Drawing Basics: David Jon Kassan on "Connie XXI" by Costa Vavagiakis

Connie XXi by Costa Vavagiakis, pencil and chalk drawingDavid Jon Kassan discusses Costa Vavagiakis' Connie XXI.

Connie XXi by Costa Vavagiakis, pencil and chalk drawing
Connie XXI
by Costa Vavagiakis, 2005,
graphite and white chalk drawing
on gray paper, 16½ x 11½.

by David Jon Kassan

This drawing by Costa Vavagiakis was done with graphite heightened with white chalk on a midtone, heavyweight, gray paper. It served as a study for a larger painting—the artist does a number of different pencil sketches and drawing studies before he begins a painting, each study focusing on a different part of the model's physiognomy or experimenting with a slight change to the model's position. A gesture drawing like this serves as explorations for Vavagiakis to completely understand his subjects.

Posing the model's head so it is turned slightly toward the viewer echoes works by many past artists. The subtle three-quarters turn of Connie's head, slightly tilted down, conjures up the subtle pose choices of Leonardo, Raphael, and Vermeer. It's the slight turn that emphasizes the subject's eye contact with the viewer. It engages the viewer by giving the model the appearance of residing in the viewer's space. By tilting the chin slightly down the eyes appear larger, which adds to the drawing's psychological depth. Vavagiakis reinforces this by building up the level of finish closer to the subject's eye.

Vavagiakis's technical exploration of form is unique. He creates volume through the use of linear marks that closely follow the form, much like an engraver would do. Each linear mark is long—one can follow a single mark from the back of her head around into the subject's lips. Vavagiakis develops shadow forms through changes in pressure on the surface, and by placing the marks closer together. It is useful to study this drawing's different levels of finish—you can see the artist's thought process as he first builds the structure of the drawing, then develops and plans out how the forms of the model will turn to create roundness. Another strong element of this drawing is how Vavagiakis has positioned the features around the tilted axis of the head; this is one of the hardest aspects of drawing, and he does it beautifully. All of the strength of this slight head turn and tilt would be completely lost if any of the facial features were off even a little bit. 

Vavagiakis handles his choice of medium well. Starting with a midtone surface allows him to build out toward lights or darks. His use of white is also well considered; he understands that the light areas on his model cannot be suggested solely by the tone of his surface and the graphite. Unlike a number of contemporary artists, he uses his white chalk to create a light value range rather than just to make white highlights pop in certain places. He builds toward the forms that are closer to the light source in careful steps, which creates a well-developed sense of hierarchy throughout the drawing's value range.

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