1LINE BY LINE – A 12-Part Series in the New York Times’ OpinionatorDecember 2010A series on learning the basics of drawing, presented by the artist and author James McMullan. Line ByLine begins with installments on line, perspective, proportion and structure, and continues from there,using examples from art history to illuminate specific issues. Pencil and paper recommended.By JAMES MCMULLANNote: All illustrations can be enlarged on the site: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/02/the-road-to-ten-unknowns/#more-71555The illustrations are by the author unless otherwise noted. I Getting Back to the Phantom SkillDrawing, for many people, is that phantom skill they remember having in elementary school, when they drew withgreat relish and abandon. Crayon and colored pencil drawings of fancy princesses poured out onto thesketchbooks of the girls, while planes and ships, usually aflame, battled it out in the boys’ drawings. Occasionallyboys drew princesses and girls drew gunboats, but whatever the subject matter, this robust period of drawingtended to wither in most students’ lives and, by high school, drawing became the specialized province of those oneor two art geeks who provided the cartoons for the yearbook and made the posters for the prom.The first few columns of this series on drawing that I’m initiating this week will offer a primer on the basicelements of line-making, perspective, structure and proportion, which I hope will begin to rekindle the love ofdrawing for those readers who left it behind in the 4th grade. Achieving some confidence in drawing objects willget you started in the pleasure of this activity, and give you the basis for moving on to drawing figures.I also hope, in later installments, to provide insight into the vitality and sensuousness of great drawing so that yournext visit to the museum will be both more gratifying and a chance to amaze your companions with your new-found aestheticism.My method for helping you to draw focuses primarily on two aspects of the skill: first, showing you how to see thestructural logic of the object or figure you are drawing, and second, through focused practice, strengthening thelink between your eyes and hand so that you are better able to make the drawing marks you intend.For readers who are familiar with other kinds of drawing instruction that emphasize experimenting with materials,making images with different kinds of pencils, pens and paints, my approach may seem, at first, somewhat stripped
2down. However, if you try the exercises I describe, I think you will find that they give you the basic thinking andhand skills you need to move on to whatever experimenting with mediums you like.In the historical and contemporary art I use as examples here, I hope there will be many drawing styles anddifferent drawing and painting materials to inspire you. But, for the exercises in the early columns, I suggest youstick to using a 2B or 4B pencil so that the goal of clarifying your thinking and strengthening your hand-eyecoordination doesn’t get confused by the difficulties of manipulating pen and ink or any other more complicateddrawing tool.In advising you to begin with these simple materials, pencil and a drawing pad, I am not denying the sensuousnessof charcoal or pen-and-ink or paint or any of the myriad implements and colorful fluids with which, like happychildren in a mud puddle, we can make images. I’m simply hoping to provide you with a period at the start of yourendeavor in which you can focus on learning to see and getting in touch with your drawing hand without thedistraction of style or materials.In every column I will use examples from the history of art to show how certain functions of drawing andapproaches to subject matter play out successfully in the work of specific artists. De Chirico’s surreal cityscapeswill help to dramatize perspective. Edward Hopper’s paintings will illuminate how light brings out the solidity ofobjects and people. Picasso shows us how modeling can emphasize the substance of faces and bodies, whileMatisse will be exhibit A in how artists move from realism to stylization in considering the human figure.My overall goal, apart from helping with specific information, is to communicate the enthusiasm I feel for theimmediacy of drawing. It is the activity that most engages an artist’s sense of exploration, both visually, as the artistfeels out the image, new born, on the drawing surface, and intellectually, as the drawing becomes the bridgebetween observation or an idea and a graphic fact. In looking at Michelangelo’s studies for the Sistine Chapel, forinstance, so searching and in-the-moment is the artist’s attention to his subject that I often feel the years fall awayand there I am, looking over his shoulder as he draws.I confess that much contemporary drawing disappoints me for its lack of risk and immediacy. It often seems likethe product of a too premeditated and too lengthy process of refinement. Part of this may be the influence of thecomputer and the surface perfection that it achieves so easily; geometrically pure shapes, even textures, clearcolors.Another source of this arid quality may be attributable to the use of photography as a drawing shortcut.Photography as a source for subject matter has opened many amazing possibilities in 20th and 21st century art, butwhen it is used as a tracing or projecting tool in order to circumvent the difficulties of achieving correctproportion, the resulting art is often static and lifeless.
4that he could judge. The courtier approached the painter Giotto and asked for a drawing todemonstrate his skill. Instead of a study of angels and saints, which the courtier expected,Giotto took a brush loaded with red paint and drew a perfect circle. The courtier was furious,thinking he had been made a fool of; nonetheless, he took the drawing back to Boniface. ThePope understood the significance of the red circle, and Giotto got the job.This is often told as the story of the ultimate test of drawing, and I don’t dispute that it is veryhard to draw a perfect circle. However, I would argue that it is much more useful to be able todraw a circle existing in space, a circle seen turned at various angles as we usually encounter itin the world. We need to be able to draw an ellipse.The ellipse is the Frisbee of art, the circle freed from its flatness that sails out into imaginedspace tilting this way and that and ending up on the top of the soup bowl and silver cup in Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s still life or, imagine this, on the wheels of the speeding Batmobile.Jean-Baptiste ChardinThe Silver Goblet
5Once you tune into ellipses, you will begin to see them everywhere: in art, as in the Chardinpainting, or in life, in your morning coffee cup or the table top on which the cup sits. The ellipseis also implicit in every cylindrical form whether or not we see its end exposed (as it would bein a can or a cup or a length of pipe). Just look at the Picasso “Mother and Child.” Highlightingthe ellipses, as I have done, helps you to understand the basic roundness of those limbs,encouraging you to see and to draw with a volumetric rather than a flat perception of what youare observing. So the ellipse is important because it exists in so many places as an actual shape,and because it is “buried” in so many round forms that we are likely to draw.The challenge of drawing an ellipse is that it must be done with enough speed to engage thenatural “roundingness” of your reflexes. In essence, you are deciding to make a particularshaped ellipse and then letting your hand and wrist move autonomously to accomplish the job.Much of what you are practicing in learning to draw is engaging your fine motor skills in thisway, so that the hand moves to do your bidding without a ”controlling” space between decidingto make a particular line and the hand moving to do it. Before this kind of almost simultaneouscooperation between your brain and your hand occurs, you will tend to worry the line out inslow incremental steps. In this hand-eye coordination, drawing is an athletic activity thatbenefits from practice, like golf or tennis. On a page of your drawing pad, make various kinds ofellipses as a warmup for the exercise below. Keep the movement of your hand fluid andrelatively fast.Let’s begin by drawing a pot. A few words on perspective are in order before we start. Think oflooking at a can of soda on a table in front of you: the implied ellipse at the bottom of the canwhere it sits on the table is rounder that the ellipse at the top of the can because you arelooking down on it more. If it’s easier to observe this in a straight-sided drinking glass then usethat as an example. This describes the basic idea, illustrated by the diagram below, that as youlook down on an ellipse you see more of it than if the ellipse is higher up relative to your eyelevel.Start your drawing by looking at the top of the pot and making an ellipse as close as you can to
6the shape you see. Give it a couple of tries if you need to. Now bring down two outside-edgelines to where the pot bulges out. Add a center line all the way down to where you think thebottom of the pot is. Now add two horizontal lines, one at the bulge point and one a littleabove the bottom of the pot. These lines will guide you as you make the two ellipses thatdescribe the cylindrical shape of the pot. Make the ellipse at the bulge point a little rounderthan the top ellipse. Make the bottom ellipse rounder still. Now, looking at the outside edges atthe bottom of the pot, draw connecting curves between the two ellipses, trying to capture thenature of the shapes in the way that the bulge is more pronounced at the top, like shoulders,and then curves inward.Congratulations! You have now made a basic linear drawing of a pot. I encourage you tostrengthen your understanding of analyzing round forms by doing an additional exercise; choosea basically cylindrical object from your surroundings and draw it using ellipses in the same way Ihave just demonstrated. Because you will be studying an object in three dimensions rather thanin a photograph it may be easier to see the ellipses. I have photographed a group of householdobjects to suggest some of the things that you might consider. III Hatching the PotIn the last column, I discussed ellipses and how drawing them involves the fluid, fairly fastmovement of the hand, letting your reflexes carry out the kind of rounded shape you intend tomake. Now we’ll move on to shading the pot that we previously described in simple outline,using curving lines that are like segments of the ellipse.
