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Old April 2 2011, 08:51 PM   #7
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Re: March Art Challenge - DFScott

My medium of choice for this project is mainly Berol PrismaColor pencil on black vellum, accented with pastel chalks. Back in the '60s when my father ran an art gallery, one of the featured artists there was a Catholic priest who did portraits like this. He and my mother traded art lessons -- he showed her pastels, she showed him oil painting.

Anyway, I'm not entirely sure Father John would be entirely understanding of my subject matter this time, although he'd have to appreciate the inspiration.

I believe it was a month or so ago that I was advising one of the artists here to try drawing faces from the inside out. When you're working with light pencils and pastels on dark media, that's exactly what you have to do. If you've ever worked with vellum before, you know it's a little like cloth in that it's fairly soft. That's good in that it really picks up your pencil strokes and transfers a lot of pigment, like canvas. The tradeoff is, small details are really hard to pull off because vellum is textured like canvas, almost like miniature tire treads.

So when you're starting a face, once you can see the space it's going to consume, the first thing you have to do is draw your lights, which is the opposite direction if you're accustomed to charcoals or white canvasses. I did a little test to show everyone:

Now, this is actually black construction paper, which behaves a little differently from vellum. It's the difference between singing in a chapel and in a cathedral; the latter gives you more pickup, but more noise as well.

With this method, I spend the first few minutes determining where the light strikes the subject the most -- where is the most drama going to be? I've found this is the best way to start seeing my subject as three-dimensional; if I start with just midtones like I would with white paper, I end up with a 2D murkiness that highlighting toward the end just doesn't make up for.

In about 10 minutes, I end up with something that looks a little ghostly, like a polished wooden sculpture in candlelight. I always tell folks to get the eyes looking out at the world as soon as you can, and then the rest of the face will follow. That's harder with black media because rather than draw the pupil first, I usually have to shade in the whites of the eyes first, which runs the risk of making my subject's eyes look either like a football or the CBS logo.

When drawing at this point, I switch to a darker shade but not something that you'd think on the surface looks like a flesh tone -- it's more of a wood tone, like a raw umber. That's okay because it's the combination of colors that will make it look realistic in the end. Here it's good to have been a pointillist oil painter, because it gives you practice painting objects with things that aren't the natural color you think they are -- for instance, purples and violets for trees in spring. That's the background shade that makes the spring greens pop out at you.

Here's where a few purples start putting things more together. This was a practice drawing, so I wanted to see if I could capture Robert Lansing's peculiar asymmetric face as though it were lit by a bright, distant spotlight from only one side. He actually is a little bit cross-eyed. . . both the actor and this drawing, which upon reflection is more cross-eyed than the actor. This is what I mean about the danger of thinking eyes are football-shaped. But this gave me some valuable clues that I used in my final work.

I've made it a rule to look at more than one sample of a face I'm drawing. That way I refrain from trying to reproduce the photo; instead, I want to capture the person. This was also true with the car. I'm a lot better with faces than I am with cars, so I pretended that the car was just as much a character as anyone else, and looked at several angles. (I also gridded in the car for good measure.)

The toughest part of this assignment, to borrow a term, was Roberta's (Teri Garr) face. The reason was its size -- her head is just larger than my thumb. You don't want to use erasers liberally (or at all, if you can help it) on vellum, because it scores the medium like cutting up the grass in a football game. So I actually discovered it was easier for me to hold the pencil with two hands while doing Roberta's details, like her petite little nose. Also, I wanted this version of Roberta to, um, dial it up a notch with the attitude, so I didn't want to draw the same outfit she wore in the one Star Trek episode. However, if I didn't use the same general color scheme, folks might not recognize her from a distance.

So I borrowed the inspiration for this outfit (and the pose) from another person, with all due respect to the lovely Ms. Garr. I want to leave it to the James Bond fans in our midst to see if they can ascertain which one, as well as pick up on some of the other details.

DF "I Must Be Dreaming" Scott
a.k.a. Scott M. Fulton, III
Contributor, The New Stack
Contributor, CMSWire
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