Terry Miura • Studio Notes

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Figure Studies in Black and White

Hey everyone~ I'm back! This has been the longest break in my blogging, ever! I can explain, but I'm not going to, because that would be a boring read.  Instead, let's just continue as if there was no break.

OK, so I had this brilliant idea to assign homework to my students in the figure drawing / painting class, which was to take a drawing done from life, 5 to 20 minute pose, and using it, do a black and white study in oil. 

It turned out to be a great exercise because it allows the student to work with paint and focus on values without being overwhelmed by color. It is hard enough learning to control values,  understanding the principles of light and shadow, rendering form, and just plain getting know how paint behaves. Addition of color just complicates the problem exponentially. I really think that it's not a bad idea to lay off color till you have a good command of all that other stuff. 

So I assigned this exercise to my class and we agreed it was very instructive. So I proposed that everyone should do a hundred of these. No deadline, just work at your own pace. The requirements were, that you had to use a short-pose drawing done from life as reference. Why? Because we all need more drawing practice. And, if we draw these 5 to 20 minute quick sketches with this assignment in mind, I thought, we are more likely to include the important information like gesture, light/shadow pattern and shadow edge indication, and leave out less important details and tedious rendering.

Not everyone in my class feels like they can put enough information down on paper in 5 to 20 minutes, so I'm also allowing drawings by Old Masters as references, but only if the student doesn't have his or her own drawings to work with. The point of the exercise is not to complete show-worthy pretty paintings in black and white, but to practice and learn.

Photos are not allowed as references, because unless the student is already adept at drawing from life, he'll just be copying values, and he won't be doing the seeing and analyzing necessary in translating a three dimensional object in space, onto a two-dimensional surface. It's a different way of seeing and thinking, so for what we are doing, I don't think photo references are very effective. 

Anyway, since I'm expecting people to do a hundred of these B/W studies, I figured I have to do 'em too, if only to show that I'm willing to walk the walk. 

So I've been doing that all summer, and I'm up to no. 60. Somewhere around number 45, we started using limited palette in the painting class, so I assigned extra studies. Do one in B/W only, and do another from the same reference, but using the palette used in class. (Black, White, Transparent Oxide Red for the first couple of times)  Needless to say, my production of B/W's slowed down because I'm having to do the brown ones too. But I'm not counting the brown ones as a part of the 100. 

Below is a typical sequence. Although I don't have a method that I rigidly follow and I do experiment with different approaches, this is one basic way to do a B/W study.

This is my reference. It's a 10 minute drawing on toned paper, using Sanguine and white pencils.

The information, as far as rendering form goes, is minimal. I've indicated the light and shadow pattern, Form shadow and cast shadow edges, a little bit of value shifts in the light side. The rest is gesture, described in line work.

 On loosely toned canvas, I started by drawing with a small brush, using black only. At the start I want to keep things very transparent, so I'm avoiding white. I also indicate where the shadows are, and block them in with black only. I'm using solvent (Gamsol) to thin the paint so it doesn't go on so dark and opaque.

The opaque block-in goes on top. First I have one light gray for all the lights, and one dark gray for all the shadows. (Except hair, which I saw as a separate dark mass).  After I blocked in the light side with one gray, I hit the highlights with a much lighter gray. This is essentially the value structure I have in the original reference; the white chalk represents the highlight areas within the light side.

Defining the halftone areas (darkest part of the light side, typically just before the form turns into the shadow side.) and starting to soften some edges so that the forms turn.

Also beginning to put some paint down on the fabric.

Here I've introduced a dark background, blocked in the foreground and began defining the folds in the  foreground. On the figure, the transitions from one value into another has become softer. I'm starting to manipulate the hierarchy of highlight strengths, so that I have a clear primary focal point, and other highlights of lesser strengths. This is a simple yet effective device to tell the viewer where to look.

And this is as far as I took this study. You can see how the strongest light is on her hip, and it drops away as we move farther away from that spot, creating a theatrical effect. 

I confess I have an ulterior motive for doing these studies. After just a few of these, I thought these studies would make excellent under paintings for later experimentation and process. I'm hoping to go back into each one of these studies, and develop at least some of them into more finished paintings. 

I'll show you more next time~

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