Drawing Basics: David Jon Kassan's Favorite Drawing & Why

For this new feature, we've asked artists to comment on some of their favorite drawings. In this first edition, David Jon Kassan comments on Head Study of a Young Girl by John H. VanderPoel.

Head Study of a Young Girl by John H. VanderPoel, 1903, graphite drawing
Head Study of a Young Girl
by John H. VanderPoel, 1903, graphite on illustration board, 4 x 3½. Collection David Jon Kassan.

Looking at Drawings: "Head Study of a Young Girl" by John H. VanderPoel

by David Jon Kassan

This small study of a young woman was probably done from a studio model, perhaps for a demonstration. It could have also been an illustration for VanderPoel's book, although it cannot be found in any editions. It's a quick drawing that was likely done in no more than a couple of hours.

This study speaks volumes about the delicacy and elegance that can be achieved with a simple line drawing. He develops his lines in vertical strokes, forming a finely woven veil. This veil acts as a value unifier—almost like a wash would be used in a watercolor to unify color.

Vanderpoel's line work is also very controlled. The subtly of the young woman's contours are chiseled out as if they were painted with a bright brush. For the most part, the pencil lines are going in vertical strokes; the main exception is the accents. Notice how the horizontals create the features against the veil of vertical line. More insistent line work in the eyes builds out the underplane of the orbital cavity. The lines in the features follow the form to add dimension.

It's amazing how much character Vanderpoel packed into this small drawing. The look in her eyes and the slight turning gesture of the head are exceptional. Vanderpoel's use of a narrow value range is very subtle (developed with the use of a hard lead). This kind of subtlety is so important to a good portrait drawing, and Head Study of a Young Girl has it. It has a silence, a quietness to it.

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5 thoughts on “Drawing Basics: David Jon Kassan's Favorite Drawing & Why

  1. I have a cherished copy of The Human Figure by Vanderpoel, 9th edition 1919. I’m so sorry that that drawing is not in my edition. I’m inspired to look further.
    Thank you so much for your incite to remind us about such a remarkable artist.