Thursday, September 12, 2013

Figure Drawings

"American Heritage" - preliminary drawing (1991)

This drawing was created in order to fully develop a concept I had to inspire children to read.  It also served as an homage to Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker, as it was they (and my father Ken Dowd), who inspired my desire to become an illustrator.  It is a 30" x 30" charcoal on buff paper.

Here is a detail of the drawing.  It was a real treat to follow Rockwell's process, using friends and even strangers to pose for the characters.  The fellow, for example, posing as the WWl dough boy maintained our studio copier.  He walked in one day and had just the right look for an American youth of that period.  He resonated a sense of fragile innocence, adding depth to his role in the picture.  Others seen are Trey Willis (boy), Richard Bernal (pirate), Lee Brubaker (civil war soldier), Clair Bellows (gangster), Tom Casey (pilgrim), and Paul Chilton (mountain man).
Mainly, I worked from reference photos (something Mr. Leyendecker would have scoffed at), but it was the most efficient method in capturing the details of costumes, nuances of light, etc.  Also, the expressions of each individual had to be captured, contributing to the overall sense of wonder.  Many decisions were made in regard to these aspects of storytelling.  Familiar personalities communicating universal ideas is what I have learned most from Norman Rockwell and Joseph Leyendecker.  
In my next post, I will be showing the final, framed painting of "American Heritage" as my official 2013 entry for Artprize.  

My illustration career lasted the decade spanning 1990-2000.  With the advent of the computer, it was time to decide whether to go digital or stay traditional.  Though I have come to embrace the digital age, I, like many artists, was weary of it when it first came on the scene.  The traditional path held my fascination and I turned my sights on fine art.  

Here we see a figure drawing done in charcoal (8" x 10"), demonstrating the process I use to finish an informal work.  First, I lay in the contour (freehand), making sure all of the proportions and shapes create the desired effects.  Stretching the figure a bit can add elegance to the pose.  In this case, the head is slightly smaller and the legs are lengthened, giving a statuesque appearance. 

After sealing the initial layer with workable fixative (two light coats), a thin dry "wash" of charcoal dust is applied with a chamois.  The surface has a Bristol, or smooth finish.  Next, a kneaded eraser is used to pull out the lights and mid-tone values.  This is a widely used, time-honored technique among artists.

The final stage requires more time and care.  Subtle tonal gradations are achieved using graphite and charcoal pencils (Ritmo is a preferred charcoal pencil).  A knowledge of the laws of light are key to giving the illusion of form in space.  I tell all of my figure drawing students that anatomical detail must follow a natural gesture or action.  Do not get too wrapped up in rendering early on.  Give strong consideration to the initial pose or expression, as this will breathe life into your final work. 

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