Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My rote copies of John Singer Sargent portraits

A few months ago I sketched these copies of Sargent portraits while working at the Farmer's Market. They took an hour or so each. I frequently draw while I'm waiting for people to get portraits in order to demonstrate why I'm there in that tent because the Market is such a sensory overload that if I'm not actually in the act of drawing a person using an easel, no one notices I'm doing portraits at all, despite the signs and finished portraits hanging everywhere. That's why I need to draw something that catches people's attention. Ideally I sketch it out quickly then get to the visually impressive stuff, spending a lot of time on showy details and high contrast that you can see from far away. And I have to draw the eyes first because no one pays attention if it doesn't have eyes. It's rather the opposite of how I usually draw, focusing on shapes and areas, textures and abstract things until the very end, constantly erasing and making changes. But hey, it's business. Had I drawn these they way I usually draw they'd probably have turned out better but I'd have fewer customers.

My charcoal copy of Sargent's Henry James. His left eye is too close to the center, head too close to the top of the page because I always draw the head comfortably close to the top and then need to go bigger once the rest of the face develops. Oh well, that's what happens when you sketch in public and foolishly don't step back to look at the drawing from far away. But I do like the shadows on his jowls and the bulbous part of his forehead.
Henry James by John Singer Sargent, 1913. [Image: realistic formal oil painting of a portly, oldish balding white man wearing a black suit jacket, black pin-striped vest, black bow tie and Gladstone collar. He leans back and looks slightly down at the viewer with a well-worn skeptical expression, his thumb hooked confidently into his vest pocket. The figure forms a blackish pyramid in front of a shadowy brown background, the only points of light being the hand, face and collar, lit with soft natural light from the top right.]
Henry James by John Singer Sargent; what is, I assume, a preparatory sketch for the painting. [Image is a charcoal sketch exactly the same as the painting but with James facing the other direction and his lower torso cropped out.]
A photo of the actual Henry James around a decade before  Sargent's portrait.
My charcoal copy of Sargent's Rodin. His torso is cropped below the neck and his beard disintegrates into loose hatch-marks. Blank background. The face is too wide, nose crooked and too short, mouth too high up, ear too small, eyes not in line with each other, hair too round and helmety instead of floppy, sideburns too far back and not enough depth on the middle-grey shadows so his face looks oddly porky. I also needed to raise the shadow between his eyes so he doesn't look so cartoonishly angry. It sounds silly but I wonder if the proportions are so distorted in these partially because I held the book on my lap and thus saw an image skewed by perspective. I also tend to draw people with too-short chins because my own chin is short and I think artists tend to learn from their own features. Other things-- too large eyes, too large irises and pupils that make people look like they're on ecstasy, too large heads, too big hair-- are probably influenced by cartooning, which is itself influenced by the psychological importance people place on these features resulting in portraying them as physically larger than they should be. Anyhow, I liked how the beard turned out, especially since it reminds me of Rodin's sculpting style.
Aguste Rodin by John Singer Sargent. [Image is a loose oil portrait of a middle aged white man with brown hair and a long bushy brown beard and mustache wearing a black utilitarian coat. He leans back into the frame as he looks at the viewer, appearing to be caught in the middle of a task. Though he looks at the viewer he appears distracted. The painting is dark, his face the only point of light in the top-middle of the canvas. The brushstrokes are looser in this painting than the others.]
My charcoal copy of Sargent's Mrs. Edward D. Boyt (Mary Louisa Cushing). Her face is too short, her neck too thick, her nose too short, right eye too far out, and hair too flat on top or wide on the side. People kept asking if it was a portrait of Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith Show. Image is the same as the painting described below but in black & white with a blank background, cropped at her chest.
Aunt Bee and Barney Fife.
Mrs. Edward D. Boyt (Mary Louisa Cushing) by John Singer Sargent. [Image: A formal oil painting of a middle aged white woman sitting on a fancy settee with her fingers interlaced and one elbow on the armrest. She wears a gown with a black v-neck bodice and elbow-length sleeves, a skirt made of pale pink satin with a black net overlay with black polka-dots and some sort of tall pink hat or feather. The background is black and the ochre settee is shadowy, the lightest points being the face and feather and arms, followed by the light-ish skirt, creating a pinkish fleshy swoop from a thin feather point at the top middle-right to the thick hem of her skirt at the bottom left, which is intersected by the warm brown of the couch which goes from middle-left to lower right, creating a warm/cool X shape against black.] 


Ariel said...

Well, despite having to start with the eyes rather than finishing with them, it's pretty awesome that you don't waste any time NOT drawing. In addition to the magnificent jowls and bulbous head, I'd say those are some mighty fine shadows/wrinkles above the eyebrows.

Ciana Pullen said...

Thank you! I do enjoy a magnificent jowl.

Actually I wasted quite a lot of time not drawing: visiting the fancy hotel bathroom across the street, strolling over to the coffee tent, leisurely sipping my coffee, people watching, dog petting....

It's a wonder I feel exhausted when I leave the Farmer's Market every week, but I invariable feel like I've been hit by a truck by the time I get home.