1.3 Self-portrait

  • Make a self-portrait
  • Use a variety of pencils in the H-B range
  • Use a variety of marks

A daunting task. During my morning sketches in the train I found that my faces look more lifelike if I try not to draw lines but rather areas of shadow and light. So that is what I did for my self-portrait. In order to get nicely defined shadows I put a light to the left and slightly to the front of me. After two very quick sketches and a drawing in my sketchbook I decided on a pose and began.

I started with a very rough application of shadow areas with a 4H pencil. I worked this until I felt that the pencil caught on something to substantiate – the right eye brow. From there I let myself be led to other shadow areas until I had a very delicate picture of my face. It felt a bit like sculpting. I then intensified some of the shadows and stepped the pen up to a 3B and finally a 7B. With these I could define the eyes and nose and fill in the dark areas of my hair. At the same time I worked with the putty eraser to correct mistakes. I also worked in highlights with the putty eraser or a pen-eraser for the very small highlights. Only now I drew in a few lines around the eyes, nostrils and lips. For the hair I used some more energetic marks I had found during the first exercises of this course.

I used the strongest contrasts and most defined lines around the eyes to make them the focal point. I also decided to draw face and hands as realistically as I can and be looser with the clothes to strengthen focus on the face.

Self-portrait, pencil on paper, A3

Mark making from Ex. 1-2

For the hair I used some bolder marks and lift-out from exercise 1. The linework for the clothes and the hands was similar to contour drawing – I had my pen on the paper and my eyes on the subject. Only I drew lines inside the shapes as well.

Even if I did not use many of the marks from the previous exercises I feel that my approach and way of working has changed: how I hold the pen (different ways depending on what I do), how I use erasers, where my eyes are when I draw. This last point I noticed very distinctly when I drew my drawing hand. Due to the hand moving I was obliged to keep my eyes on the paper for longer stretches and draw from memory. This felt odd – when earlier it was the other way round.

It would be interesting to do portraits in other media and use more of my marks, e.g. in ink.


Contours from the train

I had some difficulties with the contourdrawing exercises I did last week so I decided to give them a try in the train.

photo-1The shapes here are more complex and a lot of them are clothes – this made it easier than manmade shapes where mistakes are instantly visible.

I noticed that my eyes stayed longer with the object and only flicked back to the drawing to check on it and find points of relation. And I began to see that the silhouette can give quite some information about shapes that are not drawn at all (e.g. glasses or ears define the tilting of the head – they even define the shape as a head).

Silhouettes have a distinct inside and outside – a fact that can be explored in a drawing. Some ideas have popped up in my head… (to be continued).





1.2 Contour Drawing

Exercise 1: Contour of a simple object

  • place a simple object slightly at an angle
  • with a pen begin to trace its outer edge
  • when I have a believable shape, trace negative spaces into it
  • Do this on several A4 sheets
  • reflect on where I have made good use of my observation
  • reflect on the double experience observing/drawing


I found this exercise very difficult as I do not normally draw like this. I try to construct the shape rather than follow its outer contour.

First attempts

I also wanted to correct mistakes in order to learn the shape.  Also certain things I observed got amplified by my hand and I had to moderate them. My first attempts were very disjointed and wonky.

Drawing in the negative spaces felt like a relief! They helped me to understand the shape. When I change my eye to concentrate on what is inbetween as if it were a positive shape I see what is there rather than what I think the shape is.

My eyes tended to stay with the object rather than flicking between object and drawing and so I lost track of the drawing. After a while I found a balance that worked.

Exercise 2: ‘Blind’ contour drawing

  • Draw the same object as in Ex.1
  • Draw its contour and negative spaces
  • Do not look at your drawing
  • Keep this up for 5 min.

I was glad I had already studied my subject in the previous exercise. I felt that my hand knew the shape of its belly and of the handle. Alas it also knew a garbled shape of the pipe. Maybe I relied too much on my hand’s memory and did not really look anymore. I observed that my eyes won’t trace a line as would my fingers. Instead they jump, catch, accelerate, backtrack… It is not as if I could couple my hand to my eyes and let the latter lead the former. My eyes are a jumpy guide.

blind contour.JPG

Claude Heath

Claude Heath is a contemporary draghtsman who draws objects he does not look at but feels with his hand. Neither does he look at his drawing. Touch is different from sight in some important features – especially in connection with drawing. Where a seen object has one contour line, a silhouette, a touched object has not. Where a seen object is partly obscured by itself, a touched object is not. Neither colour, shadows or perspective come into it when we touch an object. Claude Heath translates the shapes he feels into pictures where he draws the lines he feels with fine pens. Some of them are recognisable images, especially when he helps the eye by choosing different colours for front/back or outside/inside. This helps the viewer to interpret the many marks. He sais that by not looking at the image taking form makes the act of drawing a part in a performance (1).