7These are what I think of as “cat stroking” lines — curves that start gently, reach a crescendoof pressure and then fade out at the end. They enclose lines sensuously and are enormouslyuseful in describing all kinds of bulging, rolling, bumpy subjects. In using these curved lines toshade the pot, we will not only describe the shadow but, because the lines curve around thepot, we will be accentuating its actual form. In my example of cross-hatching I show that, inorder to avoid a “clotted” effect, the lines are made at different angles. I have drawn myexamples in pen and ink to make the images clearer, but you might want to draw in a 2B or 4Bpencil. Now that the pot has been illuminated with a strong directional light, we can study how thatlight falls on the object, the angles that the shadows make and how to use lines to shade thedrawing. Either using the outline drawing you did last week or, drawing the pot again, followalong with these steps to delineate the shadows on the pot.In the first stage of the drawing, I show that the light is coming from the right and slightly infront of the pot. This means that the basic pattern of shadow on the outside of the pot falls onthe left, but the shadow on the inside of the pot is on the right.
8Next, in order to show more of the complexity of the light and shadow, I begin to use cross-hatching, lines that go against the direction of my first lines, but that still consider the form ofthe pot. I notice where light catches on the shoulder of the pot, creating a little arc ofillumination that “pushes” the shadow further to the left. I also show how the shadow arcsunder the bottom of the pot, describing the way the shape rolls under towards the base. I alsonote how the light ground on which the pot sits, reflects light back onto the pot, creating a“core” shadow that is darker not at the back edge, where you might expect it, but slightly infrom the edge. This reflected light, and the “core” shadow it creates, is a frequent phenomenonin round subjects.
9In the last stage of the drawing, I use very pale lines in the light part of the pot on the right todramatize the very lightest part of the pot on the “shoulder.” In other words, I am saving paperwhite for the one dramatically lit part of the pot. I finish the drawing by shading the shadow onthe ground behind the pot, accentuating the flatness of the ground by using straighter parallellines.In order to move on to a slightly more complicated subject that still involves ellipses I havephotographed a pitcher. Its pouring lip and handle add two elements that will expand youranalytic and drawing skills. Either use the pitcher in the photo as a subject or find a similarobject to observe in three dimensions and draw, delineating both its basic structure and theeffect of light falling on it.
10 I have made a basic drawing of the pitcher that may help you as a guide in getting started. Notethat the axis of the pouring lip and the handle are the same, in other words, they line up. Alsonote that in my drawing I am using several “feeling out” strokes to get to the bulging sides ofthe pitcher. I encourage you to do this: to internalize the feeling of roundness as you make thestroke, so as to move beyond the more neutral feeling of simply reproducing the curve.Giorgio Morandi’s “Still Life with Five Objects”
11This etching is by Giorgio Morandi, one of my favorite artists. As you can see, his style ofdrawing rounded shapes is not consistent with my demonstration. This dichotomy illustrates anissue pertinent to every example I use from the history of fine art, which is that the examples Igive will expand the ideas of the lesson, rather than simply reinforcing the lesson.For instance, I have demonstrated how to use curved lines in making the drawing of the potbecause those kinds of lines help you to feel out the pot’s roundness and because the subtletyof making those lines is a way for you to engage the sensuousness of your reflexes. And now Ishow you a Morandi still life where he uses straight lines to describe round forms. Howconfusing! The Morandi etching depends for much of its contemplative beauty on the game theartist plays between the implied depth in which the objects exist and the texture of the linesthat bring the drawing back to the surface.When you are learning to draw, it is useful to understand the most obvious methods ofachieving form and proportion, but when your idea of what you want to do in your drawing isstrong enough, any line, texture or implement can achieve your vision. IV The Beagle VanishesIn the second column we freed the circle from being a flat-on geometric shape so that it couldmove out into space as the ellipse. We’ve used it to help us draw a pot and to see theroundness of forms, and now we’re going to use that ellipse to fly us into an imaginary scenethat introduces us to the principles of perspective. We follow that flying Frisbee of an ellipse asit settles down as a perfect little pond on a vast Kansas prairie. A man walks out onto that plainwith a picnic basket, a blanket and a beagle. He sits down on his blanket to admire the view andthe improbably perfect pond.
12The beagle catches the scent of the little rabbit on the other side of the pond and takes off afterit. Ignoring the shouts of his master, the dog paddles through the pond, bounds across the vastexpanse and disappears over the horizon. (Two nice farmers in the next town find him and callthe ASPCA.)The runaway beagle’s trajectory has given us a vanishing point, the first element in thegeometry of perspective: the point on the horizon towards which objects in the pictureconverge. In the first drawing, the man is sitting down so his viewpoint is low (and let’s imaginethat we’re in a slightly elevated position behind him), and because the horizon line occursroughly at eye level, the horizon line is also low and all the shapes appear relatively flattenedout. Also, in one point perspective, all the lines running from left to right are parallel to the
13horizon line.In the second diagram, where the man stands up to call his dog, he sees the scene from ahigher viewpoint and thus the horizon line is also higher within the rectangle of our image.Now the blanket and the pool become wider, front to back, as does the perceived distancebetween the man’s feet and the horizon. It’s just as the ellipses in the drawing of the potbecame wider in the same way the more we looked down on them.As useful as one-point perspective is in drawing a Kansas picnic or highways in the Nevadadessert leading straight to the sunset, other scenes require more complicated angles. For theseimages we need two-point perspective.Let’s start by going back to the circle and plotting it in two-point perspective so we know howto make an official ellipse. It may not be as fluid or interesting as your free-hand ellipse, butyou should know how to do it so you can move on with your life.
