Sam's blog

Pencil Portrait - Beginnings

Submitted by Sam on 2 April, 2012 - 16:56

I'm taking a break from my Bargue plates, and drawing something new. I've spent around twenty hours on a portrait of my sister, working from a photograph I took in December 2011.

For the first time I'm drawing upright on an easel (rather than horizontally on a table), and on a big scale. I'm working at A1 -- whereas my Bargue plates were smaller than A4 -- and I'm using correspondingly heavier paper. At 300gsm it is twice as weighty as my Bargue sketchbook pages, and it is able to take much more aggressive erasing and re-working. This gives me confidence to lay down lines that I know can be altered later, and the large size allows me to be much more expressive when sketching out the initial form.

As the paper is so large I have drawn guidelines to separate it in to thirds to make sizing easier. I am currently refusing to use a ruler or tape-measure to precisely map the enlargement from source image to final drawing, as this feels like cheating. I instead measure relative lengths against a small paintbrush. 

Pencil portrait progress: Jess in Apron - 20 hours: Work in progress: A1 pencil portrait on 300gms paper of my sister Jessica. Working from a photo I took over the Christmas holidays in 2011. Around 20 hours of drawing so far.

Here is the sketching and rendering so far. I need to fine-tune the facial features, which are distorted at the moment, but I'm happy with how the shading on the fabric is going so far; see the image below for a close-up.

Detail - Pencil portrait progress: Jess in Apron - 20 hours: Detail of dress and apron. Work in progress: A1 pencil portrait on 300gms paper of my sister Jessica. Working from a photo I took over the Christmas holidays in 2011. Around 20 hours of drawing so far.

Jess A1 photo reference: A photo I took of my sister whilst she was getting some food ready over Christmas 2011. Taken in my Grandma's house in Barton-on-Sea, New Milton.  I used a Nikon f/1.8 35mm AF-S lens on a Nikon D5000 (1/250th of a second shutter speed at ISO-500). This photo serves as the reference for my first A1 pencil portrait.

Here is the original photograph from which I am working. I desaturated it and printed it at A3, and have it taped next to the drawing to use as a sizing reference. Unfortunately the printed version has lost a lot of the tonal depth, so I use the digital version on my laptop as the source for values and detailed areas.

Caracalla - an unfinished plate

Submitted by Sam on 27 March, 2012 - 17:36

I've been working on this Bargue plate (number 38 in the sequence) for several weeks now, and I've found it increasingly tedious. When I came to draw in the fiddly bits of hair (which I foolishly left until after I had started shading the face), I found that they didn't slot in to their proper places easily. I found myself having to distort and elongate strands of hair to accommodate increasingly apparent errors of alignment on a more fundamental level. I have conceded defeat and abandoned this plate as "unfinished".

Whilst I like the smooth gradients on the face, I find it difficult to look beyond the horizontal distortion that caused me so much aggravation when I came to put in the details.

Bargue Plate I, 038 - Caracalla (unfinished)

The composite image shows my drawing against the silhouette of the original plate, illustrating very clearly how my attempt has gone wrong. The original is significantly thinner.

Plate I, 038 - Caracalla - overlay

Bargue plates: horses' heads

Submitted by Sam on 14 March, 2012 - 17:31

I made two attempts at Bargue Plate 37, the "Head of Horse, Parthenon", and neither of them got it right. I spent a combined 40-50 hours on these; I've lost count. I don't know if I can stomach a third attempt, but I know that I should try!

I measured the first one reasonably well initially, but got sloppy and made some pretty poor judgements on the internal features. It seems I usually only measure-up the outline, and then fit internal bits in with much less rigour. Even then, the outline isn't perfect. Here's the first attempt:

Frustrated with the first attempt, I rushed in to the second without properly sizing it up. In fact, I did everything by eye, taking no measurements whatsoever. The results might *look* okay, but it is actually quite unlike the original plate. Angles are incorrect almost everywhere, and overall it is a very poor reproduction.

To make matters worse, I managed to spill a bit of tea on this, which I ended up removing with sandpaper. You can't see it terribly well in this image, because the brightness of the scanner's light has washed it out, but there is a good deal of rough paper where I have erased mistakes too many times. Here is the second attempt:

Bargue plate 35

Submitted by Sam on 25 February, 2012 - 12:28

My latest Bargue plate is "The Cardinal de Birague by Germain Pilon", and took me around twenty hours to complete. In the sequence the plates are presented in the Cours de Dessin, this is the first plate to offer the full gradation of tone from pitch black through to the most delicate grey.

