Pastel & Charcoal Critique

2007, charcoal and paste, 20 x 16.

This artist submitted three strong figure studies for critique, and I selected the best of the group to comment on. I would like to start out by commending the artist for practicing the discipline of drawing from life … there is no substitute.

I have two suggestions that can make this good drawing even better. The first has to do with the technique used when working with chalk and charcoal. The draftsmanship in this drawing is very good, but when executing a drawing with a powerful gesture , I think a simple background or no background would be more effective than what this artist utilized here. Secondly, I would recommend this artist not rely on line so much. By that I mean let the tone describe the boundary of one form against another. Reserve the heavy line for emphasis, and the lines can then serve as calligraphy to guide the viewer's eye throughout the drawing.

About the Critic
Dawn Whitelaw has studied painting with Scott Christensen, Cedric Egeli, Jim Pollard, and Everett Raymond Kinstler. In 2002 she received the Award of Excellence and Best of Show in an international competition sponsored by the Portrait Society of America, and she has exhibited her portrait, landscape, and still life paintings in juried shows organized by the Cumberland Society of Painters, the American Academy of Women Artists, and the Phoenix Historical Museum.


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About BrianRiley

Brian Riley is the managing editor for the American Artist family of titles (American Artist, Watercolor, Drawing & Workshop) and has been part of the AA team since 2003. He first became interested in art as a child, specifically drawing, but drifted away from the visual arts as he grew older, gravitating towards writing while in college. His position at AA has offered him the opportunity to reinvigorate his early passion and continue his education.  

One thought on “Pastel & Charcoal Critique

  1. Dawn Whitelaw has offered some solid comments that should help the artist to develop their approach to drawing with confidence. This drawing has sound proportion and exhibits that “attitude” that lends weight to the pose. There may be reasons unknown to us as to why the figure is cut back to torso, arms and head but if those reasons include a little inexperience with drawing hands (although I doubt it as the drawing of the head indicates the artist is quite capable) then I’m sure the work would benefit from some additional work in this regard.

    The pose “rests” on the hands and their omission limits the power, or weight, their inclusion would give the drawing.

    Secondly, there is some very nice line work in this drawing but it is a little clouded by overworking. This is very common – every one does it from time to time – and it takes a lot of practise to know what is working and/or good, compared to what is not.

    Perhaps a little less line here would work well with Dawn Whitelaw’s comment about using tone to delineate edges rather than line. The artist will find a happy medium with time and practise, but it helps to know what to strive for.

    The line here is hinting at the artist’s current level of confidence and as that confidence grows the line work should become stronger and flow from thick to thin and so on to define the weight, or lack of it, needed to define edges that hold muscle or intervals between muscle or other less weighty areas of the body.

    Drawing is a fascinating (life long) struggle and this artist is right in the thick of it. I would think that a few less lines (but lines with just a little more fluctuation in weight) here would better show the muscles in the torso and arms and help to add physical weight to the pose.