First steps with Sanguine (Italian: sanguigna) pencil

Among my pencils and pens I found a sanguine pencil – a thick, reddish, crumbly pencil. In Italian it is called “matita sanguigna” or simply “sanguigna“, because of its red colour. The main component, that gives it its colour, was the iron mineral hematite (from which comes the Italian name for the pencil, matita). Nowadays the same texture and colour are obtained with other materials as well. The Italian Wikipedia entry is clear and complete, mentions history and drawing techniques, it is worth a read even through a translation tool!

So far I have only sharpened the pencil and copied a small tree. This pencil is different as it is much crumblier and messier than regular pencils – but not as messy as charcoal, in my opinion. I like it very much and I want to take inspiration from artists’ masterpieces, so stay tuned for posts with pictures 🙂

More exercises

In past few days I drew a bit, using pencils, pens and markers. I am quite unexperienced with tools other than the classic graphite pencil, so the results are not exactly art 🙂 Have fun!

The lion head is drawn with a small graphite pencil (a bit too small to be held in my hand), and I lost patience quickly, so I just drafted shapes and shadows. I should have taken more time to examine the lion before drawing.

The second drawing is a copy of the photography of Fan Ho, a famous Chinese photograph. “Sun Rays, 1959” impressed me for the balance of shades and lines, and the three people who blend perfectly with the abstract composition made by the staircase. (I didn’t finish my drawing, but I plan to.)

The third drawing contains dinosaurs reading very small books. The idea came to me from the many labels “Keine Werbung” (no advertisement, in German) that I see on postboxes. Adding one letter it becomes “Kleine Werbung”, small advertisement. A T-Rex is the right recipient of small ads, that fit its small arms perfectly 🙂

The mind and the pencil – what happens when you draw?

In her book, Betty Edwards starts with a detailed analysis on what happens in the human brain while drawing, or attempting to draw. The core of the analysis is the identification of two approaches to the external world, associated to the two hemispheres of the brain. The left brain is analytical, sequential, symbolic; the right brain is emotional, simultaneous, wordless. Western culture praises analytical skills and verbalisation, often leaving emotions and arts to actors and artists alone, when everyone should be helped in cultivating “right brain” skills. Betty shows a way to develop realistic drawing skills, by gently silencing the “left brain” when needed and letting the “right brain” work.

The two different perception strategies could technically not belong to specific brain locations; nevertheless, in the case of drawing, the model is quite effective in guiding me on the path of observing – therefore drawing – better.

What is my idea of what happens when the eye structures get an image of the world? There is a first, raw “picture” that I suppose is formed in the right hemisphere of the brain. Then the left brain identifies the objects and people, names them, categorises them, and allows the raw image to be forgotten. (I just thought that the most vivid and realistic visual memories I have are the ones connectes to emotional moments.). When I draw, I could let the left brain draw, and it will draw symbols, interpreted images, caricatures. When I allow/ask the right brain to draw, I will draw realistically, without naming anything, only shapes and colours. The left brain will contradict the right brain (“The eyes are not so distant! The nose is smaller! That part of the tree should not be that dark!”) – but I will allow the right brain to have the final word; I will draw exactly what I see. The left brain has to wait the very end of the drawing to have the stage, and interpret the drawing: guess the perspective, the volumes, the textures. It will be surprised how good is the right brain in getting all details right, all the tones and shades, and bring them intact from reality to paper.

I am still fine with my analytical and verbal left brain; maybe now, I even live better with it, as it knows how to respect the right brain. The right brain knows that it can take its time and space without needing to argue, and appreciates the help of the left brain skills when needed. The left brain can have fun drawing too, by drawing interpreted images, cartoons, symbols, and be helped by the right brain when a touch of realism makes the drawing better.

Many times this two main states of mind have been identified: the flow, meditation, concentration, creativity… I wish that this model helps other people enjoy drawing and feel proud of their art; and also appreciate and give space to both “right” and “left” brain approaches in life.

First exercise with colour pencils

Yesterday I was looking for a recipe in a cookbook about fish, and my drawer’s eye went to some of the many good pictures that show various fish species, and of course the prepared dishes. One seemed quite easy to be reproduced with colour pencils, and so I picked up my very heterogenous set of pencils (some from my childhood!) and started drawing.

I was once more surprised at how slowly, but surely, the whole shape of the fish emerged from the small colour patches I kept filling, one next to the other. The mental process is definitely twofold: first, I observe the full image or live subject, decide which part I will draw, then I start drawing the first shape (of medium size: from that one, all the proportions of the drawing are set) and by a sort of triangulation method, I get all the neighbouring shapes and colours one after the other.

In the case of this colour drawing, I first made a small palette on a corner of the paper, to select the few pencils I needed for the drawing (not in the picture).

Fish with color pencils

Uniform shading: exercise

Today I visited the childrens’ park near my house and found a nice model, with a good proportion of light and dark areas. It is a turtle made of wood, the size of a big dog. Children were playing all around, and even chalked a bit of the turtle!

Here it is:

Wood turtle

I didn’t draw everything as I got tired and the cirrus clouds took away some of the light; anyway I am quite happy with the result as it is.

This time I didn’t use hatches as I wished to practise uniform tones. My pencil is not a fancy one, it is probably a HB pencil. I like to use it for a few minutes with the same inclination, so a small flat area results from usage, makes the stroke larger and more uniform. I periodically rotate the pencil when I want a darker tone, that comes from the pressure on a smaller area, or a finer stroke.

The process of choosing how dark to fill an area is not unique. My way is to observe the whole subject and find which areas have the same amount of darkness. Then I try to see the contours of these areas. If there are not, as it is in many cases, I try to see where there are abrupt edges like the ones of the lower parts of the turtle, in full darkness, that emerge from light background. Then I start making a uniform tone of the lightest shadow, all over the dark areas, leaving out only the lighter areas. I then repeat this process with darker tones. Usually three iterations are enough. Finally, I make the continuous transitions and some smaller details.

Have fun with your own drawing!

Negative spaces: first exercise

A clever way of drawing complex objects in good proportion is to focus on the empty spaces left. Betty Edwards explained this technique in her book “Drawing on the right side of the brain” (see this post with an application of the idea). I have applied negative contour drawing to this potted plant with a lot of leaves:

Negative spaces exercise: plant
Negative spaces exercise: plant

Drawing such a subject requires some patience, but it is very rewarding to see the full shape of the plant emerge from the apparently meaningless pattern of small white background spots.