Learn to Draw – Model in the Interior

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Model in the Interior

In our second last life drawing class we were introduced to the notion of drawing the model in the interior and I had no idea what how complex the subject could be.

Drawing the model in the interior involves a dialogue between wildly different elements, sometimes in conflict or opposition with each other. Depictions of interiors can reveal a great deal about human life, social conditions, politics, history and the personality and mood of the artist.

The figure needs to be compatible with the interior; the two elements must go together.  The interior becomes somewhat of a “still life” with the figure adding specificity. The conflict results from the figure distorting the sense of interior environment of the drawing. The psychology is within the figure and in the field much less.

Figures in an interior symbolize a certain take on an individual in terms of his interior/exterior. The interior becomes a pictorial desire to gain light inside and another kind of light outside and therein lays the contrast, the interior and exterior lights are different.

There is an exception in the interiors of Matisse. His outdoors and indoors were consistent (except in the drawing) and sometimes his outdoors were more artificial and illuminated than the inside. His exteriors appeared to be a continuation of interior space.


“Open Window Collioure” – Henri Matisse 1905

In 1942 an interviewer asked Matisse, “Where does the charm of your open windows come from?” He replied:

“Probably from the fact that for me the space is one unity from the horizon right to the interior of my work room, and that the boat which is going past exists in the same space as the familiar objects around me; and the wall within the window does not recreate two different worlds.”  From a radio broadcast transcript made available by Pierre Schneider, J. D. Flam, Matisse on Art, Phaidon Press, Oxford, 1978.

My favourite drawings of the model in the interior (above) were done by American artist Richard Diebenkorn.

In a 1952 radio interview Diebenkorn stated, “There is a hierarchy of importance to the various elements, the chair less, the rug less, the hands, clothes more, the faces vary accordingly.” 

Here are some drawings I did in class.

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Model in the Interior

Can’t say I was overly pleased with them.  The teacher said the man on the top right was too skinny and the lady on the stool drawing needs to be cleaned up.  Oh well, back to the drawing board so to say!

A drawing and painting site by Edward A Burke is a great reference.

Drawing – Weight and Volume

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“You can grasp the essential weight of an object even before you become conscious of its form or shape.

Form and weight are dependent upon all 3 dimensions – length, width and thickness.

We may think of form as the three dimensional shape of weight.

In searching for a realization of weight, it is not necessary to think in terms of kilograms or pounds. You can feel the weight through your own sense of energy when you imagine picking the object/model up off the ground or by the amount of energy you expend in lifting it.

In fact, you can think of weight itself as having energy. The weight of a stone presses to the ground. As you attempt to lift the heavy object, its weight resists you.

It is that understanding of its resistance to our energy that gives us a real awareness of weight.” Kimon Nicolaides

These artists focus on weight and volume in their work:

Jenny Saville

Fernando Botero 

Lucian Freud

These drawings were completed in a life drawing class where we focused on weight and volume.

This style of drawing is called “mimetic.”

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This style of drawing is called “dysgraphic.”

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Oh my goodness, I think I overfocused!

Edward A Burke’s site is a great reference for drawing and painting.

Drawing – Gesture and Movement

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“We may think of gesture as the character of the action.  Look at two vases – one tall and graceful, the other fat and squat. They are as different in character as two people might be. 

Gesture, as you will come to understand it, will apply to everything you draw.  Even a pancake has gesture.  There is gesture in the way in which a newspaper lies on the table or in the way a curtain hangs.

The key to the nature of a subject is its gesture and from it all other aspects of drawing proceed.

It is far more important that your studies contain this comprehension of movement, of gesture, than that they contain any other single thing.” Kumon Nicolaides

Drawing – Hatching Style

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With this subtle hatching style of drawing, the artist uses the white of the paper and the black of the ink or biro to create different tones between the lightest light and the darkest dark.

Individual lines of ink (or biro) are laid over one another in various directions creating a mesh-like effect to show shadow and depth.  Working in pen and ink limits you to the use of line alone for developing tone and look at the fantastic result.  A limiting media forces you to compromise the end result can be something quite magical!

Here is an exercise:

  • Choose a subject that appeals to you, it can be something from around the house or a well lit photograph will do.
  • Sketch in the subject roughly with a 2B pencil keeping your marks light.
  • Put in the general outlines with ink or biro.
  • Establish which direction the light is coming from (in this case the top right.)
  • Begin to hatch in  the mid-tone shadow areas keeping the pen on the paper and using one hatching stroke at a time.  It is preferable to use three tones only and to work from light to dark as below:

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Continue to create the rough outlines as you go then proceed with hatching in the mid- tones.

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Use a hatching stroke to define muscles.

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Working outside the figure put in broad strokes for the background shadow working in one direction.

Leave areas of white paper to define where the light hits the subject.

Change the direction of the hatching line to put in the middle tone shadows.

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Cross-hatch again over shadow areas to create the darkest and densest tone.

Here are a couple of really interesting line drawings which are nothing without the magic of hatching.

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Notice how the curved hatching on the horse above gives a three dimensional effect and creates the rounded form of the animal

You will find excellent hatching style drawings in the work of Vincent van Gogh.

Reference Books were: “How To Draw and Sketch” by Jenny Rodwell, New Burlington Books 1987, “Drawing in Pen and Ink” by Angus Scott, Guild Publishing 1985

Drawing – The Dreaded Foreshortening


Foreshortening is a word used to describe the drawing of a person or object in perspective and this where I sometimes get myself into real trouble!

Let’s pretend we were to crouch and look at a person lying down on the beach.  If we were to look at the person from the top of their head view we would hardly see anything of the side of them. So the motto with foreshortened drawings is, “the more we see of the end, the less we see of the sides.”

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When tackling a foreshortened subject, I firstly try to establish whether the figure is lying diagonally and if so, which way is it sloping? To start on my page, I draw a very light diagonal line to guide me.

Finding the midpoint is particularly vital in foreshortened drawings and will appear not where you would guess it to be. I tend to treat the drawing as a jigsaw puzzle of many pieces joined together and return to my starting point with freehand drawing as often as I can. This way, my struggle with proportions becomes a little easier.

It is most important to draw what you see even if it doesn’t make sense. Having said that, this may not feel right as you are drawing because the shapes will be so different from what you know and recognize. In fact, the shapes could almost be described as nonsensical.

This rough charcoal foreshortened drawing below was so difficult to do and I think I must have unsuccessfully had at least six attempts.  The mid-point is very deceiving here and appears just below the girl’s bikini top.  After many attempts, I did the drawing while listening to an interesting topic on the radio.  This is a good tip because it is enough to distract us so we lose concentration and allow the drawing to flow without trying too hard.

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Check out this great site which has fantastic tips on foreshortening.

Edward A Burke’s drawing and painting site is also a great reference.

Drawing: It’s a Matter of Placement – Finding the Mid-Point

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Placing the subject correctly on the page once created huge problems for me and I can remember my teachers at art school repeating “don’t make little drawings in the middle of the page” or “fill up the page.” Somehow these statements fell on deaf ears and students (including myself) continued off and on to put our drawings all over the place.
Here are some images of incorrectly placed drawings.

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The first is cut off at the ankles, the second too small compared to the size of the paper and the third has the lower part of the figure bunched up to fit on the page.

Today I will talk about how I saved myself a world of trouble later on in my drawing by planning the placement of the subject first. It is best to be relaxed about this process so as not to get bogged down with detail and thus set down a tight tone for the drawing. The motto is “whatever!”

A shape is so much more manageable as two halves and this is at the heart of how I place my subject correctly on the page.

The half above the midpoint must fit into the top 50% of your drawing page and half below must fit into the lower 50% of the page.

Most art instructional books advise me to do a sighting with a pencil. The way to do this is to align the top of the pencil with the model’s head and guess the mid-point.