Bargue plate 35

Skipping the first directory in a .tar file

Submitted by Sam on 22 February, 2012 - 23:49

Lots of the compressed files I download come in the form "project-name-1.2.3.tar.gz", and contain a directory within them named in the same format, so when you untar it creates a directory like "project-name-1.2.3", with all of the project files below it. As most of the time I seem to be already working in a new directory where I want the file to untar, I don't want to have to bother about moving the contents up a level and then deleting the old directory. The tar switch --strip-components=1 addresses this problem by removing the first directory on extraction.

See man tar | grep strip-components .

OpenAtrium logo upload imagecache problem

Submitted by Sam on 21 February, 2012 - 16:23

In an OpenAtrium 6.x-1.0-alpha11 on Drupal 6.24, a custom logo uploaded through /features would not load. This is because the directory /sites/default/files/imagecache/designkit-image-logo/ had not been automatically created, as documented here: The solution is to enable ImageCache UI from admin/build/modules.

Bargue workplace

Submitted by Sam on 17 February, 2012 - 01:30

This is where I have spent most of my time drawing over the past fifty or so days. It's far from optimal for the Bargue studies, as it does not allow me to use the sight-sizing approach that the course recommends. Instead, I work in a sketcbook on a horizontal surface, taking references from the plates held vertically in the easel. I work at a different size from the plates, so leave a lot of room for errors to creep in.

150 hours update

Submitted by Sam on 17 February, 2012 - 00:44

One and a half-months in to my 1000 hours of art challenge and I have just passed the 150 hour mark. It has been difficult keeping up the pace alongside a full-time job, freelance work and the vestiges of a normal existence, but I have settled in to a productive routine which gives me time to enjoy both the process and the progress.

I know my materials better now, and have manufactured several guidelines which I use in my workflow for the Bargue plates:

  • Start the initial sketch with a hard-grade pencil, say 3H, and work with very faint lines. These are much easier to erase later than heavier lines made by softer pencils, which tend to leave a shadow no matter how hard they are erased.
  • Keep light areas light by dabbing the putty-eraser to pick up loose graphite.
  • Don't over-work the dark areas, otherwise they will be spoilt by a reflective sheen.
  • Don't start shading dark areas with 2H's and above, as it is hard to lay softer and darker grades on top of them.
  • Keep all the pencils seriously sharp, so that line quality is tight and inconsistincies in shading (perhaps caused by the grain of the paper) can be addressed at the smallest level of detail.
I have uploaded high-resolution scans of all of my Bargue studies so far, which can be seen in the gallery. The most challenging was Plate I, 30 - Legs of the dying slave, which I made many attempts at, and still haven't got completely right. Here's the best one:Plate I, 030 - Legs of the dying slave - Attempt 4Plate I, 030 - Legs of the dying slave - Attempt 4

100 hour update

Submitted by Sam on 30 January, 2012 - 00:55

Almost a full month in to my 1000 hour challenge, and I have completed 100 hours of Bargue drawings. I have most enjoyed Plate I, 24 - Arm of Moses by Michelangelo, which is the first drawing in the course not to have a helpful preliminary sketch to work from. I made two attempts at this plate, the second of which is below.
Plate I, 024 - Arm of Moses by Michelangelo - Attempt 2: This is my second attempt at this plate.

The plates which look simple, particularly the legs, are boring to do, and the easiest to get wrong. There aren't very many internal reference points in these, and it's easy to get angles slightly off and ruin the whole thing. I tend to lose interest in this kind, and don't have the discipline to go back and re-do them -- hardly the level of rigour the course intends!

Minor Drupal core updates with Drush

Submitted by Sam on 26 January, 2012 - 10:52

On Ubuntu 10.10, sudo apt-get install drush installs Drush 3 rather than the latest version. Use pear, as recommended, to install the latest version (don't forget to sudo to overcome permissioning problems).

drush up drupal is used for updating minor releases of drupal core (i.e. 6.18 - 6.22) without updating all the contributed modules.

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