Student blog part 4: learning from mistakes

We’re lucky to have Mayko and other professional artists here to give us support and advice. Sometimes though students can also learn from someone that is going through the same learning process, so I’ll be writing articles on my experiences as a student implementing their life drawing advice.

Standing man in charcoal

Standing man in charcoal

I’ve had two life drawing sessions so far in 2013. They’ve very nicely taken the edge off the usual January stress and brightened up my Wednesday afternoons. Even better, I feel like I’m starting to make some headway with implementing the advice people have been giving me.

For one thing, I’m definitely drawing bigger and more boldly, and I can thank large sheets of paper and charcoal for that. Charcoal can get a bit messy and chaotic, but I’m also slowly starting to learn to tame the wildness. One thing that’s helped is trying to create smooth lines with large movements of my arm. Another thing has been to try to shade things with lines slanted at one angle. This makes things much tidier.

None of this process is smooth sailing. Every time I try a new approach or material, I make a ton of mistakes and often my drawing suffers for it. However, these mistakes are all part of the learning, so I’m trying not to abandon the tip I was given.

For example, I had some harrowing moments when I start trying to use the putty rubber like a drawing instrument, rather than just an apocalyptic bringer of destruction that wipes out all in its path which is how I used rubbers in the past. You can mold a putty rubber to a fine point and start to delicately alter the weight of lines or fine tune areas of shading. However, I seemed to be using a particularly soft putty rubber and somehow managed to smoosh (sorry I could think of no other word more appropriate than smoosh) it into the paper. Desperately clawing at it with a fingernail only made things worse and I ended up with an odd putty-glazed surface on the paper where the face was and could draw nothing on it.

I also tried to use the head as a unit of measurement and sketch out all the proportions based on that unit – a common life drawing technique outlined here. I became so fixated on getting this right that I forgot that I was drawing a human being, and ended up with something that seemed to have the correct proportions in terms of head lengths, but looked like a strange goblin man that whispered ‘my Precious!’ all the time.

For both of these techniques, I wanted to abandon the new and stick with the comfortable and familiar. Fortunately, after a little perseverance, I’ve started to make some headway with both.

Slowly starting to get used to charcoal - though there's a long way to go!

Slowly starting to get used to charcoal – though there’s a long way to go!

I think this is one reason it’s great that my life drawing class is 3 hours long and includes a variety of poses. You can try something once, fail, try again and fail a bit less.

However, for the final pose, I tried to use some white highlight and other pastels, and things didn’t go well. I try to keep the speed going from earlier poses, and find I have a lot of time left to ruin the drawing! I don’t like uploading the worst examples of my drawings, but it wouldn’t be right to be selective about what I put up here, so here it is:

This was a long pose. Somehow the drawings become overworked and unnatural when I have too much time.

This was a long pose. Somehow the drawings become overworked and unnatural when I have too much time.

I may have tried to run before I have properly mastered walking. So I think I will take a step back from using white and keep learning how to use charcoal.

Avoid the big mistake that led to all my other mistakes

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