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Submitted on
November 10, 2013
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Meditation (John) by kelch12 Meditation (John) by kelch12
Charcoal and white chalk on toned paper (about 16"x20")
25hrs in 9 sessions, drawing from life (Sight-size Method)

Model: John Carrasco
Instructor: Justin Hess
Location: Sadie Valeri Aterlier in San Francisco
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For this critique I have included three of you together. I feel it clarifies the thought.

The examples/demonstrations I sketched for this critique are posted in my gallery critique folder under "critique for Samuel Bakeem Kelvin." I will remove these if requested.

Your pictures are on the left and my demonstrations in the center. The master works I chose for reference are on the right, including works by Michelangelo, George Hurrell, Lithium Picnic and Rembrandt.

I grouped you together because you have all mastered the quality rendering of an image. This took great patience and practice. You provide excellent examples of three different ways to copy.
--The copying of photographs
--The copying of famous images (fan art)
--The copying of what you see (sight-size)

I also grouped you together because I believe all three of you have the potential to excel in compositional design as well. Your copying is like the perfect playing of Mozart on the piano. However, compositional design is more like writing your own music.

One traditional way to transition from copying to creating original compositions is to "redesign." (Note the "copy" Rubens made of a Titian painting in the upper right corner. Not only did he dress the figure and add legs, the style of rendering volume is different.)

My suggestion here is to try working "in the style of" an artist you favor:

--First: Choose a work of art that has a composition you like. This could be by a master painter or famous photographer. Do not look for artists with skills you admire, but rather a total composition/design/look you find appealing. Base your choice on your own preference, not what anyone else thinks is a "good composition." Place it nearby for study and inspiration. It is not to copy.

--Second: Choose a snapshot or sketch that is entirely your own design. This will be the image you will redesign. It is helpful if it does not have a composition you are fond of, or you will be inclined not to change it.

--Third: Redesign your "bad" image in the style of the work you admire. Make as many changes as you can while looking at the master work for guidance.


In my first redesign of Sarkozy I used a Michelangelo drawing to study. Here I chose to eliminate most of the detail and subtle shading. I emphasized a diagonal from upper left to lower right using a few selected areas of dark sketch marks. I added detail and refined only some of the eye and mouth area for focus.

In the second redesign of Sarkozy I chose a photo of Michael Hussar by Lithium Picnic for study. I darkened both the back of the head and the background. In these dark areas I lowed the contrast, eliminated detail and blurred the edges. In a small central area I placed a strong highlight on the nose then sharpened the edges and increased contrast and detail around the eyes. All of the above was to increase the illusion of volume and drama. I also played with the muscles between the eyebrows for fun (one of the most important areas for expression).

Remember, my examples here are not "better" than yours. I only wish to emphasize that they are different from the original and still look "real." You actually did a nice redesign with your "Andy Warhol" Sarkozy images. I would like to see you do the same with your realistic work - studying someone worthy of your skill level. (I am going to assume that you are not making a serious compositional design study of... a press photo.)

Here I chose for inspiration your drawing of Megan Fox. I chose your small color snapshot to manipulate. In my example, I darkened the left side of the figure and turned the shoulders. In some areas I uniformly used more low contrast shading. Other areas I made solid black with little or no detail/rendering. I used small dark lines for focus on the eye lashes, center of the hair on the forehead, and between the lips.

One reason I enjoy your work is that I see an appealing style developed. I could see portrait commissions? (Who could resist their portrait as a movie star.) I believe with practice your own designs could exceed the quality of your copies. Perhaps you could practice by redesigning your own snapshots in the style of a variety of famous hollywood photographers. (I am fond of George Hurrell's style.)

Added thought: Check out the history of the Hope image of Obama. For various reasons Fairey (the artist) ended up with 300 hours of community service and $25,000 fine for lying about using an associated press image taken by the photographer Mannie Garcia. He ended up sharing the rights to his picture- and his image was far closer to an Andy Warhol image than the Garcia photo. I would strongly recommend that you always credit the original photographer, or add a link to the original work. If nothing else it is just polite form. It lets everyone know you acknowledge where the foundation of your composition came from. Credit where credit is due…

--In my first example here I wanted a stern concentrated focus on the eyes. On the left side I increased contrast, hardened edges, increased detail and made the texture more pronounced. On the right I darkened the area, eliminated detail and lowered contrast- throwing attention to the left. I included a single accent on the ear and lightened the left edge of the beard and the left edge of the forehead. These three highlights act like a frame around the focus area. I again played with that muscle area between the eyebrows.

--In my second example, I wanted a more mournful feel. Although I thought the heavy black background was ok for the stern expression in my first example, I felt something lighter/softer was better for this second expression. I softened the contrast around the eyes and added small black accent lines between the lips, up along the profile and on both eyelashes.

--In my third example, I rearranged the major half tones to include a dark shape crossing over the eyes. The eye area is completely unfocused with very low contrast and little detail. I retained the expanse of white beard but softened the edges and lowered the contrast over the beard, cheek, neck, back and ear.

Note that when working in a realistic style there is absolutely no reason you need to feel bound by true reality. (The masters were not so limited.) In fact, a masterful redesign can not only be a thing of beauty, but can significantly enhance illusions of volume, movement, drama… I would caution you in particular against always relying on rote copying. Sight-size accuracy in particular is a hard habit to break later if you have no other options.

Do not be dismayed if at first your own designs are less appealing than your copies. The already high quality rendering of your images lets me know that all three of you are familiar with hard work and practice. You need only apply this to composition studies as well.

As always, if you attempt this I will try to follow at a later time with a formal critique.
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dippinraj Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2014  Professional Artisan Crafter
amazing portrait work keep grow up......
kelch12 Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you!
Nieseln Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Really like this portrait as well, dignified and matching the title it has a deep sense of serenity to it. The lighting from the left is very effective too. :)
kelch12 Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you!
DwainNeilleay1980 Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2013  Hobbyist
Please help what is the trick to high lights on charcoal?? is it the paper you get or eraser..s the eraser doesn't life the charcoal for seriously frustrated have been for last few months and cant find no help. Dwain
kelch12 Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
It depends on what kind of charcoal you use. For the "General" brand, there is wax binder in the charcoal and make it harder to erase. You could carefully layout the highlight areas and leave them "blank" so your highlight would be cleaner. On toned paper, you can also use white chalk for highlight.

In this drawing I used, Nitram Charcoal. It's handmade pure charchoal without was binder. It's relatively easier to erase.

Above all, practice, practice, practice.
kennyc Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013

x-Pixel-Pusher-x Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2013   General Artist
Fabulous work my friend,  the lighting is spot on and the rendering of the flesh texture and form is perfect. :)
kelch12 Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you so much :)
x-Pixel-Pusher-x Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013   General Artist
My pleasure, you did a wonderful job, I do love chalk n charcoal. There is a tactile satisfaction when using them that no other medium gives. :)
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