I don’t see the purpose of this and since I’m guessing anyway prefer to do use my eye only.  Here’s the deal:

  • Check out your subject (whether in a photo, real life object or figure) and estimate half the height with your eye. What do you see at that spot, is it an elbow, hip, or another marker?
  • Then go ahead and estimate the half-way height point of your drawing page, then make a dot right there!
  • I usually make a mark around this dot showing a little of what I see at the half-point of the subject (elbow, hip or other marker) and commence my drawing from there. In my drawing of the snowboarder above, the half point was at the left-hand side of the man’s body at his waist.
  • Next, above and below this mark, establish where you want the drawing to end at the top and bottom of the page (usually quite close to the edge.) Mark a dot at the points, one near the top and one near the bottom to represent the extremes of the figure.
  • I usually start drawing from the marked mid-point. The dots at the top and bottom of the page tell me how far up and down I can go to keep the drawing placed squarely on the page.

In the case of a horizontal drawing, it helps to guess the halfway point both horizontally and vertically as below.

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I was not too accurate in my drawing at the top of the page as you can see.  The distances from the drawing to the sides of the page are not even.   The left hand edge of the snowboard and the right-hand edge of the man’s helmet were the extreme widths of the figure in this case.  Oh well, I am happy with the drawing whichever way.

Anyhow, you will be very surprised at how accurate your eye is in establishing two manageable halves.

Now your boundaries are set and you are ready to proceed with your loose handwriting.

I found this really great, helpful drawing blog by a self-taught artist named Paul from the UK.  No one beats him for encouragement.  Here is the link: http://www.learning-to-see.co.uk/drawings

Drawing: Free and Controlled


Today I talk about how to use free handwriting and controlled handwriting together to make a drawing.

This is the way most artists do a drawing and I enjoy it because it is very much a casual process. I can make mistakes and go back over lines then decide which ones look good to me. There is no such thing as a mistake and using an eraser is not really necessary or desirable either. Lots of restatement lines can actually look cool.

One of the secrets is in the way I hold the pencil.  First up, I usually draw using free handwriting with a loose grip as pictured below. I hold my hand away from the tip of the pencil and bring my elbow and shoulder into play to get more movement into the line. This is best done at an easel or with the desk aligned at elbow height. I rest my hand lightly on the paper and with the “I don’t care how it turns out” attitude, and go for it!

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At some point a loose collection of lines build and some of them seem promising so I will instinctively move to develop them by reinforcing what I like in free handwriting and then going back in with the control hand to consolidate the drawing.  By the way, it pays to start your drawing with a light pencil, I used a HB to start with and a 2B later to put in the detail.  This is how the drawing looked after only the freehand drawing style.

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The free hand moves about the paper and takes the risks and the control hand tightens the detail and refines the drawing. For the controlled second part of the drawing process I hold my hand down nearer to the point of the pencil working my fingers and the fine muscles of my hand.

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You can either change between free and controlled handwriting during the drawing or commence with the freehand and finish up with the controlled handwriting which is what I did. Don’t forget to change the grip on your pencil when you switch drawing methods.

This is basically an unconscious process and you are probably doing this already without realizing. Here is the drawing after I got down to detail with the controlled style.

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I wanted to get this lovely look of the girl leaning back with weight and ease so I imagined leaning in that position while I was doing the drawing. I can’t say I succeeded on this first attempt but with practice I might just get it next time. It helps to imagine the weight of her body as you draw the lower hand, calves and feet also.

Here is a lovely example of free and controlled drawing by old master Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863.)  http://www.wikiart.org/en/eugene-delacroix  See how he has harnessed the tangle of free handwriting by using his control hand to define the lion’s face.

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Usually I ask myself a few questions after I have finished, for example:

  • Does my drawing have lots of feeling out lines?
  • Does my drawing have a few fake starts?
  • Does my drawing have some close up studies with strong focusing?
  • Does my drawing make the picture surface vibrate like Delacroix has done above?

Usually for the first three questions, the answer is yes.  To the last one usually “no!”

