Learn a new drawing technique from artist and tutor Steve Butt RBSA, who guides you through the process of painted line drawing.
Medium: compressed charcoal or crayon & white acrylic paint on paper
One of the ways to teach drawing the figure is to ask students to measure distance, angle and proportion from the model using a pencil or ruler as a grid system which allows the eye to relate one mark to another when following the line of the implement. In this way relationships between the forms can be established precisely through comparison and is probably the most accurate and traditional way of creating a drawing.
Another and more adventurous way of working is to start with myriad lines glanced quickly and spontaneously and then refine them into accuracy. The benefit of this method is the initial realisation of a structure which can then be built upon and the elimination of, as Braque once said. ‘The terror of the blank paper’. It also extends concentration in the act of seeing and offers more of the process of choice as; instead of one or two lines to consider one has a multiple of decisions as to which are the most accurate marks.
To start this way of drawing one must put down your first sensations quickly and impulsively without little regard for any precision. Seeing is a gradual process and the more lines you draw the more space you will fill in and the more the image will emerge through the rhythm and contour of the line. Knowing when to stop is one of the hazards of this method at this point and often a purely subjective choice; I normally would tell students to discontinue when they felt the drawing disintegrating into abstraction.
First stage: graphite drawing, a multitude of lines searching for the form
The second stage of the process is to study the drawing whilst observing the model and then make a decision on which lines constitute the most accurate. Using white paint the other lines can be then painted back or eliminated into the paper. If the paint is used thinly the construction lines will still be seen and these early indecisions, (pentimento*) can be used for extra reference in plotting the drawing.
Second stage: paint & white out, only essential and accurate lines are being left.
Third stage: the line is refined by using the paint to create different weights of linear construction. Due to the use of graphite the white will often turn tones of grey* this can be eliminated with over painting if so wanted to produce a white near to that of the paper.
Third stage: redefinition of line, the weight of the line can be controlled by the use of paint.
Conclusion: more paint out, refinement of essential line & elimination of pentimento if desired. At this stage tonal values could be introduced or the drawing painted out even further to produce a minimal out line.
This way of working has many benefits, one, as we have seen is that it establishes an overall form quickly, another is that it allows for the maximum of possibilities when confronting change and teaches the eye to discriminate, it also can extend, as a concept the illusion of movement and time as, (if the paint is used thinly enough) a history of the marks are left as a residual in layers when making the drawing. This corresponds well with the theories of artist such as Paul Cezanne, Alberto Giacometti and William Coldstream who felt that the positioning of form in space was almost an insurmountable task. When teaching I also found that it stopped students being too precious about their drawing and reluctant to make drastic changes in their work.
Steve Butt: 2020
*from the Italian, meaning ‘repentance’, the changes made in a painting which are visible.
*willow charcoal is not recommended for this method as it is to fugitive a medium and difficult to produce a solid white over.
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of exhibitions, events and workshops.
The RBSA runs an exhibition venue – the RBSA Gallery – in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, a short walk from the city centre.
The gallery is currently closed due to Covid-19.
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