I think the idea of translating touch into sight is very intriguing. His drawings also show that it is possible to synchronise the drawing hand with the feeling hand (or with the eyes if one were looking) to a point that results in quite accurate lines. The pictures Heath made of his brother’s face are fantastic in that respect.

He uses other techniques as well, like drawing with both hands simultaneously , or 3D drawings (‘blind’ as well).


  1. http://www.claudeheath.com/texts/trinity_heath.pdf
  2. http://www.claudeheath.com/texts/article7.php

Reflections on Ex. 1 and 2

I think both of these exercises help me to look closely and observe. Drawing like this relies heavily on observation rather than on understanding shapes, the laws of perspective and geometry. It is a skill that I feel I need to develop.

They also build eye-hand coordination – especially ex. 1 where I have the possibility to correct mistakes and calibrate my hand movements to what I see.

Blind drawing forces me to stay with the object rather than my drawing. It can build courage to rely on my hand for longer stretches of time. That is a good thing for the information, after all, comes from the object.

Exercise 3: Drawing from memory

  • Choose an object with interesting shapes and holes
  • Study it for 1 min.
  • Then put it away and draw it from memory in 5 min


As in the first exercise I notice that contourdrawing makes me forget all other things I otherwise use when drawing. I loose track of where I am even with my eyes on the paper. I also notice that I fall back on what I know rather than what I have seen in terms of perspective in order to make up for things I have forgotten (like the angle I saw the object from).

Exercise 4: Drawing blind

  • Look at your object very attentively
  • Then begin to draw with the paper out of sight
  • Keep drawing for 5 min.

How is this exercise the potentially most valuable in terms of observation?

I have difficulties to let my hand follow my eyes as they jump back and forth along the line I want them to follow. I loose track and draw in different scales – a problem I noticed I have in my life drawings as well. Revealing! The problem might be hand-eye coordination? Deficiency in that would make it hard to remember where my lines are when I need to lift the pen.

A somewhat picassoesque passoire


Before these exercises I had not thought of the contour as a distinct feature of an object – I had always concentrated on shapes. However, now I understand that the contour can give information about the shape of an object in its own right. There are some advantages to be had from that:

  • The contour line can be used to check a drawing for mistakes
  • It can also help to try and see lines and shapes instead of the object as such in order to draw what is there rather than what I think I see.
  • When setting up a still life I can make quick contour sketches to get an understanding for how my composition works in terms of balance and interest. This can also contain shadowlines. Example of two different arrangements of the same objects:
  • The same goes for portraits: With the help of contour sketches I can choose an angle that is interesting and where distinct features in the silhouette give information about shapes and directions (from the right angle a silhouette can give an astonishing amount of information. I realized this when I drew contours in the train, in my sketchbook)

Spinnoff to Dramatic Marks

The exercise about dramatic marks seems to have struck a cord with me. I don’t want to let it go just yet and keep coming back to it with my inks and sketchbook. The inks I use won’t lift off easily so I used this technique only in the first one.



Pelican nib pen ink, water and acrylic marker (white) on cartridge paper.

I tried to achieve an effect of light backlighting a nondescript foreground. I was not trying to depict anything here.



The other two started in a similar way although I built the tones up instead of using lift off. For the fire picture I started with a rough frame in undiluted ink and draged that into the centre with clear water. I then emptied my brush on the oposite page, first diluted and then some short marks in undiluted ink. I then let the images inspire me to add colour, trees, snow and crows to amplify what I saw in them. I worked on them simultaneously and let them inspire each other.

Black, yellow and red calligraphy ink, water, indian ink on cartridge paper


Black and white calligraphy ink, water on cartridge paper

Neither of the images was planned, they grew under my hands. I like the spontaneous element of the crows although they are not perfect. I regret having tried to make them clearer by adding a (very bad) wing.

1.1 Dramatic marks

Light and dark add drama to a drawing, accentuate values and thus convey a range of emotions. In art this has been used throughout history. (I should find examples of this…)

Exercise 1

  • blacken a sheet of paper with a lump of charcoal
  • Work parts of the surface with a putty eraser -> lights
  • Fast and light upstrokes with a thinner charcoal
  • Repeat until you reach an interesting image (keep it abstract)


I started this exercise without any idea how to achieve dramatic marks. But I chose a compressed charcoal block to get a really black dark.

Stage 1


Soon the marks with the eraser became dramatic without me planning them to be. They were a revelation. They look like light spilling out and suddenly the picture has some depth.

Stage 2

Charcoal is very sensitive to precedence. I had noticed this in earlier exercises, too, but here it seems very important to the outcome. Marks drawn later are very much in the foreground, earlier marks recede to the back. This gives a strong sence of depth and threedimensionality.