14Get Giotto to draw you a circle. Or use a compass or trace around a glass. Then, with Tsquare and ruler, draw a box around the circle. Draw a horizon line above the box. Now drawa vertical line through the middle of the box up to the horizon line (A). Draw another linebisecting the box horizontally (B). Then draw two lines from corner to corner to bisect thebox diagonally. Now draw two more vertical lines through the points where the diagonalsbisect the circle (C and D). This will give you four intersection points, E, F, G and H, aroundthe circumference of the circle.Are you still with me? Now, something a little easier to do. Choose two vanishing points, leftand right (J and I), along the horizon and roughly equidistant from the center. Now draw linesfrom the right vanishing point (I) to the top corners of the box and to the intersection pointsC, A and D. Count the lines you have just made — there should be five.Now, by drawing a line from vanishing point J to the right corner of the box, we are crossingfour lines (check the diagram) that give us important intersections. The first is intersection K ,the point at which you can make a horizontal line to complete the perspective square. Think of
15it as a flap bending away from the bottom box. I’ll get to the second intersection in a minute.The third is intersection L, which shows you where to make another horizontal line to establishthe center of the perspective box, and marking both left and right intersections “point B” tomatch how they are identified in the lower box.The second and fourth intersections, E and H, along with intersections G, F, B and A, matchthe same points in the lower box and give you the theoretical means to draw a circle seen inperspective. The theory is that you simply connect these eight points (A and B are doubled)with curved lines and, voila, you have the correct ellipse. However, I find it takes a certainamount of fiddling to swing these curves around the corners to make them look right. In otherwords, you already have to have some sense of what a perspective circle looks like in order tocarry out this last bit of the procedure. Whew! Work on your free-hand ellipses.Now, back to our Kansas prairie picnic. This time, we’ll let our beagle run off at an angle,which will give us a vanishing point, A, to the right of our picture frame. Establish the left-handvanishing point, B, along the horizon at roughly the same distance from the center as the firstvanishing point (as you did in plotting the perspective circle). Choose a point in the lower leftof the picture frame along the angle of the first vanishing point for the corner of the blanket,(C). Now join that point to the second vanishing point. This gives you the angles of two sidesof the blanket. Now choose two points that seem reasonable for the width (D), and length (E),of the blanket and join those points to the appropriate vanishing points. Now you have
16completed the perspective view of the rectangle of the blanket as it has turned to match thetrajectory of the beagle’s flight.Since we’ve spent so much time plotting the circle in perspective (a.k.a. the ellipse), let’s turnour pond into a little house on the prairie to get some practice with rectilinear shapes.First, choose a point (F) above and to the right of the blanket for the near corner of the house(as you did with the blanket), and extend lines along the vanishing point angles to establish thelength (H) and width (G) of the house. From the point F draw a vertical line to establish theheight (I) of the house.Using the vanishing point trajectories you can now complete the basic box of the house. Inorder to establish the center points of the two visible walls, make a horizontal base line, J to K,running through point F at the corner of the house. Using lines running from both vanishingpoints and through the corners of the house establish the width and length along the base line, Jto K. Measure the halfway points along that line. By extending vanishing point lines back to thehouse from the two midpoints you can figure out where to put the centered roof peak and thecentered door, and where to center windows in the remaining spaces. You have nowcompleted a scene of a blanket and a house viewed from the same vantage point
17My personal take on perspective is that one should understand enough of the basic idea ofvanishing points to substantiate how you see objects and buildings recede in space in youreveryday life, so that it helps you to draw a convincing image without having to do a lot ofplotting. An easy little exercise you can do is to draw a rectangle with a horizon line and then,free-hand, draw a series of boxes aligning with the same one or two vanishing points. It willhelp you, too, with understanding what things look like when they are low or high in an imagefield.For those of you anxious to move deeper into the labyrinth of perspective, I offer this littletaste of what you’re in for.
18Giorgio de Chirico’s “Melancholy and Mystery of a Street”
19 V Mother Nature DecodedMother Nature can look very chaotic. When we take a walk around a garden, every floweringbush can seem like a confusing explosion of blossoms and leaves, every tree like an impossiblycomplicated tangle of branches and foliage. How can we possibly draw these verdantlyoverflowing subjects without going blind, or crazy?Well, the truth is that drawing or painting the actual complexity of a bouquet of flowers or apatch of forest with precision is a high-level observational and aesthetic task that, for themoment, we will leave to artists like Henri Fantin-Latour or Gustav Klimt. We can, however,take a single stem from that bouquet and choose single trees from that forest to look at andfind a way to draw. Henri Fantin-Latour, left; Gustav Klimt, right “Roses,” left. “The Birch Wood,” right.Many people learning to draw have an understandable anxiety about getting the proportionsright. The skill of drawing proportionally comes from doing a lot of drawing, but also fromcombining the search for correct proportion with the all the other ways that we think aboutour subject as we draw. In the following analysis of a flower I think you will see that
20responding to fundamental issues in looking at the flower help us to draw the proportions ofthe plant much more easily than concentrating on each part of the plant as we come to it. A good place to start is to acknowledge that this lily is a growing plant moving upwards to getnourishment from the sun and rain, and that its central stalk is a strong column that supportsthe out-springing stems, leaves and flowers.In the first stage of the drawing I establish the direction of the stems and leaves and thecenters of the petals as they bend away from their core. Two things strike me as I make theselines — one, that the curves of the stems and leaves have a rhythmic relationship with oneanother and two, that the petals form an almost symmetrical “fountain” as they burst fromtheir center.In choosing to start my drawing in this way I have decided on a priority — that establishing thebasic growing direction of each of the elements gives me a more coherent foundation on whichto build my drawing than starting with any particular detail. This is an enormously importantinsight in drawing — if you start each observation of a subject by deciding what is mostimportant to its character, you will know where to begin your drawing and how to proceed. In
21the case of the pot you drew, its series of ellipses stacked on a central core was the key to itsstructure. In this lily you are considering something much more organic and subtle, but still witha logical structure. James McMullanIn stage two of the drawing, using the first lines as a guide as to where the centers are, I chooseto finish the two petals on the far side of the flower because they are the easiest to understandand give me more reference points to complete the other petals. Again, using the first lines as a
22guide to where the center of the leaves are, I draw the twisting forms of the leaves, registeringwhat is the underside or the top side of the leaf.In stage three of the drawing I have established enough of the architecture of the plant to drawthe details — the thicknesses of the various parts of the stalk and stems, the stamens inside theflower and the unopened buds. At this point I could keep working on all the other aspects ofshadow and atmosphere, but you could do that without me. I’ve walked you through theimportant part of the initial thinking where you might have been led astray by details.Photo A
23Photo BTrees, with their hundreds of thousands of leaves and branches reaching every which way, aredaunting subjects to draw. But just as we thought about the growing pattern of the lily to helpus organize the details in our drawing, we can observe in each individual tree clues as to whatmakes them look like they do.One of the most useful clues is the leaf of the tree itself, because examining it gives us a senseof the large shape of the tree and the kind of texture that the limbs and groups of leaves create.I have chosen two trees from the yard around my house to consider and to draw. They areboth Japanese maples, one an unusual coral bark maple (Photo A), the second a more commonsplit leaf red maple (Photo B). In the close-up photos of the leaves, you will see that the leavesof the coral bark are slightly pointier and thrust outwards more than the leaves of the redmaple, which are softer-looking and curl downwards.The different character of the leaves helps us to understand the overall shape and texture ofeach tree. The coral bark’s silhouette is spiky, with large indentations in its mass, echoing thevigorous pushing-outward energy of the leaves and the deep spaces between each of the leaves’five segments. The feeling of the whole red maple is softer and rounder with fewer big gaps inits perimeter, just like the broader, downward-curling leaf.
