Go to Publications CollectionGo to Graphics Collection Go to Commentary Collectionhen

Art 201: Midterm/Pencil

Art 201; Basic Drawing, was another analog art class, much like Art 501. And, like Art 501, it was a prerequsite. I hadn’t particularly high expectations going into it, since I already knew that I can barely draw, and hadn’t even tried to do so for years. Once the Graphics Section got it’s first computer, all the way back in 1990, I never looked back.

And, while it would have hurt my vanity to break my string of ‘A’s, if I got a ‘B’ in the class, or even a ‘C’, it would hardly have been the end of the world. I seriously doubted that I could get anything less than a ‘C’, so long as I actually attended the class, put some effort into it, and turned in the work on time. I’m not irredemably bad at this after all. I just have neither great talent nor great technique. And I figured that I couldn't help but improve over the course of the semester, however marginally.

In the event, however, although I started slow, I rapidly made up for it once we hit perspective drawing. Which we did very quickly. That's drafting, for heaven’s sake. Drafting I can do just fine, thank you.

And the instructor was very good (L.A. City College is a very good art school. Both in the fine and the performing arts). I picked up a number of techniques which I hadn't stumbled across on my own (I am coming more and more to the conclusion that the kids who have the reputation of being really, really good at drawing are mostly the kids who figured out the techniques early without having someone else tell them about them).

The class was divided into three main portions, first we worked in pencil. Then we moved on to ink, and then we ended the semester with charcoal. We had “midterm” assignments for both pencil and ink. The cumulation of the charcoal segment of the class constituted the final.

We were warned at the outset that there would be homework every weekend (and in the middle of the week as well), and our instructor was onimously nostalgic about the days when a semester lasted 20 weeks rather than 15. And there was a fair bit of work involved in the class (although not as much as with 501).

The pencil midterm was a cumulation of a number of our inital exercises. It was to be a portrait, taken from a photograph, of print quality (i.e., not something off the internet. Those are too low-res) which is to say that it could be from a magazine. Preferably in greyscale. Like most of our work up to that point, it was to be transfered onto an 18x24-inch sheet. And we were to add a background prefereably showing either 1 or 2-point perspective.

I used a snapshot. It was quite a good snapshot, but it was only a snapshot, so by the time I threw it into Photoship and enlarged it to a usable size it was losing detail. And no, the black triangle over the eye is not an attempt at “pirate chic”, it was our reference point. Everyone's drawing had one.

What we did was to take our full-sized print-out of our reference photo and cut out one of the eyes. Then we were to rubber cement the eye into place on our sketchbook page. Then we were to cover the back of our reference photo with soft graphite, i.e., homemade carbon paper, and position it on our sheet, so the eye was in its original position, and tape down the reference photo so it wouldn't shift. Then we were to take a hard pencil and transfer the edges of the face and features (and the major shadow areas onto the sheet, and remove the reference photo. Then tape it to a backing sheet to reduce the amount of mess it made and keep it for reference.

We had a week to reproduce the portrait of the face on the sheet of drawing paper in pencil. Since my snapshot had no hair detail, I had to invent some. I also had to go hunting stock photography for the hand and suitcase, since the snapshot cut off at the shoulder, so I had to invent an arm.

Then we needed to transfer our background onto the sheet as well. For this we used the tried & true grid method. Make a grid on our target sheet. Make a grid on our source, and try to extrapolate the info from one to the other square, by square.

Some of us used our imaginations. Some of us used photographs. I used a render of a 3D model of a 1970s-era British rail station. The original wasn't actually 1-point perspective, but it was close enough for me to fudge it into being able to use 1-point perspective to depict it.

Upon the whole, even though it isn't the best likeness, I was very pleased with it.