In early February, after concentrating on paintings for the past couple of months, I plunged into pencil drawing again. My process almost always begins by going through my photographs, looking for something that jumps out at me. (I use Photoshop CS3 on my Mac, and the program includes Bridge. I love Bridge—it’s a great way to look at huge masses of photo images quickly and efficiently. Except that it seems to be easily confused/overwhelmed and you have to quit the program and restart it every once in a while. But that’s a minor quibble.)
Bedsheets and Pillows
I found myself looking through images of Jeff, from September 2009, and even though I’ve already done one painting of Jeff sitting on my bed crosslegged (“Scorpio Rising“), I like the pose a lot and I think a drawing of almost the same pose would still be a fun thing to try. So I opened the image in Photoshop and started fooling around with it. My standard operating procedure these days is to heighten the contrast, take it to grayscale (if I’m going to do a pencil drawing), then Posterize it to about level 7. Posterizing it reduces the number of values showing in the image, which makes my job a lot easier—seeing where the shadows are darkest and lightest is not always easy in a conventional photographic image. It’s much easier in a posterized image, as you can see.
So I print out both images (and often I’ll print out extreme closeups of the head and hands and other challenging areas as well) and tack them up by my drawing to use as reference. I use the posterized image as a guide, but I’m also always referring to the grayscale image so I can include the more subtle gradations of tone when and where I want to. This is an approach I’ve put together over many years of drawing from my own photographs.
I spent a couple of days on the Jeff drawing. That’s kind of fast for me for a full-on detailed large drawing like this. Occasionally I’ll be able to finish one in a single day, but more often it takes 3-4 days, working in 3- or 4-hour sessions at a time.
Again, I opened Bridge and started going through my catalog of model photos (I have about 40,000 images in this collection, and I have another 100,000 or more in my 35mm slide collection, from pre-digital days. I tend to use the most recent photographs more, of course, but occasionally I’ll dip back into images from many years ago). This time I found myself focusing on Marcelino, one of the models I shot in Los Angeles in October when I was there working with Kurt R. Brown. Marcelino is of Mexican descent and I think he was 20 when we shot these photographs at a wildlife refuge in the San Fernando Valley. I chose a quiet pose that feels to me like Marcelino’s sweet, graceful personality.
Here’s the finished drawing. This one took longer than the previous one of Jeff. The one of Jeff just flowed, which happens occasionally. This one of Marcelino was more the standard experience, with some areas going easily, others taking longer—so I probably spent about 4 days on this one. I like the final result. It doesn’t have the powerful presence of the previous drawing, but it has a quiet poetic quality that the other doesn’t.
For my third drawing in what was turning into a series, I chose Marcus. Anyone who’s been following my work over the past few years knows that Marcus is one of my favorite models. In fact he seems to be the favorite of a great many of my collectors, too.
I have a whole series of photographs I shot of him in Angra dos Reis (a resort area south of Rio) on a boat, in the late afternoon. He was spraying himself with water from a hose, and singing along with the music I had blaring from the boat’s speakers. Because one of the dials on the camera got moved without my realizing it, the whole series of photographs was overexposed. That’s a shame because I can’t show them as photographs in most cases—but they’re still fine for working from to create drawings and paintings. Despite the overexposure, they still capture the moment. And what a great moment! Because Marcus’ body is almost entirely in shadow I knew this would be a challenge to draw.
That made the Posterization function even more useful. Because the light on his body is almost all subtle reflected light, it was very helpful to see the light and dark areas more clearly defined. The drawing was challenging but it went more smoothly than I’d expected and only took 3 days to complete. I’m especially pleased at the way it captures Marcus’ being lost in the moment. I titled it “Marcus Canta” (Marcus Sings).
Now I was warmed up and decided to tackle something with a lot of detail. I chose a photograph of Chadwick, another of the models I worked with in Los Angeles in October. This photo was taken in an unpopulated part of Simi Valley. As you can see, Chadwick has an amazing body, very muscular and well defined. I was excited about what kind of pencil drawing I could create using this image.
I used to do my drawings just using one hardness of pencil, a medium-soft…then for some time I was using two pencils, one hard and one soft. Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve been using three pencils, an F, an HB and a B. Sometimes I’ll vary the exact pencils I use, but I’ve found one hard pencil (an F or even an H), one medium (HB seems to work well, and it’s very close to a regular #2, so that works, too) and one soft (B, or 2B or 3B or even softer) gives me all the range I need for almost every type of drawing I do. With just 1 or 2 pencil hardnesses I can create a terrific drawing—but with 3, I can get very subtle, beautiful effects that would be almost impossible with just 2 pencils. This drawing, which I titled “Chadwick’s Back,” is a good example of that. Although you really need to see it in person to see all the subtlety. I was surprised at how quickly this one went—it only took me 3 days. Of course those were long days!
My final drawing in the group of 5 began with a photograph of Rogério, one of the 2 models I shot on my very first Brazil photo shoot back in March 2004. This was a flash photograph taken after a full day of shooting, on the boat and on an island in Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro). We were on our way back to the marina and night was falling. It’s a photograph I’ve looked at dozens of times and never paid much attention to. For some reason, this time it jumped out at me. It’s hard for me to put into words the impression it made on me, but there was a moment there that really struck me, that had never struck me before, and I wondered if I could come close to capturing it in pencil. I cropped the image to concentrate on Rogério’s head and upper torso only. I decided that would be all I would put in the drawing. Then I started drawing.
Even though it may appear there’s less detail here, and less to draw than in some of the others I’d just finished, there were still challenges. Capturing the exact expression on the face was one of them. Another was getting the close-cropped hair on Rogério’s temple to look right. In the end this drawing took 4 days to complete. But when I finished it, I felt good. I felt I’d come pretty close to capturing the feeling I’d gotten from the photograph. I call this one “Unbuttoned.” This was the fifth in the series, and I’d spent about 3 weeks doing these drawings. I put them up on my website and announced them just a day after finishing this final work.