|10/15/22 30 minutes, Bic ballpoint
Years ago when I first learned about InkTober, I read an article by Jake Parker, creator of the annual drawing challenge, talking about his experience with the creative process. He had noticed that a couple of weeks into a daily challenge, something interesting happens. At first it might feel mechanical or contrived to keep doing something just because you’ve arbitrarily committed to it (or, from my perspective, just because there’s a hashtag for it). But if you are experimenting with something new and push through whatever boredom or resistance you may feel, after a certain period, something fresh kicks in. The light clicks on, and everything looks different. That’s the way the creative process works. I know I experienced that myself during InkTober 2016 when Weather Bunny evolved, and then again during my 100-Day Project earlier this year.
More than halfway through this month, it happened again.
Day 15 was similar to the previous two weeks. I thought this one was going to be about the extreme foreshortened view of the head, but it ended up being more about the glasses (top of post). In one of France Van Stone’s YouTube videos, she talks about looking for the tiny slivers of reflection on glasses between the lens and the frame, and if you catch them, they add realism. I didn’t draw them nearly as neatly as she did in her demo, but learning to observe them was very informative. Another challenge was making a distinction between shadows and dark hair (even when drawing in monochrome, the issue of local color vs. values remains).
On Day 16, just as I was feeling a need to take a break from human portraits, France saved the day: She sent a new demo video of herself drawing a Bassett hound. A canine portrait was just what I needed! It still has all the same challenges of form and proportion, but much less pressure to capture a resemblance. Not to mention an irresistible face!
That evening, I decided that I loved drawing the hound so much that I wanted to do it again, except this time, I tried something different: Since the memory of its form was still fresh in my mind, I went straight in without my usual blocking and measuring of proportions. I knew the proportions weren’t exactly right, but I thought it would be fun to exaggerate them further. The dog’s delightful expression is almost cartoon-like – why not push that further? I had a ton of fun with it!
|10/16/22 Bic ballpoint
The next morning, I was still thinking about the Bassett hound. Maybe I could draw in the same way – exaggerating and not paying attention to proportions – to draw human portraits in the way cartoonists develop characters? Day 17 was my first shot, which isn’t a badly drawn face – except that it bears no resemblance to my model (not measuring took its toll). I wouldn’t have cared about the lack of resemblance if I had exaggerated features more, but trying to draw a human face immediately locked my brain into “realism.” However, I was newly excited about InkTober because a light had clicked on!
For Day 18, I worked from a photo reference that I had drawn from previously. I thought this man’s angular face and strong eyebrows would give me more to exaggerate and turn into a character of sorts. First I tried by simply not measuring proportions or angles (purple ink). It looks about the same as the version in which I carefully measured, so maybe that just means I’m getting better at drawing faces without measuring (at least this face). But I couldn’t seem to exaggerate at all. I tried again (red and black ink), and this one is a bit better, but I’m perplexed by how difficult the task is. I have been working hard for 11 years to train my brain to get out of the way so that my hand can draw what my eyes see. I apparently have more work to do to push my brain out of the way.
Early in my 100-Day Project, when I was learning to draw from memory and imagination, I speculated that I had focused so much on drawing from observation for most of a decade that it seemed to be hindering my ability to draw directly from my mind. By the end of that project, I had no doubt in the value of drawing from observation; a solid basis in those skills is necessary before I could hope to draw from memory or imagination. I was more grateful than ever for my observational drawing experience.
As I now struggle with exaggerating these portraits, I’m once again wondering if my strong reliance on drawing from observation is somehow hindering me. It’s not a struggle to draw so much as a struggle to turn my brain off! But not completely – I need to leave on the part that engages when I want to draw imaginatively.
Day 19 was a huge eye (and brain) opener! In my first attempt, I tried to exaggerate features, but I felt some resistance because it seemed disrespectful to deliberately distort or exaggerate features, especially after weeks of trying to capture resemblance.
In my second attempt, I followed a suggestion Sue Heston had made: Turn the reference photo upside-down to trick my brain into seeing only the shapes and values instead of “eyes” and “nose.” (Years ago, I tried a similar exercise from the classic book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and I was amazed at my results.) My efforts to exaggerate were so-so, but abstracting the model’s face liberated me – it was no longer a man’s face and was now just an exercise in shapes and values.
25 minutes 10 minutes, upside-down reference photo
Finally, on my third try, I turned the photo reference right-side up again. I got past my resistance even more, and this effort started to feel more like character development. Isn’t it fascinating? The model looks like he might be Latino, and my first attempt captures some Latino features. In my upside-down version, he morphed into a white man. And in the third, he turned black! None of which was conscious, of course. One more thing I learned from this series is that even if the reference photo is so dark that the pupils are barely visible, it’s important to put in catchlights. Otherwise, the pupils end up looking like creepy black holes (my first attempt).
On Day 20, I went straight in with exaggerated features – an attempt at caricature, I suppose. It’s getting easier, but none of these have been as fun as the Bassett hound. Maybe animals are just more fun, period.
Material note: I had filled the Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook I was using for InkTober on Day 19, so I cracked open a brand new book for Day 20 – a Moleskine sketchbook. It’s the original kind with slightly heavy, manila-colored pages. During my first year of sketching when I was trying many different kinds of sketchbooks, I filled several of these and hoarded several more of the old stock when I had heard that the paper quality had changed. Soon after, I wanted to explore watercolor more, so I stopped using Moleskines. Seeing France use ballpoint in her Moleskine reminded me that the old Moleskine paper’s smooth, hard surface is ideal for ink. Since I still have a couple of these left, I may as well use them with Bics.
Day 21: I noticed that when I was focused on exaggeration and caricature, I started paying less attention to form. I’ll probably try caricatures again sometime, but right now it’s more interesting to keep working on capturing form and likeness with crude, messy crosshatching. If I were a painter, I would have been pleased to catch that bit of reflected blue light from the model’s shirt under his chin, so I noted that with a scribble.
|10/21/22 30 minutes, Bic ballpoint
(All reference photos from Earthsworld except the Bassett hound, which was not credited.)