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The Providence of Fundamentals – Learning to Draw Before You Paint Pays Dividends

This story is a tribute to new students of mine who brought with them some rare commodities—courage and tenacity.  The story goes like this:

Prior to the end of 2016 I had received several requests for a drawing class.  “I want the basics,” they said, and that made me more than happy.  Rare it is to find these days a beginner who understands how important it is to start at the beginning, let alone several, unrelated, at the same time.  (To be clear, painting is not the beginning, drawing is.)

So I obliged and offered a course I called Fundamentals, Parts I and II: Drawing and Painting the Still-Life.  The first day was a great success (or so I thought).  It was February 4th, 2017, there were five students, and three had paid the registration fee, which implied they were committed to the class.  I did a demo on how to start, then each assembled a simple still-life and got to work.

As the weeks passed, the numbers dwindled.  Subject matter just not sexy enough?  Something else?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that the student who stayed with it—Yana, a talented and strong-minded Siberian—produced a beautiful still-life in graphite.  Here is a gallery of her effort:

But this story isn’t just about Yana.  It’s also about Livia.

Livia came late to the course at the beginning of March when only Yana remained.  I had already gotten to know Livia from the Figure Drawing class I held on Thursday evenings.  After a couple of weeks of figure drawing she asked me if she could attend any other class so she could put in more time.  I told her about the Fundamentals class and said she could join it on one condition: you stick with it to the end.  She agreed.

Much to my delight, she kept her word.  By the end of March, she was the only one. (Yana had left to visit the homeland.)

Livia’s development was a joy to see from week to week, which you can witness for yourself in the gallery below.  In light of the fluid world we live in today, it is most comforting—nay, most relieving—to be reminded that some understanding and practice of basic principles are ever pillars of reward.  I am especially pleased with what she was able to accomplish with the painting.  Could it have been thus without some knowledge of drawing?  Perhaps.  But rather than count on providential intervention during a baptism-by-fire painting experience, I’d prefer to see more like her have the courage to tackle the fundamentals first.

So this story is to say “thank you” to Livia and Yana for seeing the strength in the basics and sticking with it.

Brave!  Sono orgoglioso di tutte e due.

Timothy Allen
Founder and Director
The Painting and Drawing Art Studio of Rome

 

 

How to Calibrate Your Drawing from Life with a Camera, Computer and Image Editing Software

Max Doerner said “it is no more possible to learn to paint from books than to learn to swim on a sofa.”  A variation on that could easily be “it is no more possible to learn to draw from photographs than to learn to swim on a sofa.”

That said, I’ve realized in recent years that it can be very helpful to compare a life drawing to a photograph, especially given the ease with which it can be done.  Here’s what you need to do it:

  • A camera (an iPhone will do);
  • A computer (I use a Macbook Air);
  • An image editor (I use Adobe Fireworks from CS5, now discontinued; else Photoshop will work)

Step 1.  Take a picture of your drawing, then take a picture of your model, taking care not to get too close in order to avoid an overly distorted image.

Step 2.  Import both pictures into the image editor, placing one on top of the other.  If they are different sizes, don’t worry.

Here I have imported the photo of the model, Flavia.

Here I have imported the photo of the model, Flavia.

Step 3.  Scale the photo of the model to the drawing (Don’t worry if the model image gets pixelated.)  To do this, put the model image on top of the drawing image, set the model image to 50% transparency and increase (or decrease) the size of the image until it more or less coincides with one or more of the principle features; I usually target the eyes and nose.

With the image of Flavia at 50% transparency, I've matched the size of her image to the drawing below.

With the image of Flavia at 50% transparency, I’ve matched the size of her image to the drawing below.

Step 4.  Bring the model image back to 100% transparency and trace paths over the principle lines of the features: the contours of the head, the ears, the shadow around the eyes, the nose, mouth, chin, etc.

Here you can see the I've traced her features using a mouse and the pen tool in Fireworks.

Here you can see the I’ve traced her features using a mouse and the pen tool in Fireworks.

Step 5.  Turn off the model image and—voilà—you’ll immediately see right away what is right and what isn’t.

I centered the drawing on the nose, so that works. But the eyes are little too high (making the face seem longer) and her jaw on the right needs to be wider. It's amazing how these small errors can make a big difference!

I centered the drawing on the nose, so that works. But the eyes are little too high (making the face seem longer) and her jaw on the right needs to be wider. It’s amazing how these small errors can make a big difference!

One of my students, Stefano, also did a similar analysis, I believe with photoshop:

The eyes are very close, but note how dramatic the change is with the corrected line of the shoulders and the addition to the left side of the head.

The eyes are very close, but note how dramatic the change is with the corrected line of the shoulders and the addition to the left side of the head.

Bravo, Stefano!

Conclusion: avoid trying to improve you drawing by working from photographs, but take advantage of technology to help you calibrate your hand/eye coordination.  You’ll strengthen your sense of proportional relationships and start to realize things like a short jaw doesn’t mean make it longer, rather the mouth and nose are too low.  You’ll also become aware of where you have a tendency to err: I knew before starting the drawing that I tended to make noses too long—and during the drawing I moved it up twice!—but that still wasn’t enough.  Now it should be relatively easy to make some fixes… then I’m ready to transfer the drawing and start painting.

Registration Now Open for Courses Starting February 2015

Find out more on the website.  If you should have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.  I hope to see you in the studio.  Tim

Gina and Michayla: Summer School in Rome 2013

A video summary of Gina and Michayla’s three-week summer school experience in Rome in 2013:

Studio Aperto – Disegno del NudoOpen Studio – Drawing from Life

Testimonial: Private Lessons in Drawing

Elisabeth had started with me in a group painting class, but it was clear from the start that  some basic drawing was needed.  We decided she’d come for some private drawing in studio.  Here is a look at her work.  The first drawing was our starting point.  The rest was done over the course of 8 lessons.  Well done, Elisabeth!

I had never taken art classes before and I felt very nervous when I started. I wanted to take private lessons so that I could focus on the basics of drawing. Tim is an excellent teacher, he explained things clearly, at the right pace and he knew when to intervene and when to just let me get on with it. I really love the sculptural approach to drawing that Tim teaches, it’s very dramatic. The classes were a lot of fun and I surprised myself with how much I progressed. I’m looking forward to continuing.

—Elisabeth F.

Disegno del Nudo dall’Inizio alla FineDrawing the Figure from Start to Finish