Can you draw women?

Bike_girl_comp©JT2016

Ok, so here’s a thing, time for a confession, I’m pretty rubbish at drawing women. There, I’ve said it. This sounds like one of those introductory confessions one might be asked to make upon a first attendance at a therapy group. Like, “Hi, my name’s Jon and I can’t draw women”. This is neither something to be proud of or be ashamed to admit. Don’t ask me why this is so, it’s just the way it is. Some people probably find drawing people, whatever their gender or form much easier than others. Other folk probably find drawing men less hard because it is easier to express generic masculine traits and you can get away with portraying less good looking men (!?). And then there are those who find the innate curvature and character of the female form easy to capture because they just do. One thing’s for sure though, and that is that when asked to view a drawing of a woman most of us automatically make some kind of judgement based on the perceived beauty of the rendered subject, i.e. if your drawing doesn’t portray a pretty/elegant/feminine woman, it’s the first thing people will comment on.

The above is only intended to be a cursory observation, the whole discussion around how we render and view human subjects is much, much more wide ranging that this, but what it does do, I hope, is shed some light onto how difficult it is to get to grips with a subject area such as this. Not being someone who has ever really received the benefit of extensive life drawing classes or any formal training in figure drawing, I have arrived at a point in my creative life lacking the confidence to draw half the people who surround me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

This new challenge came about through a request from a contact about possibly designing some t-shirts for women. Throwing my usual caution to the wind I agreed to have a go and then quickly realised that I would have to do something about the fact that I have never really successfully drawn women who look like women. To be honest with you, when I’ve had to do it in the past I’ve either traced off a magazine picture or concocted something akin to a rather effeminate man. So, time to put all of that to one side and see if I could actually learn how to do it more convincingly. I don’t know which is harder, learning a new skill like this in a straight drawing sense or in the cartoonish vein in which I normally work? Time to find out.

BGsketch_comp©JT2016

Thankfully, and this is again where the internet comes into its own; one is not short of resources to study as a way of starting. One can not only gain access to myriad video based tutorials on YouTube etc., but you can also find every single kind of cartoon style referenced so you can easily see how different characteristics are emphasised depending on the style you want to follow. To give you just a couple of examples; if mastering eyes is problematic for you, there are hundreds of variations and iterations to be found within the Manga drawing style and if the classic hour glass figure is something that you want to focus on, you will find plenty of guidance if referencing mid 20th century lifestyle and fashion illustration.

My brief, such as it was, was “Marilyn Monroe in a Bell helmet”. Quite a broad brief to say the least, so plenty to think about. My first scribbles, shown above in the first selection from my sketch books was as much about the brief as it was about learning the distinct attributes of a woman’s face. Eye shape, size and position, the jaw line, the line of the brow, the position and proportion of the nose and the mouth. These all sound incredibly obvious but until you have to think about them and draw them, your brain just rumbles on telling you that this should all be easy as it knows all this stuff already. No it doesn’t, you have to teach it and at the same time convince your drawing hand to follow. This goes right back to previous posts I’ve written about the idea of embedded knowledge. You’ve got to look and look and look, and then draw, draw, draw until hopefully things start to feel natural. It takes work and there’s no easy way around it unless you want to spend your life tracing photographs.

I was also trying to think about shirt designs at the same time, so this had quite an impact on my sketching, both in terms of speed and overall feel. Some of my attempts are way off, some are starting to point towards something more workable. The second of the images is another compilation of sketches where I am starting to get the hang of it, though you can see I’m yet to get my eye shape and spacing anywhere near right. I must confess also, that by this point I’d had gone back to referencing some old lifestyle photos in a book to try and speed things along. It seems to work best for me if I am combining an iterative drawing approach with regular reference to other materials. Placing a crash helmet onto a woman’s head brought its own challenges and I ended up taking lots of photos of my own crash hat at various angles to give me an idea of how its many curves look when not viewed simply in elevation. The bikes I didn’t seem to have a problem with. Funny that.

More on this in the next post I hope.

Don’t rush it, you’ll finish it soon enough.

Biro drawing by Jon Tremlett for Soulcraftcandy.

So here’s a progress update on the biro ink drawing I’m working on at the moment. It’s coming along really well though it is taking quite a long time to complete. The thing is, you reach a point in a drawing where you really start to see how it will turn out, and inspired by this you open yourself to  an internal pressure to get it finished. This can be a good thing, you are energised to put in the effort but, it can also be a bad thing because if you’re not careful you rush things, and when that happens you make mistakes. Although it can often be a little frustrating at times it is always better for me in these situations to take a deep breath, take frequent breaks to take stock of the marks I’m making on the paper and accept the fact that slow is good, and that I’ll get to the end, one small step at a time. I’m having to be extra mindful with this one too. It is not a commission but a work based around a request, and the last thing I want to do is muck it up. I want it to be the best one I’ve done so far and as a result my internal pressure gauge is already off the scale!

Catch_me_detailJonTremlett2014

From this detail shot you can see I hope, how much pen work goes into these things, so you get an understanding of how important it is for me not to make mistakes. I spend a lot of time scribbling on a separate sheet to get the pen running right and my hand steady (I have a natural shakiness at close range). There’s a discipline to cross hatching, getting the tone and line direction consistent which requires huge concentration. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, the angle of the pen gives too much black or the pressure you’re using is too firm and at times like this you just have to step back, scribble on a loose sheet until you’re happy and then come back to it. No one ever said this was easy, so I try not to think that. In essence the greater the effort the greater the reward. Let’s see how I cope with the rest of it.

Today I painted a car! Part 2.

Ford Mustang water-colour by Jon Tremlett ©2014

Well, here it is, the finished Mustang picture I’ve been working on over the last week. A slightly more intense painting session took hold yesterday and before I knew it I was sat staring at a completed picture. It would be fair to say I’m more than happy with it given that it’s not a subject I visit very often. I’ve never been a car fan, so they don’t appear on the radar as great subjects unless they are extraordinary, and even then I pretty much have to force myself to draw them. Just one of those things I suppose. Anyway, the main stimulus for doing this one was that it’s going to be a gift for a friend so that helps to keep the focus and the enthusiasm up at a level where you need it to make a decent job of it.

There is very much a kind of groove that one gets into when doing something like this. At the beginning of the session things are all rather laboured, small decisions about colour tone, wash density, which bit to do next and even which brush to use seem to take forever. but slowly things speed up and it’s all relatively easy to jump from one thing to the other. It must be a confidence thing too. After painting for an hour or so it all starts to feel more natural and intuitive, and this is really evident in ones ability to push concerns about mucking something up to one side and just get on with it. One gets into a flow which certainly doesn’t happen when trying to complete a picture by picking up the brushes for a few minutes here and there. Best to reserve some quality time and get stuck in.

There were some bits that I found quite difficult. For example the bush or hedge that sits behind the car and the way it’s reflected in the bodywork and windshield. In my reference photo the hedge is much larger but I wanted to reduce it’s presence and use it to help frame the car and give more prominence to the big bulbous hood. I’ve never been good at vegetation so this was a bit of a challenge but great practice for future projects. The other bits that presented a challenge were the headlamps. the lenses are a mass of prismatic forms and they are filled with so many reflections I found it quite hard to see what I was doing and replicate them in a believable way. Thankfully they aren’t too prominent in the overall scheme of things so my rather bitty interpretation of them isn’t to jarring. Again, all good practice for the future. I hope you like the final result as much as I do, and thanks for stopping by and reading todays post.