Sunday, 27 October 2013


Seated Girl.  Notice how the lines vary in presssure;  how "searching lines" are left visible; how the structure/musculature is explored.
Today I want to show you the work of an artist I really admire, Victor Ambrus, and share with you some of his writings.   I am picking out what I feel are a few important elements to take on board when you tackle figure drawings.

Victor makes a strong mention of the fact that he was taught anatomy at college, and it has remained with him always, as a basis for his drawing.  He believes it is something which should always be at the back of your mind when you are working, and should be evident "under the skin" in the drawings.  He says "whether you draw an arm or a leg you should ask yourself what is going on under the surface.  If you try and follow the muscles in your mind, it will help enormously".  If you are unfamiliar with the muscles of the human form, there are plenty of books to study - and fascinating they are too.

He also warns (as I always do) about thinking of the figure as a shape with AN OUTLINE.  In fact, no figure has an outline as such, and if monotonously drawn, it is like putting wire around the figure -creating an EDGE -  something my old tutor always warned against too, and it is something which sticks firmly in my mind.   Victor says "Tone should never stop at the outline, but move in and out of the background, as well as being used to describe and bring out the forms of the body". The biggest no-no, in fact, is to draw an outline for the figure, and then proceed to "colour it in" with tone. Producing purely a monotonous outline only would be much like drawing a flat, cardboard cut-out stage scenery figure without any 3 dimensional form.

You can see an "outline" of the figure here...but see now the line "comes and goes", in some instances, melting into the surroundings, in others, strongly emphasised, in others, lightly drawn.

Victor says every drawing should be carefully composed.  Don't just plonk your figure in the middle of a sea of white paper.  Composition starts with your selection of the angle from which you are going to work.  For instance, the model facing you full on may be much more interesting in half profile - if you are doing a class, move around, choose a good location - hold up a viewing rectangle and look thro it, to select your angle for the pose.  Think about how you will place the figure on the paper...landscape or upright?  Whole figure or just a part?  Where will you have the main, focal area, the punchy part of the image?  This could be a carefully drawn arm or leg, or just the dark black tone of a girl's hair.

Great masters like Holbein often drew in almost pure line, with very little tone.  But he did not use a monotonous line...the line would "come and go" by varying the pressure.  This allows for emphasis in some areas rather than monotony.  Becoming sensitive to where to use heavier pressure, and where to use lighter pressure, takes time, but try, perhaps,  to notice where the main weight might be in the pose, and in that area, it may be right to use heavier pressure, and if the light is bouncing off the figure, hardly any line at all might best describe this effect.  "search out" lightly in the early stages - Victor often leaves his early "search lines" in place.

This is a mostly- line drawing of a young man with long hair.  Notice the  x hatching on the arms and head, which show the structure beneath.  Also notice that the lines follow the form,  - he does not just sweep a line along to show an arm.....the intense observation of changes in direction help to show the muscles - and see how the weight of the line alters throughout.

Getting correct proportions is so important, it cannot be repeated often enough.  You need to know how to measure, and you need to check, check and check again.  Do this in the early stages of your drawing, and it will save much heartache later on.

Victor's drawings are done using carbon pencil, charcoal pencil or charcoal - for a reason.  He finds carbon pencil a more definite medium than regular graphite lead pencils.  It gives a rich black, instead of the silvery tone of graphite.  It mixes well with charcoal and black conte crayon.  However, it draws very dark unless held lightly (which takes us back to weight of the line - you may need to practice drawing both lightly, and more heavily).    Victor never works on a smooth surface, he prefers a paper with a bit of texture.

Here we can see the texture of the paper, and the way the pencil is used on its side to create tone.  We can also see how carefully he has observed his subject.

How do you hold your pencil?  There are two ways, believe it or not.  Victor will use the point for more precise, descriptive areas....but for quick sketching, he will hold the pencil on its side to apply a softer, bolder line, and also to apply areas of tone, which can be lightly touched in, or can be heavily applied.  If you have never tried this, I do recommend it.  Instead of holding the pencil in the normal way, between forefinger and thumb, you hold it as you might hold a brush for oil painting - with all your fingers over the top or underneath of the pencil..  It is worth practicing using the pencil differently, if you have always held it in the same way - the "tripod" method shown here:.
holding the usual way
Holding like a brush - and incidentally...notice how monotonous the outline is, by comparison with the drawings above?  It is a perfect example to show how sensitivity of weight of line can make all the difference!

I could go on an on - but a blog post would be boring if it went on for pages.  This should be enough to get you thinking a little about a few aspects of drawing the figure.   I will come back to you with more thoughts on this subject at a later date......

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post - and extremely helpful! Thank you, Jackie.


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