What is a Venus Andyomene Pose?


The words Venus Anadyomene are from the Greek language and mean “Venus Rising From the Sea.” This classic pose uses the simplification of lines in order to gain the greatest possible expressiveness of the female form.  Academic and avant-garde works all show how the pose displays the female form all the better for the viewers without them realizing it.

The Venus Anadyomene pose is believed to be the symbol of ideal feminine beauty and suggests an availability to the male erotic gaze.  The pose was popular in 19th century French painting and can be seen in Picasso’s Las Demioselles D’Avignon below.

My drawing above of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”  is a life-sized, large piece done in graphite on an old piece of rubber-backed curtaining. Here are some other beautiful examples.  You will notice it is a common theme to show the subject innocently wringing out her wet hair.   Perhaps you could ask your life model to stand in this pose for you to create your own drawing.  She may not be able to hold the pose for too long, it is a back breaker!

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This one directly above is a lovely male version of the pose and is just as powerful as the Venus poses above.  This marble statue is Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave”, which was uncompleted and done around 1513-1516.

You may also considering reading about contrapposto, another interesting pose.

Drawing – Can You Match the Tones?

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Can you match the tones in the photograph?  This is an easy exercise, all you will need  is a soft pencil.  Allow yourself about 30 minutes and stop there even if the drawing is not finished.

Try not to be hard on yourself, after all, you are not doing a drawing for the royal family. See how lazy and casual I was with mine.  Drawing is about meditating through the process and is supposed to be a form of relaxation!  I love half finishing drawings too because it gives the viewer a chance to participate in the work.  He has the chance to make up his mind about what is not shown.  Many famous artists deliberately decide a work is finished when there is space left for contemplation.

To make it easy this time, you may want to lightly trace the main shapes first then lay the page alongside the photograph and copy the tones. The exercise is made simpler by using only 4 tones, light (the white of the paper), medium, dark and darkest.

It may help if you refer to the tonal bar from the previous post called “Drawing – Living in the Light.” https://zenschoolforcreatives.wordpress.com/category/learn-how-to-draw/

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Build up the tones gradually paying particular attention to the hard and soft edges. Squinting helps to compare your drawing to the photograph.

Have fun with this and remember…your drawing is good enough despite what you may think!



Drawing – Living in the Light

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The first thing you need to establish when drawing is what direction the light is coming from.

I show some examples from an old sketchbook below with different directions of light happening.  You will see:

  • Early dawn and sunset lighting which is usually from the side and low.
  • Back lighting where the light is behind the subject putting it into silhouette.
  • Top lighting as you would see at midday.
  • Front lighting, which produces a stark contrast between light and dark.
  • Diffuse lighting, overcast days when the sun is filtered behind the clouds and shadows are softened.

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Do you recognize these lighting situations outdoors?


Using this simple tonal bar (as you can see I don’t stay within the lines), you will do an easy drawing of this orange.  This will take about 10 minutes or less.

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You will practice hard and soft edges.  A hard edge is one which is clearly defined.  A soft edge is one which gradually disappears.

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  • Lightly draw the simple shape of the orange in the photograph.
  • Establish where the light is coming from.
  • The orange should be shaded dark on one side and gradually blended to a soft edge towards white on the other.
  • The outer edge should be clearly defined (hard edge) and the area where the shading fades out should be soft without clear definition of a line (soft edge.)

Your drawing might look like this.  I like to put an arrow in the direction of the light to help me with these practice sketches.

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Here are a couple of sketches I did years ago after I saw the beautiful work of Dutch artist, Jan Vermeer.  He is known as the “master of light” and for good reason.  If you look closely you will see that most of his magical and wondrous works were completed with the light streaming from a window on one side.  For more information about Jan Vermeer you can check him out at:


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The Milkmaid Vermeer vermeer

My next post will extend on this process.  We will use the three tones tonal bar again to accurately match the tones and edges in a black and white photograph of a face.  A portrait, how exciting!