Archive for January, 2022

Tracing Paper

Before the pandemic quarantine we drew heads upside-down.  It’s a technique invented in the “70s  by an art teacher named Betty Edwards.  She noticed that she couldn’t talk and draw at the same time.  So she figured that one of the two brain functions, the verbal or the visual, had to be turned off.  Since she wanted to draw, the verbal blah-blah had to be turned off.  The way to do that—her brilliant insight—was to look at images that were turned up-side-down.  But drawing from USD photos turns off not only the verbal part of the brain, but also—oh, horror—your emotional involvement with the human form, say, the face.  You’ll never turn those emotions completely off for the simple reason that you’re wired to react with extra attention to fellow humans.

Well, what about drawing someone sitting there in front of you?  Can’t turn reality upside down!  The idea behind the USD technique is that by practicing it over and over, you will train your brain to turn off the verbal mode at will, anytime, even when drawing things right-side-up.

The tendency for beginners is to start with the outline of the face and then to put in the eyes, nose and mouth.  Or just start with some feature, like the right eye and then wing it from there.

This approach inevitably leads to kitsch.  We’ll get into that later. For starters, you can just go to the previous blog.  You can see that here’s someone who never practiced USD drawing.

We don’t want kitsch, do we.  So, how to start?!

You start by blocking out the head.  That’s what we did in last week’s class.  It’s easy.  Tape your photo down and then tape tracing paper over that.

No, no, you’re not tracing the drawing!!!  You’re only drawing straight lines to show the main directions that connect the crucial points of the head. These lines do not outline anything; they don’t follow the contour of any feature, like the eye, nose or mouth.

When you’re looking at the photo of this Roman marble head through your tracing paper, try to see him as a “block head,” as if the sculpture had only gotten as far as chiseling out the rough form.

Once you have those straight lines on the tracing paper you separate the tracing paper from the photo page.  You continue drawing on the tracing paper, observing the face’s features and shadows seen on the photo.

The students in this beginners’ class produced the kind of drawings we see in Renaissance artists.

Yes, here’s Leonardo da Vinci working on a profile study.  We like to feel we’re in good company.

Next, Michelangelo:  The David’s pouty curly-lipped profile.

If you’re a serious art student you’ve got to draw The David, head to toes, from different angles.  This will give you a work out. When you’ve put in your time with The David, you might want to look up the many parodies of this hero-dude.

Here are three student drawings that started with the lines showing the large masses and rough directions of the profile.

After our work-out with The David last week, we tackled a fashion magazine face with teeth and lips.  That wrap around upper lip takes some studying and practice. To be worked on  some more next class.

This tracing paper technique is a solid start for organizing your approach to drawing the face.  Remember, once you have the large masses and directions down—STOP.  Do not give in to the temptation of tracing features.  DO NOT TRACE ANYTHING.

All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.









Read Full Post »