25Start your drawings by sketching out the large shapes, quickly giving the tree the generalcharacter of spikiness (in the case of the coral bark) or roundness and softness (in the case ofthe red maple). As you proceed to map out the big masses of leaves, keep using the appropriatekind of line, jagged and up-thrusting for the coral bark, and round and downward-arcing for thered maple. The coral bark’s leaves feel like they are arranged along the outer branches to formlong, spear-like protrusions, whereas the red maple’s leaves feel like soft, rounded clumps.Rather than trying to draw individual leaves, use the characteristic spiky or rounded line toevoke the whole texture of the tree. You are drawing the overall character of the tree, not arendering for a horticultural textbook. Even when you use groups of lines to quickly developlarge shadow areas, keep thinking of the kind of edges and shapes that you see in that particulartree. The red maple, for instance, has a kind of fussiness that you could reflect by using linesthat jig and jag around and that have a sense of downward-pointedness. The coral bark’sshadow areas can be developed with patches of angular lines that move upward and outward.Drawing the lily was a more precise observational exercise because we could look at arelatively simple subject up close. The tree drawings were a way to generalize the centralcharacter of a more complex and larger subject that we were observing from more of adistance.However, with enough patience, and finding a tree you love to observe, it is quite possible todo a “portrait” of a particular tree, and I encourage you to find that special tree and to have theexperience of drawing it with concentration and particularity. Mother nature may often seemimpossibly chaotic, but sometimes she can be pinned down. I include here a drawing of a treethat attracted me in its wintry starkness.In the next column, we will draw two manufactured objects that require a somewhat differentapproach.
27 VI The Shadow KnowsProbably the first thing we notice when we observe an object is its shape. This is anenormously useful characteristic because it gives us an immediate impression of the spirit of thesubject.Think of the shape of an elephant. Its mass and tree-trunk-like legs suggest the slow,unstoppable movement of the animal. Contrast this with the shape of a grasshopper, whosedelicate antennae and jutting-back legs suggest a more nervous, fast kind of energy. Respondingto shape is the first step in our logical and intuitive search for the meaning of what we draw.If responding to shape is a fundamental aspect of seeing an object, it also interacts with all ourother perceptual responses in helping us make sense of our subjects. When one is activelyobserving a subject in order to draw it, the mind is ping-ponging among different visualresponses, shape-to-color-to-contour-to-shadow-to-proportion, and from those purely“eyeball” calculations to all the memory and psychological associations we have about oursubject.This ability of the mind to intermingle all our different kinds of reactions enriches our responseand strengthens each part of that response. Shape is made more meaningful by seeing color andvolume, and particularly by our recognition of our subject’s “thingness” — what makes an
28elephant an elephant, for instance. Understanding the significance of each part of a shape —seeing that the bump behind an elephant’s head is where the strength of the shoulder revealsitself and is different in nature from the soft curve of the belly — helps us to draw lines thatevoke various kinds of energy. This is in contrast to making a contour line that moves around ashape as though each part is equal, like a neutral diagram. What we want from each stage of thedrawing is to try to answer more and more of the question, “How is this thing different fromevery other thing?”I include a watercolor drawing of a tap dancer to show how the silhouetteof a figure can convey a particular vitality better than the details themselves.In the process of drawing a shoe and a chair, I will show you how you can see their shapes aspart of your response to their functions, and as the beginning of a much richer mental gamethan contour alone. You can either draw the shoe and chair from the photos or find a shoe andchair of your own to draw, following my steps.I begin by thinking about how I put on a shoe and how I walk in it. In the drawing I made over
29the shape of the shoe (at right), I emphasize the aperture that the foot uses to get into theshoe, the embracing forms of the instep, the heel and the toe, the point at which the ball of thefoot hits the ground and the flexible area on top that gets wrinkled by the constant bending ofthe material. At this stage I am ignoring all the logos and surface designs so that I canconcentrate on the fundamental issues of how the shoe is made to accommodate the foot andits function. In this way, I have enlivened the shape of the shoe in my mind so that differentparts have different qualities and it is no longer like the map of a country I have never visited.This analysis (which you can make by simply thinking about the shoe and without diagrammingit) will guide me in making a more detailed drawing of the shoe.As I start, I am still thinking about the large enclosing areas that I emphasized on the silhouetteshape. I first make the bottom line of the sole where the pressure of the ball of the foot isexerted — it feels to me like a basic aspect of the “walking” function of the shoe. Then I makelines that enclose the heel, toe and instep, and a looping line that begins to describe theaperture of the shoe. Even though these lines form a kind of contour, I have tried to make eachof them express the particular kind of pressure and implicit volume I feel in that area. This is incontrast to a contour line that simply describes an edge by moving evenly around the shape.These first lines are especially important because, just as in the drawing of the lily, I amchoosing among the myriad details I am seeing to find the issues that seem particularly centralto the function of the shoe and, in that way, I take charge of the drawing.
30Now I make volumetric lines around the heel and below the instep to establish the larger formsof the shoe. I add more detail to the aperture and the laces. As much as possible, I try to usethe design details to reinforce the three-dimensionality of the shoe, even trying to imagine whatzoomy, wrap-the-foot feelings the designer had when he decided to make these particularshapes. As I draw, I see that I have slightly missed the chunky proportions of the sneaker, so Imake correctional lines around the top lining to make that part higher. A drawing should feellike a live, open-ended experience in which you can amend your lines as you absorb more andmore of your subject.This is the finishing stage of the drawing, and I concentrate on strengthening the roundedness ofthe forms, adding more volumetric lines around the area at the ball of the foot, heel and toe. Iadd darks to the surface the shoe sits on to give it more spatial presence and to set off the
31white color of the material. As I draw the designs on the surface I hold back slightly on theirdarkness so that the graphic elements won’t overwhelm the sense of form in the whole shoe.This lack of logo enthusiasm on my part helps the drawing to maintain it’s unity, but it probablywon’t lead to any phone calls asking me to do product illustration.The happy guy at ease in the furry chair represents the beginning of my thinking about drawingthe chair. I let the idea of sitting register strongly in my mind as I look at the chair — I canimagine what the seat and the back feel like as I sit, and remember the trust I put in chair legsto do their job stoutly and not collapse. I think of soft chairs and hard chairs and put thisparticular chair in the medium- hard category. The design of the chair slots into 1940’s Englishno-nonsense with some mild Art Deco around the slats. A likable bourgeois seat from which toeat your soft-boiled eggs. This little common-sense exercise helps me to see the chair as both achair-chair as well as a specific chair, anything but a neutral shape. The lines I have drawn overthe chair silhouette emphasize these core functions of sitting and support.
