And the answer is: I’ve started a new painting which is part of a new direction I’m experimenting with, which is all I’ll say for now. One of them involves using a khadag, the traditional Mongolian offering scarf, as a design element. I haven’t done drapery since art school. I set up a khadag that I brought back and did some drawings from it, but could tell that I really didn’t understand what I was looking at or how to get where I wanted to go. Drapery has a structure and pattern and I just wasn’t seeing it with any confidence. Time to get out the art books and do some copywork from the masters. Who better to learn from? And I’ll do as many as it takes to get it. I was also able to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last month when I was in New York for the Explorers Club Annual Dinner. I focused on getting photos (with my iPhone 5S) of drapery details and I’ll be drawing from those next. But today I want to share what I was able to do working an “old-fashioned” way…from books.
Besides my immediate goal of learning to draw drapery again myself it was fascinating, through the copywork, to see how these artists solved the problems, some very naturalistically and some by simplifying with more stylistic handling.
The Michaelangelo copy above was the last one I did and took the better part of a day. It’s about 8×10″. I was working on technique along with creating the actual drawing.
All are done with Cretacolor Monolith pencils on either Canson drawing paper or Strathmore 400 with added help from a kneaded eraser that definitely got a work out.
Below is the first one I tried. Notice that there are basically three values and some color temperature shifts. Get those relationships correct and you have…satin!
I wanted to start with a simple shape that had well-defined folds. And I was very curious to see a little of how David saw, given his great academic training and skill. I have some good details from one of his paintings at the Met that I’m looking forward to drawing.
I specifically wanted to draw that neckline fold and the overlapping folds coming over the shoulder because they relate to the design I have for the khadag.
My study is above right. I wanted to understand how the sash drapped around the form.
My study is lower left above. I wanted to get that feeling of the thickness of the fabric coming over the arm.
Small drawing in the middle of the page above.
Cornwell had an interesting way of simplifying drapery and it’s a characteristic of his style. I remember one of my drawing teachers in art school doing a slide show of master drawings. When she got to the Cornwell, she matter-of-factly told us that if we could do a drawing like that we would get an “A”. We just kind of looked at each and thought “Yeah, well, in our dreams”. Ultimately, I realized that his approach, at least at this point, wasn’t going to be useful to me for what I want to do.
J.C. Leyendecker was another master stylist, instantly recognizable. Notice that I’m showing the work of two illustrators, along with traditional fine artists. That’s because the great illustrators were simply great artists and their drafting and design skills were impeccable. Plus, that’s my background since my formal art training was in illustration so I “speak” that language.
Through copying some of his work I hoped to understand better how to simplify and understand what I had to have to say “fold” and leave out everything else. Artists like Michaelangelo, David and, as you’ll see, Velasquez had a more naturalistic approach, but still edited and made choices, each in his own way. And the sum total of those choices is one of the ways a viewer can tell one artist from another.
The gown detail was challenging because every shape and its relationship to the other shapes had to be just right in order to read as drapery. By the time I decided to tackle the sleeve I felt that I was starting to get the hang of things and also to gain a little insight into his thinking through the choices he made in a way that would not be possible by just looking at the art.
If one wants to learn from the best then you have to take on Velasquez, one of the best ever, a painter’s painter. And that ended up being a bit of a problem. When I looked through my book of the artist’s work I didn’t really find a lot in terms of drapery that would help me with what I was trying to do. I found his shapes, when looked at individually, to be idiosycratic in a way made them very abstract. It’s a very different way of seeing than I do. But what a great thing to learn. I am in awe of him as are so many others. I plan to start doing some human subjects and when it comes to heads and hands I will be returning to him for both drawing and painting study.
So that’s what I was up to last week. This week I’m back at the easel doing some repaints on small works, both to get my groove back and to build up stock for North Coast Open Studios, which I will be doing the first two weeks in June. More on that to come!