I am surprised how the white – not even clean paper white but only a light grey – gets such strong luminosity in comparison to the darker shades next to it. This spilling light effect reminds me of ink drawings by Rembrandt I have been studying this summer.

Final picture


Exercise 2

  • Do the above again, this time with graphite
  • Add dark marks with graphite and ink


The dramatic effect is considerably less with graphite. I think this is because it is not as dark as charcoal.

Graphite and putty eraser

To enhance the dramatic effect I finished the image off with black ink. The effect is somewhat stronger but nowhere near the charcoal image.

Graphite has a silvery sheen to it when tilted to the light. Ink stays matt. This ads an interesting quality to the image.

This exercise inspired me to play more. For the outcomes of that go here.

1.1 Fractured marks

Fractured marks a)

  • work with coal sticks on their side
  • make marks by dragging, pushing, sweeping
  • vary pressure
  • observe and reflect -> choose 3 for the Learning Log

3 marks


Willow charcoal stick

fast movement with strong pressure, the stick held on its side and dragged in the direction it pointed, away from me.

I like the energy in this mark, and the way it changes in thickness. It has a strong direction

Willow charcoal is rather soft and reacts nicely to pressure. It is grey.






Compressed charcoal in a block, used on its long and narrow side

Fast movement with a stronger pressure on the left of the block, dragging downwards perpendicular to the stick’s length

I like the shift in tone and the way it fades out in a curve. Hard to control though.

Compressed charcoal is very very black


photo-3Compressed charcoal block used on its long and narrow side

Writing. The pressure on the stick changes.

I like the transitions in this, both in bredth and tone which gives a threedimensional effect. Sweeping dynamic lines become more so.



Different types of coal

  • Nitram HB, stick, square -> brownish, very hard
  • Nitram B, stick, square -> brownish-grey, quite hard
  • Willow charcoal, round -> grey, soft
  • Compressed charcoal, stick, round ->  black, very hard on its side
  • Compressed charcoal, block -> softish, very black


Taking it furter


The marks they make are very different and I noticed a depth effect as in athmospheric perspective. I tried that out:


Fractured marks b)

  • make short broken marks, fill the whole paper
  • use thinner charcoal (draw with the tip?)
  • work across some of the coal marks with a putty eraser
  • Evaluate what you do and what effects you create



I found it harder to find different marks and effects in the first part of this exercise. The use of the putty eraser widened that somewhat. My first attempts seemed uneventful to me compared to the use of the charcoal on its side. Closer inspection, however revealed new insights and nice effects




Volume: short lighthanded smudges >< long smudge with pressure
Copying marks by stamping with the putty eraser
Direction: smudging once in one direction. Could suggest movement
Stabbing at the paper with the coal stick
Smudging with a hard edge (pallet knife): indistinct smudges, some with a hard edge


Taking it furter

I then tried to use some of these effects intentionally in some kind of an abstract landscape (no doubt influenced by one of the example pictures in the course book). I tried to vary direction, size and character of the marks and use smudging in different ways to achieve volume and depth. I think I succeded quite well (Other opinions appreciated!)



Fractured marks c)

  • Repeat the above with water soluble ink, feltpen etc
  • Use water instead of the eraser


I loved playing around with this. Water reacts in unexpected ways and is hard to control. Some of the effects I find spectacular.


First attempt
photo-3Some of the same problems as with the coal, no new marks appearing readily. When applying water I went off on a tangent learning to use the pinstriping brush. This needs more work! It has some exciting possibilities. The “geese” and the shaded sweeping lines are made with it.


Outcomes of play

I started out making fractured marks, but probably left that somewhere on the way

Direction to otherwise directionless marks
Beautiful fading
Refill runoff with more ink – ink stays in the water’s path
Hatching becomes softened and the lines begin to disappear
Using the ink in a line to make more marks – dry bristle brush
Ink line into area with fine waterdroplets (toothbrush)
Ink line into area with larger waterdrops (brush)
Toothbrush sprinkling over area with ink splatters (notice the green appearing)


Different drawing materials:

  • Winsor & Newton black Calligraphy ink does not run and smudge readily once dried, but blooms wonderfully when fresh.
  • Waterman fountain pen ink does smudge and bloome very easily, to the point that the original line disappears.It carries far when fading out.
  • Waterman blue-black ink splits in water revealing a phtalo green component
  • Watersoluble (ws) graphite smudges but the original line stays clear.
  • Ws graphite does not carry far when fading out edges
  • Water changes the reflection of the light in areas covered with ws graphite making a mark that differs in texture but not in tone (?)



Marks have different elements that influence it

  • kind of material used
  • paper
  • grip, how I hold the pen, coal etc.
  • direction – can change within the mark
  • pressure – can change within the mark
  • Working a mark with eraser or water can give it volume and depth and change the mark considerably


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