32I start the drawing by making the rectangle of the seat, then the line describing one side of theback and the connecting leg. Next I draw two lines delineating the near front leg. Now I haveimplicitly set up the position of all four legs. As you see from my red lines, the rectangle on thefloor is anchored by the two legs I have drawn and echoes the rectangle of the seat. My basicsense of perspective helps me to draw the lines so that the elements recede. Part of thesatisfaction of starting the drawing in this way, is that it’s like the answer to a puzzle — how doI figure out in the most efficient way where the ends of the legs are?Once the positions of the various rectangles that comprise the chair are pinned down, itbecomes a matter of adding the details so they are both where they should be and they alsoretain the character of this specific chair. As I draw the legs, for instance, I think about thedifference between the edge of a sawn wooden piece and the same part of a chair if it weremade from an extruded steel pipe. They are both straight, but the wood has a certain softness
33in it’s straightness that the steel would not.It may seem odd to think about different kinds of straightness, but a sensitivity to the materialsthat an object is made from is one of the things that I believe experience in drawing will leadyou to. In the final stage of the drawing I use cross-hatch shading to bring out the sturdiness ofthe chair and the flatness of the seat — the qualities of structure and “sittingness” with which Ibegan.Learning to understand the structure of a shoe or a chair and be able to draw it in astraightforward manner gives you the basis to consider those objects (or any others) in a morepersonal and intuitive way. These two paintings by Van Gogh resonate with the memories andassociations that this pair of boots and this chair had for him in his life.Vincent van Gogh A Pair of Shoes, 1886Vincent van Gogh Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888
34 VII The Three AmigosThere is something particularly satisfying about setting up objects for a still life painting. It’s likea little world that you control. First you get to choose the inhabitants — maybe a vase, someflowers, a weird gourd, a plastic Mickey Mouse, your baby shoes — and then you get to movethem around like a potentate.Of course, this opportunity to combine a mélange of objects can lead to a too-complicatedvisual mess. There are a few fundamental decisions to make before you start a still life: decidingon how many elements to include, how to arrange them so that they overlap in a good way andhow to position the objects to create not only a satisfying aggregate shape, but also ensure thatthe negative space is interesting.Alice Neel’s “Symbols (Doll and Apple),” c.1933
35Paul CézanneWe have many models in the history of art to help us think about still lifes. Cezanne and hisapples immediately leaps to mind. His art, like the painting I include here, demonstrates how tobuild a complex but harmonious arrangement. Thinking of still lifes that are a bit more quirky, Ishow an early painting by Alice Neel that is full of strange psychological emanations. Somecontemporary artists, like Wayne Thiebaud, arrange their objects in grid-like patterns. Thisstyle of echoing modern mass production dispenses with the old idea of compositional charmaltogether.Many artists have chosen to paint still lifes simply to represent some idea of beautyrather than to make any particular narrative point, yet even the most “neutral” painting ofapples or roses tends to suggest the abundance of life or its transitory nature. Too, therelationship of objects in a still life almost inevitably brings to mind the relative status or kind ofconnection that the objects have with one another.The doll at the center of Neel’s painting dominates the apples and the glove, whereas the threeapples in the bowl in the Cezanne seem protected by both the bowl and the drapery, andguarded by the two outlying apples. I may be making more of a point about the implications thatarise out of still lifes than perhaps Cezanne or the other artists ever intended, but I do it toshow that the choice and arrangement of objects in a still life is less neutral and moreinteresting than you might have expected.Although I am specifically dealing with the idea of a simple still life here, the issues of therelative scale of elements, what goes in the foreground or the background, the rhythm ofshapes and the effect of light and shade would be as pertinent to a composition of figures in aninterior or a landscape, in fact any kind of complex image you can imagine.
36I have chosen three objects: a dark glass vase, a bowl with apples and a cream pitcher. I willpaint these objects in five different arrangements to show how the objects can overlap eachother gracefully and how each arrangement affects the proportions of the picture, the negativespace and the character of the objects’ relationships.In the photograph of the objects the vase is in the center, and even though the effect is of a
37school lineup, the vase is definitely the tall student in the class, and, despite the curves, possiblya bully or a mean girl. The arrangement is satisfyingly symmetrical and the rectangle of thepicture is spacious enough to hold the three elements comfortably. In the painting just above, Ihave moved the vase to the left, possibly the head of the school line, and made someadjustments to the picture. I moved the white cloth that the objects sit on so that it cuts theforeground at an angle, roughly echoing the angle of the slant of light in the background. Thisbalances the optical heaviness of the vase on the left, and enlivens the negative space in thepicture. In these exercises I am making these paintings in very limited, almost monochromaticcolor, to keep the emphasis on the composition.I now move the pitcher slightly forward. The group starts to feel more integrated — as thoughthey have started some kind of dialogue. I include the line drawing that was scanned at an earlystage of the art to show both my adjustments to the drawing and to the rectangle of thepicture. I have also highlighted the significant intersection of this composition — the placewhere the pitcher overlaps with the fruit bowl. It was important to move the pitcher enough infront of the bowl so that the curve at the bottom of the bowl didn’t start to ride up the frontedge of the jug. I also made sure that the spout of the pitcher was above the rim of the bowl tomake a visually satisfying relationship between the ellipse of the bowl and the hooked shape ofthe spout.The general rule about overlaps is that they should clearly move one shape in front of the other
38and should avoid two shapes, particularly curves, just touching each other. In the painting’sbackground, I darken the area at the right to help balance vase on the left, and I adjust thewhite cloth to allow a little of the table edge to show along the bottom. That dark bar visuallystabilizes the composition. The shadows cast by the objects help to connect them and to bringa sense of light atmosphere into the image.I scanned the line drawing at a moment when I was using the space relationship between thespout of the pitcher and the curve of the vase to judge the position of the pitcher. This was aclearer point to me than using the base of the pitcher to figure out where it sits in the field. Iadjusted the rectangle after I realized that I needed more space on the left to match the spaceon the right. In the painting, the shadow cast by the vase on the back wall becomes a significantfactor in the feeling of the whole picture. It both dramatizes the top lip of the jug and it furtherseparates the jug from its companions. Now the jug poses a question and one apple leansforward skeptically. The vase is mute.
