This week, we focused on line—and drew with willow charcoal, which I really enjoyed. It was also the first time I’d drawn on an easel and in such a large format (A1).

The subject of all of the drawings below was a complex still life in the middle of the room made up of a chair, a stool, vases (on different-sized and shaped blocks), bottles, and a suspended frame and tennis racket.

Exercise 1

Exercise 1

For this, we took a cardboard frame (you can see part of it in the bottom-left of the photo) and chose a composition from the still life. We focused on that for a while, and then closed our eyes and visualised it. We did that a second time, and then, keeping our eyes shut and the composition in our minds, tried to draw it on the paper—totally by feel.

Although this was difficult, I enjoyed it. The aim was to strengthen our observational and visualisation skills, and turn off our inner critic, who can’t tell you you’ve drawn something wrong when they can’t see! The results were pretty abstract, but you might be able to make out a chair and a tennis racket in the forms. We did this exercise twice.

Exercise 2

Exercise 2

The second exercise was called slow, blind contour drawing. (I can’t remember whether the first exercise falls under the same category.) This time, we were allowed to keep our eyes open, but we weren’t allowed to look at the paper we were drawing on, or what our hands were doing. The idea was to very slowly let our eyes move along the lines of the forms and let our hands follow on the paper, to build hand-eye coordination.

This was actually much harder than the the first exercise, because I’m so used to looking back and forth between the subject and what my hand is doing when I draw. In fact, resisting the temptation was so hard for most of us that Matthew (our tutor) got us to hold up a sheet of paper to the side of our face so we couldn’t look sideways and see what we were doing!

I felt like the result of this exercise was worse than for the first one, but it was certainly more interesting. And, while I thought I was using the full width of the paper, I was only using about half for most of the drawing! I’ll have to keep practising this.

Something that Matthew emphasised with this exercise was to go super slow. Many of us finished sooner than the allotted 10 or 15 minutes because we were going to fast.

Exercise 3

Exercise 3

This was our final exercise, and this time we were allowed to look at both the subject and our hands and the paper. It was on card, rather than paper, like the first two exercises. We got an hour and fifteen minutes to do this in, which sounded like a long time when Matthew told us, but it actually went quite quickly.

For this, we had to use our kebab stick (from week 1) to assess angles and proportions. Matthew also told us not to be afraid to rub lines out with our fingers and redraw them. I really enjoyed this.

To begin with, the angles on either side of the top of my stool weren’t right, but Matthew gave me a quick lesson on perspective (vanishing points and the horizon line), which really helped. (Apparently, we’re going to go into perspective more in a future session.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this session—particular standing, working larger, and getting my hands dirty with the charcoal. I was also pretty happy with what I achieved for the final exercise.

Matthew’s tips for working with charcoal

  • Don’t hold the stick like a pencil. Hold it loosely, near the end furthest from the one you’re going to draw with.
  • Use your shoulder/whole body, not just your wrist, to draw.
  • Push, and release. Push, and release.
  • Occasionally turn the stick so you don’t end up with a flat tip.
  • Don’t use an eraser, because you’ll tend to just draw the line in the same place again.
  • Don’t be afraid to rub out lines and make a mess. It can add character to a drawing and show vulnerability.
  • Try to avoid putting your hand on the paper (unless it’s intentional), or you’ll smudge your drawing.

This Wednesday coming, we’re going to work on tone.

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