in earnest then. When you’re ten, you have little luck getting people to pose nude for you, so you gotta make do with books and pictures. It’s a start, but it’s a good way to start.
I pretty much use only a brush for inking. My current favorite brush is a Winsor & Newton #4 England. It cost about $45.00. I have a #1 too, but I haven’t used it in a year, I think. Doesn’t hold enough ink. I can do a whole drawing with one dip when I use the #4, and I can get just as fine a line as I can with the #1. It’s like the difference between a 1000cc motorcycle or a 250. The bigger bike just smokes the smaller, but it’s dangerous. There is no substitute for good brushes. You really can’t paint without them. Teachers who let their students use crap brushes should be publicly flayed because it is actually harmful to their development.
I have several Japanese horsehair brushes in my kit, however. These are the pointed kind commonly called “Sumi-e.” That’s Japanese for “Ink Painting,” but in Japan, these brushes are just called “brushes,” or “writing brushes.” I use these for covering larger areas and when I want a bit of raggedness. So I have to amend the above statement with the understanding that there are certain effects that can be achieved with cheap brushes that the nicer brushes won’t do, but you don’t get that nuance until you’ve really grokked the power of a great brushes.
By the way, I learned inking by studying nineteenth century illustrators. The art is really not taught these days (though the tradition has been kept somewhat alive among comic book illustrators).
And here I’ve fixed a couple of too fat lines in Antaeus’ left leg and arm with some white gouache while suggesting a bit of background. I should probably have touched up Heraklos’ left leg too, but only the gods are perfect, and even they have their issues.
A final note: I decided to show Heraklos as almost sympathetic. He was, after all, only fighting because he was blackmailed and threatened. He has no personal beef with Antaeus, and Antaeus is not anguished; he is enraged. Rightfully so.