39Uh, oh! Poor juggy had too much heavy cream at the party last night and he’s not feeling tip-top. Artist James is also having a little trouble with the proportions of the rectangle, but afterfour tries he gets it right.In the intersection of the jug and vase it was important that the curve of the spout clear thebase of the vase. It creates a little negative shape that is more interesting than having the twoellipses pile on top of one another as they would have been if the jug had been higher in thecomposition. Comparing the drawing with the painting you can see how much the tone of theback wall and the cast shadows help to pull the elements together.Another reasonable alternative to this formation would have been to have the jug lower down,clearing the shape of the vase altogether.I hope this will encourage you to choose three relatively simple objects and try some differentcompositions. It will give you practice in drawing objects and getting a feel for how oneparticular relationship of shapes can feel wrong, and yet one that’s only slightly different can feelright, right, right!The fact that the rectangles I drew in these exercises were not accurate, or that I had tochange them as I proceeded, does not take away from their usefulness in my mental process.Drawing the rectangle free-hand as a first step makes it come alive in my thinking in a way that
40simply accepting the edges of a drawing pad as my “field” would not. That first movement of mypencil or brush to choose those four edges as the space in which I will make my future choicesis as much a part of my drawing as all the other lines I will make.I suggest that in making compositional sketches you draw a rectangle on your pad as a beginningstep, rather than always planning your composition using the full area of the pad. You mightwant to consider a bigger pad than you usually use to give you more possibilities in the shapesthat you can draw.In the next column I will investigate how to analyze the forms in drawing heads. VIII Plumbing the HeadThe human head is potentially the most emotional subject an artist can choose. We spend ourlives scanning other people’s faces to assess their relationship to us and our feelings towardsthem. Among the myriad expressions a face can produce we can see friendliness, attractiveness,intelligence, wariness, hostility or aggression, and we tend to credit this expressiveness mostlyto the eyes and the mouth. As artists, however, we can draw the head to reveal that itspersonality comes not just from the features but from the character of all its forms, and fromhow the eyes, the nose and the mouth are sculpturally embedded in the terrain of the wholehead.To help us get past the idea of the face as a kind of flattish mask sitting in front of a vaguebulbous form with ears, we need first to accentuate its spatial ins and outs in a diagrammaticdrawing. This gives us a chance to really enjoy how much each of us has a particular nose juttingout at a particular angle, a particular setback from our brow to our eyes, a particular mound ofmuscles surrounding our mouths, particular rolling fields in our cheeks, a particular thrust toour chin and a particular mass in the shape of the back of our head.
41I show here a diagrammatic drawing and a more realistic drawing of a model to demonstrate, ina two-step procedure, the possibility of simplifying the forms in a study to prepare us for doinga more naturalistic portrait.In the first drawing, I have emphasized the steep projection of the sides of the nose from theplane of the cheek and the nose’s angle relative to the slope of the forehead, the deep setbackof the eyes from the brow, the angular planes of the cheek moving down to the forward-projecting muscles around the mouth and the strong, jutting chin. Another important aspect ofthe drawing is that it describes the narrow depth of the back of the head and thus determinesthe overall proportion of this man’s skull.As you can see by comparing the two drawings, much of the personality of the man’s head wascaptured in the basic shapes of the diagrammatic version, even before the more subtle details ofthe eyes and mouth were added in the second drawing.Below are four more examples of diagrammatic and realistic head drawings.
42In the video included here, I draw two models and, as I am doing it, I explain my responses tothe character of their heads.
43The analysis of John’s head became an instinctive part of my observation as I did this oil portraitof him.See video at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/04/plumbing-the-head/#more-66531
44 IX Drawing FunnyThe subject of this column is caricature, but I’m not going to explain or demonstrate it myself.When the art god was doling out the syrup of graphic wit, he must have slipped on a bananapeel just as he got to my cup and most of it spilled out on the floor. This being the case, I havechosen three artists whose cups of graphic wit truly runneth over and whose work representscaricature at its highest and most droll level of accomplishment.Two are friends of many years and are literary wits as well as being celebrated artists: EdwardSorel, whose covers for the New Yorker are legendary, and Robert Grossman, whoseanimated films, comic strips and sculptures are both political and hilarious. The third artist, TomBachtell, creates stylish drawings for The New Yorker every week and, memorably, for manymonths played graphic games with George Bush’s eyebrows.I asked each of the artists to create a caricature of Pablo Picasso and to give us whatever backstory on their process that they choose to share. I think the results show that in order to drawfunny, it really helps to be able to free-associate with fish, ex-wives and square eyes.So here’s Picasso — three ways.Edward Sorel
47Robert GrossmanThought process: Picasso. Intense gaze. Makes sense in his case. One of his gimmicks was to putboth eyes on one side of a face, which nature had only ever done in the instance of theflounder. Can I show him as a flounder?
48Refining the f lounder concept until I realize I’m the one who’s floundering. Pablo in Art Heaven glaring down at the puny efforts of mere mortals.
49Tom Bachtell“I work in brush and ink. I drew the face a dozen times, playing with various brushes, strokes,line weight and other ways of applying the ink. I started to imagine the face on the surface ofthe paper and chase after it with the brush, trying to capture the squat, vigorous, self-confidentposer that I see when I think of Picasso, those black eyes blazing out at the viewer. Since heoften broke faces into different, distorted planes I felt free to do that, as well as making his eyesinto squares and his nose into a Guernica-like protuberance.”
50 X The Chain of EnergyIn the preceding columns I have introduced you to ways of seeing the particular structural logicof different kinds of subjects — the ellipses within round objects, the strength and/or flexibilitybuilt into manufactured objects like shoes or chairs, perspective as a key in seeing spacerelationships in complex scenes, growing patterns in subjects like flowers and trees, and thecubistic understructure of the human head. Now we are ready to move on to considering howto see and draw the whole human figure. It is the most subtle, challenging and rewardingsubject for us as artists.In order to observe the nuances of movement in musculature, we will study the nude body. Itwill give you the foundation for better understanding the clothed figure.(Note: Because the approach I am introducing you to entails a big change of thinking — a reachfor the life force rather than just the surface shadows in drawing the figure — I will present thesubject in two columns. In this, the first column, I will explain and demonstrate what one couldcall the goal of drawing the figure, and in the next I will give you strategies for approaching thegoal from different directions. This may seem counter-intuitive, since I am giving you the“steps” last, but because the central idea of this approach is so necessary to all practice of it,the leading-up exercises would mean nothing if you didn’t know where you were headed.)
