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Portrait Study by Joshua LaRock, oil on linen, 2007

In this post I just wanted to share my extensive notes from a very helpful workshop that I took this summer at the Grand Central Academy of Art.  Joshua LaRock was the instructor, and it was one of the most thorough and helpful classes I’ve ever taken.  Joshua studied for four years at the GCA and now teaches there in addition to painting.  If you’d like to visit his website and see his work, visit www.joshualarock.com.  I would highly recommend any of his classes to artists who want to learn more about traditional ways of painting and add extra dimension to their work.

It was a two week workshop, and I’ll break down the instruction into a few posts, day by day: the drawing first, then the painting.  First, came the drawing, something that many of us want to skip through because it’s not quite as fun and instant-gratification as painting.  He made us slow down and take and entire week to draw the model, with only the next week to paint a complete painting.   Through that, I learned a lot about value.  “Value makes the painting,” he told us.  After thinking about it, I came to agree.  I couldn’t think of any major painting I didn’t have carefully chosen, subtle values.   My hope is that you’ll be able to utilize these notes and use the information in your own work!

Drawing Demo by Joshua LaRock 2011

Note: All these instructions are made with the assumption that you have a live model in front of you posing.

Day 1

Blocking in.  A messy, sketchy, but important step.  Focus on LINE and FORM.  Classically, the picture frame is supposed for be vertically tipped (window shaped), not horizontal (landscape shaped).

Notice where you are drawing the model from.  (At this point Joshua put a piece of glass up on the easel and did a line drawing on the glass, tracing only as a demonstration)

Find a horizontal and vertical reference point on the model.

To begin blocking in, hold the pencil loosely.  If it’s a portrait you are doing, imagine it’s not a head–take yourself away from the psychological attention of features.  Establish a scale.  Some tools to do this are:

1. Find points on the face/model and mark them on your paper.

2. Notice the tilt of the head.

3. Notice how the shapes interlock

4. Use comparative measuring.

See what’s actually in front of you, and draw on medium to fine tooth paper.  Block out the larger masses.  In comparative measuring, use your left eye with the left arm to measure, or right with the right.  When you do comparative measuring, lock your arm, so that it’s the same distance each time you measure.

Take a central point between the face.  Check distances to/from everything.  Start with the VOLUME in the shapes, not the contour.  This will give your drawing a feeling of sculpture and fullness, like Michaelangelo’s drawings.

Archers by Michelangelo, 1533

Seated Male Nude by Michelangelo, 1511

Choose one part of the face and make it fact–build around it.  Use halves and quarters.  And most importantly, don’t get too detailed to fast!  Work on all the proportions at the same time and it will come together.

After blocking in, start getting more into the shapes.  Start inside the face and work outwards, slowly raising the 2-D drawing to 3-D.

Watch the terminators–they’ll help you find the right shapes and fullnesses in the form.  Terminator is the edge of form where light no longer can pass over a form–it turns and curves away from light.

Know your bad tendencies and guard against them (For me, this means guarding against overemphasis on contrast).  Move from the center of the face and build out.  Move forward from your easel when needed to investigate the shapes, especially around the eyes.

Demo of Portrait drawing by Joshua LaRock 2011

Stay tuned for my notes from Day 2 :)!