Seeing a painting or figure drawing progress from beginning to end allows the finished artwork to be understood as a series of discrete steps leading to a virtuosic whole. During a recent tour of the Grand Central Academy (GCA), in New York City, I observed instructor Joshua LaRock developing a drawing of Michelangelo's marble sculpture Dying Slave, based on a cast bust of the master's sculpture.
LaRock approached the human figure drawing as if he were sculpting on the page, striving for a trompe-l'oeil sense of form in space. He documented his progress along the way and shared his approach with us.
||When preparing the figure sketch setup of the bust, it was critical to have one isolated light
source on the cast. LaRock's rule of thumb is to position the light
source at a distance from the subject that is approximately two to
three times the length of the subject's largest dimension. The artist
sat eye level with the bust and positioned it to emphasize strong,
clean lines. He also took note of the exact placement of the bust and
his position in relation to it, to prevent even the slightest change in
perspective from sitting to sitting.
||The artist began his figure drawing very loosely to get the general
proportions of the bust and develop points of stability-the height and
width of the subject and any comparative measurements that could act as
visual points of reference throughout the process. LaRock then produced
the "block-in," in which every element is defined, from the thin and
crisp contours, form shadows and cast shadows, to loose and lightly
valued plane changes.
||Once the block-in was complete, the artist stepped back to evaluate the
overall hierarchy of light and dark over the form, asking himself what
the brightest and darkest regions were, the second brightest and
darkest regions, and so forth. LaRock points out that assigning these
demarcations while drawing figures isn't guesswork but is done in direct relation to how
perpendicular a particular feature of the object is to the light
source, with the brightest piece being the most perpendicular to the
||Once the darkest and lightest areas were established, the illusion of
three-dimensionality was created, and it became possible to see the
full arc of light over the face of the figure. In this stage of the figure sketch, LaRock
focused on preserving the spectrum between the two extremes with minute
changes made with pencil and eraser.
||In the final stage of the drawing, LaRock wanted to answer one crucial
question: Does this two-dimensional drawing seem to sit in space and
suggest the gesture of the figure? Are the figure drawing proportions correct? He went back to his initial
rationale for the drawing-a desire to accentuate the long arc of the
right side of the figure's neck as it leads to the ear and continues
around where the hairline meets the forehead. To accomplish this
successfully without creating unnecessary distractions, LaRock went
back in and played with the left side of the face, darkening certain
areas so that they seemed to sit back farther in space and lightening
other areas so that the right balance of volume was created. All of
this involved very minor touches of graphite and also making a point on
the eraser and using it as a drawing tool, hatching as you would with a
LaRock's expert drawing is based on sound understanding of light and form and skilled execution of those principles. His willingness to break down his approach to every eye-deceiving "curve" is similar to the "real life" exploration and instruction you can receive with a copy of Life Drawing: How to Portray the Figure with Accuracy and Expression
. You'll gain access to thoughtful instruction on the basics of figure anatomy, proportion, and design that puts you on the road to being your artistic best. Enjoy!