51The body, as we know, is a miraculous system of bones, muscles, blood and nerves, and it ispossible to study it in purely anatomical terms. We can follow da Vinci’s example and learn asmuch about the body as any medical student, and it might serve us well as artists, but most ofus don’t have the inclination for this scientific kind of study nor the stomach for dissection. Weshould, of course, have a general grasp of the major bones in the skeleton and the big musclegroups as a basis for drawing the figure. But knowledge of anatomy can take us artists only sofar, because studying anatomical illustrations gives us a static view of the body that is difficult toimpose on the actual gesture of any model we see before us.Fortunately, the body, moving as it does in life, tells us a story that we can learn to read.Because the body is a cooperative totality — every part is engaged, to one degree or another,with any movement that is initiated — we can read this rhythmic dialogue that courses throughfrom the feet to the head and out to the fingertips. It is a chain of energy. We learn to read itby looking at the figure in a more total and empathic way.Instead of concentrating on details and accumulating our drawing bit by bit, measuring each partas though it were an equal component to every other part, we see in each particular pose thatthe energy is being used and controlled in a way that is specific to that pose. We can find pointsof pressure or relationships that make the model’s movement come alive for us; each of thosepoints or relationships can become a “big idea” that helps us find a place to start and a theme
52to pursue as we continue to draw.Once you tune into this story that the body tells, it will seem like one of those Aha! momentswhere you say to yourself, “Why didn’t I see this before?” Yet getting to that moment is oftendifficult. Most people have to discard an approach to the figure where they make a “picture” ofthe model that depends mostly on setting up edges and shading in the interior forms.The change in thinking that achieves liveliness in drawing involves recognizing that the forcesthat animate the body are widespread. We have to be prepared to see the pressure in a hip, forinstance, being echoed and continued in the pressure on the opposite side of the rib cage andon to the pressure in the opposite side of the neck. It is a much more spatial way of seeing thebody than the “containment” method that many artists use. Instead of locking down the formsof the body, the approach I am introducing celebrates how much the forms are moving backand forth in space, and implying, in the moment after our drawing is finished, that the model willmove again.In the video that follows, you will see me draw a model in two poses and analyze my thinking asI go along. I hope it will introduce you to these ideas about drawing the figure in a way that isclearer than a series of still drawings.
53Video is at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/18/the-chain-of-energy/#more-69883I include here some drawings I have done using color in a non-naturalistic way to intuitivelyregister my response to the changes of pressure and direction of forms in the poses I amobserving. I hope they will help you to see the possibilities of concentrating on the energy ofthe figure as the objective of drawing. In the next column, I will give you exercises that will help you achieve more vitality in yourdrawings of the figure.
54 XI Strategies to Get You ThereIn the last column, I demonstrated a way of looking at the figure and seeing the energy thatmoves from part to part. This makes it possible for us to draw the figure and express itsliveliness and psychology, as well as to engage an effective route toward seeing proportion.Once we tune into these cooperative forces that animate the body, they seem obvious; yetopening up the kind of intuitive intelligence we need in order to see these forces is difficultwhen we are so used to relying mainly on the simple scanning operations of our eyes. As wedraw, we need to record pressures and not just edges, and we need to see relationshipsbetween parts rather than just pieces of the body.The exercises and ideas in this week’s column are designed to move you toward the goal ofseeing the energy chain in the body by practicing drawing large forms, and getting used to theidea of moving out in your drawing and not worrying about attaching one thing to another orenclosing the whole shape of the figure. Once you have gotten over your fear of making a markout in the white space of the paper and a distance away from the last mark you made, it willfree your mind to see that significant energy relationships in the body are often not right nextto one another.
55The first exercise in the video below uses patches of lines to describe the large forms of thepose and the pressures that move throughout the body.The second drawing in the video shows that, as an artist, you have to be alive to thepossibilities of each pose as you encounter it, and be willing to be surprised and to surpriseyourself. This also involves seeing the beautiful relationship that often exists between themodel’s gaze and his or her hands.The third drawing in the video demonstrates that sometimes, when your reaction to themodel’s gesture is particularly strong, an urgent, rougher drawing will help you to feed back toyourself the character of the pose. This kind of experience with drawing — overstating whatyou see — will give you a taste of how the spirit of caricature is an important element of a lotof interesting art.The fourth drawing in the video shows how important it is to identify the central aspects of apose in order to give yourself a theme that helps you to organize your thoughts and the orderin which you tackle the different parts of the body.All of these practices will lead you to empathic thinking. What do I imagine the thigh feels like?What do I sense coming from the model’s face and gesture? Where does holding that poseprobably hurt? What do I find most beautiful? When you can reach out mentally toward themodel in this way, your drawing hand will become much more able to mimic the qualities of theforms that you see — you will be able to make the stroke saying to yourself, “It FEELS likeTHIS!” — rather than simply noting that the stroke is in the correct place. The best drawings ofthe human figure seize on its life force.
56 Showing pressure with patches of lines. Using the model’s gaze as a clue to thewhole pose.
57Responding to the spirit of the hands. Overstating the character of the pose.
58Video: The Energy Chain at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/strategies-to-get-you-there/#more-70819 I have been mostly dealing with active poses in this discussion of drawing the figure, so I amincluding this drawing of a sitting figure, since many of you will want to draw your friends posingin a more comfortable position.To help you find the vitality in a typical sitting pose, I have diagrammed the energy chain in thisexample. Because the young woman is supported by the chair she sits on, the strength in herbody is used mainly to hold up and balance the elements of the head, the spinal column and thepelvis. The legs are relatively passive but they contribute a bracing element to the overallstability of her body.It’s important when drawing a pose like this to find a clue in the area of the abdomen thatimplies the support of the chair seat and gives you a sense of how the pelvis is tilted (in aclothed figure the clue is often the ellipse of the belt or the waistband). Those of you whopractice yoga or any of the allied exercise disciplines know about the optimal alignment of thehead, spine and pelvis. As artists drawing the figure, we are recording all the different ways thatindividuals meet that standard or deviate from it.
59Finally, as an end note to my discussion of drawing the figure, I feel that confidence in being ableto evoke the figure realistically gives you the platform for playing aesthetic games that are notso rigorously correct. Your opinions about the body and the model, whether emotional,skeptical, lustful or witty, will finally be the elements that bring meaning to your drawing. In the two color examples included here, I have drawn the same model quickly andenthusiastically in order to register my strong response to his skinny body and his theatricalsense of movement. He reminded me of a flamenco dancer or a naked Don Quixote.In the next column, the last in the series, I will show you my process of creating a poster forLincoln Center Theater. XII The Roads to Ten ‘Unknowns’In this last column of the series, I will show you the process of conceptual thinking, sketching,
60research photos, painting and lettering that led to a finished theater poster, in this case one forJon Robin Baitz’s play “Ten Unknowns,” which was presented at Lincoln Center Theater in2001.Nearly all the steps in creating the poster involved drawing.In “Ten Unknowns,” Malcolm Raphelson, the central character played by Donald Sutherland, isa figurative artist who had a period of New York success in the late 1940s, just before the riseof Abstract Expressionism as the dominant painting style.As the play begins, it is now the 1990s, and Malcolm has retreated to a remote Mexican town,dispirited and contemptuous of the current art world. His art dealer, trying to encourage himto exhibit again, has sent him a young man to assist him in his work. Crassly oversimplifying aplot that has two other characters and many dramatic interweaving tensions, the central cruxof the story is that Malcolm is in a state of deep creative anxiety, so incapacitating, questionsarise regarding recent paintings in the studio. Did Malcolm actually paint the pictures? Or arethey the work of the young assistant?Although this mystery involving the paintings and the relationship between the assistant andMalcolm was intriguing, I felt it was too complicated to represent visually, so I chose to use themore fundamental dilemma of the artist facing painter’s block as the conceptual theme of myposter.
