­ A Life Drawing

Female portrait – for practice – charcoal on newsprint

One of my goals this year was to take a life drawing class – working from a live model. I’ve drawn from models on some other occasions but i was never close enough to get a good look at the head, and the models were nude which encouraged drawing the whole form, not just the head. They were also uninstructed events with short to medium length poses, not conducive to a slow study.

So this was the result from class 2, as far as we took it. We worked for about an hour or so because some of the time was spent in demo and lecture and some breaks. With more time I would have made this a more refined and corrected image, but when the model is done, time’s up. For scale, the top of the head to base of the neck is about 10.5 inches.

By far the hardest part for me was the seeing. My eyesight was poor as a child and hasn’t gotten better as I’ve grown up. And although I’ve tried many different kinds of glasses with a variety of magnifications, there’s always some compromise. I was about 8-10 feet from the model, I’d guess. If she had been sitting at arm’s length or 4-5 feet I think I could have done considerably better. The model was strongly lit from the top and to the right (camera right, not her right) which gave good shadows to work with and model form.

Eventually I think we’ll be drawing her unclothed and I may or may not post them, it depends upon whether or not that’s ok with her. She is a patient and friendly person and holds a pose remarkably well. She was very pleased to have a looking down position because it allowed her to read a book last night!

My objective with this, of course, is to work into oil portraiture. But as I’ve been reminded by the teacher, all practice drawing shape and value helps improve any kind of painting – including landscapes and still life. It’s additive and no practice is every wasted.


  1. Detlef
    January 16, 2008

    Very impressive. Charcoal gives a lovely tone on the paper.

  2. Brenda
    January 16, 2008

    I think you’ve done a fantastic job, Karen!! And you deserve KUDOS for getting right on your 2008 goals and it’s just the middle of January!! I look forward to seeing more of your work from this class.

  3. Cathy (Kate) Johnson
    January 16, 2008

    Lovely forms on the face…isn’t it wonderful drawing live humans??

    I sympathize with the eyesight! But you can’t tell you were having any trouble…

  4. Shirley
    January 16, 2008

    Love this Karen. Her pose and your handling are so expressive!

  5. Susan
    January 16, 2008

    Karen, your work just makes me give a large contented sigh. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Nancy
    January 16, 2008

    This is beautiful – so quiet. No one would have guessed that you had problems. Must be a real pain, though — I sympathise, as I get more dependent on my glasses.

  7. wendy
    January 16, 2008

    Cool. Really lovely. On TV I’ve been watching that Oz guy who sets up a portrait session (5 hours)with a celebrity and three artists have two weeks to finish the portrait. Then the sitter chooses whcih portrait he or she wants to keep. Rolf Harris, that’s the guy. Interesting program because each artist has a different style.

  8. Tami
    January 17, 2008

    This is beautifully simple, Karen. Ahhh, the sight problem; I can relate to that one…I’m using cheaters now because my distance sight is fine; the problem, for me is, with the paper up close I need the glasses but need to take them off to see details in the distance. Yeah, I know, that’s what bifocals are for; just don’t want to wear them all the time…

  9. Agnes
    January 17, 2008

    Karen, I think you’ve done a beautiful job on this. Eyesight problems are a constant irritation, I know, but in the early stages of life and portrait drawing it’s actually an advantage to miss the details (or so I like to tell myself). This is a very sensitive drawing which has mass and weight and also the breath of life. I think you’re a natural for portrait painting.

  10. Linda
    January 17, 2008

    Fantastic drawing, Karen. I understand about the eyesight problem, too. Seems there are a lot of us “blind artists” out there …

  11. PamYla
    January 20, 2008

    Very very nice!

  12. Nancy Coler
    January 20, 2008

    Karen, this is fantastic and looks like you captured her essence! Her features, the serenity on her face, and the light, are all there. Newsprint though… oh please switch to better quality paper! Newsprint will crumble away and yellow in a few years and that is a great shame. You never know when you first touch charcoal, pencil or brush to paper, which ones will become masterpieces! This class sounds like a gem of a find.

  13. Karen
    January 20, 2008

    Nancy, the teacher specified newsprint for class work, so I’m stuck there. But for my own drawing, yes I use better paper. It is a good class – and in your neighborhood, too!

  14. Sherry
    January 21, 2008

    I was nodding my head in agreement after reading about the challenges of seeing clearly. I was severely nearsighted for most of my life, then in 1992 I had RK surgery, which in a general way was terrific, though I had some light haloes that never went away. As I continued to mature, I started to need reading glasses, a pain in the behind. Then there was that detached retina… Now I wear my reading bifocals most of the time. My reason for sharing this is that I think in some ways vision that isn’t completely sharp can be a blessing. It has forced me to be less picky and detail oriented, more aware of large shapes. It’s the universe saying “Simplify, simplify!” Anyway, your portrait is lovely. I always look forward to your work.


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