Over the next few days I’ll be gathering together brushes, paper, paints, charcoal and canvas ready for a week at Sarum Studio, Salisbury. Sarum Studio is run by Nick Beer, formerly senior tutor at Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence.
I spent a month or so training in Salisbury with Nick back in 2012 and had such a fantastic time. The cathedral close and Wren Hall (where the studio is based) are really beautiful and are highly conducive to feeling inspired and motivated. The small scale of the studio is a big advantage, allowing the training to be tailored specifically to each student’s needs and to addressing the ‘weakest links’ in their technique. The improvements to my technique and overall visual sensibility in the short time I was there were more marked than at any other stage in my training so far.
Nick has spent many years working closely alongside Charles Cecil (himself taught by R. H. Ives-Gammell). Training with him, you really get a sense of the lineage back to Ives-Gammell, McGregor-Paxton and beyond to the great academies of Europe. My lasting impression of training at Sarum Studio was that I was getting ‘the real thing’: a ‘philosophy of seeing’ and a solid grounding in the principles of naturalistic painting. What I learnt during my time there has formed the framework for all my subsequent self-directed efforts, so I can’t wait to go back – even though it’s only for a week.
This is one of my better cast drawings - a mask of Dante, which I purchased online. I've produced a couple of drawings from this cast, as well as a painting. There are a number of things that work well with this drawing. The basic construct was fairly successful, although I needed to shift the location of the eye part way through. I feel that I approached the project in a fairly logical way and I made sure I'd resolved each step in the process before moving onto the next.
As usual, my process was to begin with the outline, using fairly straight lines, then to identify the shadow line. To make this easier I drew the shadow line in charcoal on the cast itself. This can easily be removed afterwards but it's a very simple means of exploring the shadow shape on the subject you're drawing.
Having blocked in the shadow line and put in an indication of the shadow pattern in a flat tone, slightly lighter than nature, I then added the background. You can't quite see from this image, but I managed to capture this reasonably successfully - and that enhanced the sense of depth. I then deepened the shadow value to get as close as possible to the value in nature. The halftones came next, followed by modelling and turning the edges. I think the edges are probably what makes this more successful than some of my other drawings, in terms of giving the illusion of volume.
Without having a tutor around to help me, I sometimes find it helps to set myself little 'exercises' in the course of my drawing. This is what I did here. I took a photograph of the cast set-up and printed it off. I then marked in red pen on the print-out the hierarchy of edges, numbering them from softest soft to sharpest sharp, and all the edges in between. I then used this as a reference whilst carrying out my modelling to make sure the drawing corresponded to what I was seeing in nature.
A favourite resource on portraiture is Philip de László's Painting a Portrait. Published in 1934 it is written in the form of a conversation between A. L. Baldry and de László. The book is fairly widely stocked by second hand book sellers, and is also available online and is well worth a read. It provides an outline of de László's technique, including his palette, procedure for creating preliminary sketches, the value of standing back from the canvas and the use of the mirror. The second half of the book consists of analysis of various great portraits by Holbein, Titian, Hals, Velasquez, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and others.
De László himself was born in Budapest but settled in London in 1907. Having trained at the Académie Julian, he became known for his portraits of royal and aristocratic people including Edward VII. I love the elegant and fluid manner of his painting.
Ben Laughton Smith
Contemporary works of art in the classical tradition.