61 The idea of facing an imaginative void made me think about an actual void, the empty canvas, oran empty sheet of paper, and how that moment of beginning is loaded with possibility and fear.In these first sketches, I am playing with a straightforward depiction of the artist facing the blankcanvas, an artist becoming a canvas, an artist painting in the wrong direction and an artist seenthrough a transparent canvas. Any of these ideas might, with some inspired painting, have beenturned into a poster, yet none felt right. There’s a theory about writing that applies — that,when you reach a serious sticking point, the key to moving on successfully is to throw out theelement that you had been hanging on to because it is your favorite thing. My favorite thinghere had been the canvas, and in a moment of clarity I realized that if I got rid of the canvas I’dbe left with an empty easel, a much more powerful and poignant way of expressing the painter’ssense of creative emptiness.Besides, an easel might become a kind of skeletal structure that the painter could hold onto insome emotionally charged way and through which we could see him — as though looking at a
62man thro ugh prison bars.This small pencil sketch gave me the basic idea. Now, I had to create a real ambience for theelements in the image and had to make some decisions about the figure himself. Heat, light anda certain mood of exhaustion were in my head as I started my color sketch. I imagined thepainter hanging onto the easel almost as though he needed it for support. He would be bare-chested to emphasize the tropical heat of the Mexican locale and also to suggest his state ofvulnerability. I imagined the light flooding in from an open door behind this tableau of artist andeasel.
63As the little painting developed, I made the easel quite dark as a kind of anchor for the wholeimage and as a strong centered shape through which we see the artist posed slightly off-centerand with his face partly obscured. I made the edges of the doorway soft and indeterminate togive more sense of the light pouring in and also to let the hard shape of the easel dominate. Iadded a canvas leaning on the floor and a table with art supplies. I decided on verystraightforward lettering that slightly disappeared as the letters crossed into the darker areas,perhaps suggesting the idea of the “unknown.”I was satisfied enough with this sketch to show it to Bernard Gersten, the executive producerof Lincoln Center Theater, and he and his creative team agreed that the concept worked andthat I should proceed with the finished art.Because I work on the poster many weeks before play rehearsals start, the actors are often notavailable for me to photograph as research. Pre-existing photographs of the actors or headshots are useless to me since my images depend entirely on the nuances of the gesture I amimagining, so I don’t do portraits of actors unless I can photograph them myself. Lincoln CenterTheater is usually satisfied to have the character in the poster portrayed as a type rather than aspecific actor, so I went ahead and persuaded a good friend, Mirko Ilic, to pose as the painter.He is considerably younger than both the character in the play and Donald Sutherland, but Iwas fairly sure that Mirko could give me the information I needed for my painting.
64 I did five fairly elaborate paintings, partlybecause the light effect in the background wash had to be done quickly and didn’t turn out quiteright, or the figure became overworked. But I also kept painting because the image reallyintrigued me and I wanted to do it again and again to see what else would happen. Below aretwo of these preliminary paintings, one in which the figure looks too young and one in which Iwent overboard with the wrinkles.Finally, I produced a version I liked. It had the sense of light I wanted and the figure looked
65haggard yet interesting in the right way. I did lettering that was not quite as simple as myoriginal sketch but that suited the density of this particular painting. I sent it over to the theater.By this time, however, I had used up four weeks and the play was in rehearsal, so the reactionto my art became colored by the fact that the star was on the premises. For the producers, itwas now paramount that my poster show a likeness of Donald Sutherland. Whateverdisappointment I felt about my art being rejected was balanced by the great opportunity ofphotographing Sutherland and then making a poster out of those shots.I took the easel over to the theater and showed Sutherland my sketch. He said that heunderstood my idea and would give me a couple of variations. His variations were so full of agreat actor’s physical imagination and sense of what his face and body could project that I knew,watching his changes through my camera’s viewfinder, that he was giving me the basis for awhole new kind of image. In place of the somewhat generalized melancholy of the figure in mysketch he was giving me a specific man, a heroic figure saddened by circumstance.
66As I did the sketch on the left, I became convinced that it wasn’t the pose I should use —Sutherland seemed almost too concealed by the easel. In the right-hand sketch, parts of hisfigure emerge in an intriguing way from behind the easel and the angles of his arms contrast
67with the straightness of the easel frame. The composition needed an element in the foreground,so I added the corner of a table and a can of brushes. Also in this sketch, I conceived thebeginnings of my idea for the type, which was to play the lettering against and around the easel.In this study I am still hanging on to the background idea and the general color mood from myprevious sketches, but allowing the easel to touch the top edge of the poster rectangle gave methe idea of a tighter, flatter composition that would be much more designed to its borders.Also, because the easel is lighter here, I saw how interesting the shape of the black pantsbecame. Even though the effect of this watercolor is too gloomy and graphically too even-toned, it was a necessary step in moving me from the first idea of the poster into thepossibilities that the Donald Sutherland photographs had opened up.There was a big jump in my thinking at this point. I realized that the light atmosphere that I hadhung onto through all the previous versions was wrong for the information in the new photos.This insight led me to make the basic drawing in a flatter way, forgoing a deeper sense of depthand playing all the shapes as a pattern within the border rectangle. I then painted a simpleorange background fading at the bottom to a darker hue. Now there was no suggestion of adoor or light coming from behind.At this point I saw that leaving the shirt white was a dramatic graphic element. The white shirtand the orange background set up a brighter, higher color key and led me to make the easel
68much more subtle and to allow the contrasts of the shirt, the pants and the skin tones todominate the image.I wasn’t bound by the things I had learned from the earlier sketches — this felt like a piece ofart that was making its own rules. It was one of those happy experiences where I made thepainting in a state of complete focus and in the space of three or four hours. I designed thelettering to continue the game of playing elements against the border and against edges withinthe composition. When I was finished, I was fairly sure I had created the piece of art that wouldbecome the printed poster, and, fortunately, everyone at Lincoln Center Theater agreed.The emotional center of the poster was now the face of the painter, because the photographsof Donald Sutherland had given me an intensity and a specificity to work with that was farbeyond any way I could have imagined the figure or achieved from using a stand-in.This column brings to a close this 12-part series. It has been absorbing for me and a greatpleasure to write these columns, and to revisit aspects of drawing I haven’t thought aboutanalytically for some time and to find new ways to articulate my deep interest in drawing the
69human figure. I am grateful to all of you who have followed the series. To those of you whohave taken the time to have written comments in response to the columns, you have made itincredibly interesting and rewarding for me. Thank you, all.