Every day when I check my email I have newsletters from artists and art businesses throughout the world. Most are trying to sell me something. In hopes of doing that, many of these emails have something free to offer — a free tutorial, a free class, a free online demonstration. Occasionally I sign up for one of these freebies, especially if it’s on a topic I’m really interested in.
Such was the case when I signed up for one of Raw Umber Studio‘s weekly portrait drawing sessions. I like drawing portraits, and while I’ve got a long way to go, I’ve always had the ability to capture at least a bit of a likeness, even in the earliest portraits I drew.
After I signed up, I immediately forgot all about it. It was just by chance — pure chance — that I came downstairs to my studio and logged into my email on Sunday afternoon. There I found a reminder from Raw Umber Studio. “We have a portrait session at 2:00 PM this afternoon.”
Quickly I glanced toward the clock. Oh, my goodness! 2:00 PM. The session was starting! I immediately clicked the “join” link from the email, then made a mad dash through the studio to gather up materials.
I could hear the session facilitator speaking as I grabbed a big sketchbook and looked for my drawing pencils. Right now, my entire studio is in disarray. My husband has started painting the walls. The easels are moved. My tables are in different places. Nothing is where it’s supposed to be other than my canvases and a few things in the supply cabinet.
As I was scurrying about, the facilitator was explaining how the session would go. There would be three portrait poses for us to complete. The first would be a 10-minute session. Next we would work on a 20-minute project. Finally, with the third pose, we would have 30-minutes to complete our drawing. He then explained that charcoal artist Lizet Dingemans would be drawing alongside us, showing us how she approaches portraiture.
Of course, all this was already happening as I settled into my seat. The first photo was on the screen, the clock was ticking, and Ms. Dingeman had started drawing. She uses a “head in the box” technique which I’ve studied before, so I wasn’t completely lost. It’s not a drawing method I’m good at — there are very few of those — but I understand the fundamental idea. It’s a concept taught by Andrew Loomis in his book, “Drawing the Head and Hands”. Although I haven’t read his book, I’ve seen demonstrations of the technique.
But knowing a technique and using it are very different things, and since I was starting a few minutes late, I was rushing to catch-up. The clock was still ticking, and before I knew it, Ms. Dingeman was saying “Time’s up now, so we’ll move on.”
I had a more-or-less completed drawing, or at least what counted for 10-minutes worth of a drawing. While I wasn’t satisfied with it, I accepted it for what it was, felt reassured that it could have been worse, and applauded the fact that, while a bit misshapen, my head profile was recognizable as human.
I also breathed out a sigh of relief and told myself I’d do much better with the 20-minute drawing since I would be starting at the same time as everyone else.
After turning the page in my sketchbook, I quickly started following along, once again constructing a box and putting a head inside of it. By the way, as a tip for anyone interested in portrait-drawing, Ms. Dingeman recommended drawing boxes as the single most valuable exercise possible. Of course she did. My box-drawing skills are virtually non-existent, which explains why I’ve never used the “head-in-a-box” method.
Moving right along… well, that’s what Ms. Dingeman was doing. She sketched quickly, her charcoal making lines this way and that as she talked about skulls and boxes and angles. I was making marks, too, trying to keep up.
Don’t think, I told myself. Just draw.
Here’s a photo of our model, Gemma. This particular photo was used for the 20-minute drawing session.
Amazing, really, how time can fly when you’ve having fun — or when you’re racing to complete a portrait in 20 minutes. It was fun, but I still felt as if I were racing to keep up. At one point I thought about stopping the video and backing up a bit, but… well, that would spoil all the fun, wouldn’t it?
Here’s my 20-minute portrait. I was disappointed that I didn’t get much of a likeness.
Now, time for our third and final drawing, same model, different angle. Again, making a box and putting a head inside.
Again, not much of a likeness, but overall I felt fairly good about my 30-minute drawing. Right up until I started tweaking it. I kept erasing her eyes and re-doing them. They’d looked good to start, but I thought I could do better. I couldn’t.
To add to my consternation, Ms. Dingemans was applying white charcoal to highlighted areas, and I was wishing I’d done the session with charcoal on toned paper the way she was doing hers.
But I’d been in such a rush to get to class on time! I’d grabbed the closest sketchbook and pencils without even thinking. I promised myself that next week I’d be ready. I’d have my supplies prepared ahead of time.
I logged out of the session, and it was only then that I noticed that the session had been recorded live six hours earlier. It happened at 2:00 PM all right, but that was 2:00 PM in the United Kingdom! I had a good laugh at myself, looked again at my drawings, and actually I’m glad I did keep to the time limits allowed without stopping and starting.
It was good practice. I see I still need a lot of work on getting the eyes right, but at least I was able to get some structure in my portrait drawings. It was fun, and I will definitely take part in future sessions.
If you’re interested in joining the fun, too, here’s a link to the YouTube channel: