How to draw like an 18th century artist

I talk a lot about art on this blog but rarely really get to the bottom of how some things simply get made. And while many fine artists would wine and complain about how craft has no place in art, or otherwise and is something I shouldn't be bothering about I will counter that I actually can talk about neat tricks to make my life, and hopefully yours, easier in the studio room or otherwise. Damien Hirst, on the other hand, would have to get the guy he pays to do the work for him to talk about how he does it.

Congratulations, Hirst, Koons, and other heavily ironic past generations, you built the castle for me to storm.

I'll talk about drawing today, and getting complicated details in things like facial features. The way I do my figures involves a combination of reference photo, photoediting, tracing, freehand, and cut-and-paste breakdowns.

The way I got these hangmen made involved commandeering my roommate's photo light and setting it up to the right in each of the photos that I later posted in a past article. The light was meant to sit as the light of the campfire that the drawing has as the only light source in the "forest" I've drawn.

Once I had digital copies of myself rolling around like a nutcase covered in chocolate syrup (The chocolate syrup gave my skin that "2-3 day old bloody raw skin look, and it was also delicious on ice cream) I took them to a free photo editing program called Gimp which I highly recommend, it's also how I edit all of my final documentation for my pottery. In gimp I played with the color, usually by really turning it down and bumping up the contrast. Sometimes because I wanted it to look honest to how the figures would look int he forest, and sometimes out of honest curiosity to make stand alone digitals.

After I had the digitals done, and the rough sketch was on my final draft of paper (the big piece of Rives BFK) I used gimp to create a blank image that scaled to 20x33 (my dimensions for the paper, yeah I like non-standard sizing) and drew out MS Paintbrush style my beginning sketch and pulled up my favorite poses. After cutting about 7 or 8 out I moved them around collage style in gimp around my goofy MS Paint drawing of my real drawing until I found something I was happy with. Then, I moved each figure individually to another image that was the same size as printer paper (81/2 x 11) and printed out a color image, then to tape it to the final draft drawing.

After I had everything printed and taped up, I spent a week just fine tuning the figures and drawing everything else around them, moving them as I saw fit from my desk, from my bed, etc. Nonchalantly. I wasn't taking it seriously all the time because I wasn't committed yet.

Later when I decided it was time I traced their outlines from the cut up prints, and then began the process of detailing, which is where I am now.

The way I get them this way involves cutting out the head, hands and feet (think informally here, those of you that know western painting!) and tracing a second time, then just putting the cutout up next to the space I need to draw and use it as a reference. This way I can get uncanny resemblances and still be free to edit and alter as I choose.

All of this is still an elaborate setup for the ink, which will be a combination of emphasis of some lines, and washes within others. or not. I'll choose to follow one line and choose to paint outside of another based on my own discretion, and sometimes that becomes very intuitive. So what many of these lines are is an anticipation of how I'll think about the drawing later.

This tracing method, and mapping isn't new, it's an old trick. There are paintings in the Louvre that use similar cut and paste methods of detail because it's effective. And while the Louvre will say that none of their artists do that, it's a lie. It's a trick that's older than the international Gothic style and I like it because I can take things apart and think about them separately. Chuck Close has a similar method of making his portraits, and any established painter has some tricks up their sleeve as well. Give it a shot! Use or create your own method of creating detail or proportion, which I've almost completely ignored here.


-Jeremy Hunter Sims