Harold Speed Process

It has been a while since I have done a still life painting in my apartment, and this is the first time with my new awesome taboret. Tonight I worked a process straight from the book “The Practice & Science of Drawing” by Harold Speed.

I have been reading “The Practice & Science of Drawing” for a while now, (free download here). If your an artist that is serious about drawing then I would highly recommend this book.

The gist of the book is this. Harold Speed went through two major schools, did his training and became a professional artist with great skill at mechanical accuracy, but it was not enough. So he studied the great master drawings and found that his years of training were lacking in some way. And only then did he “set to work to try and climb the long uphill road that separates mechanically accurate drawing from artistically accurate drawing”.

I can relate to Mr Speed, I have always felt that my training as an artist has always been lacking in some way. So, I’m reading this book to learn from the mistakes of a man who live over 100 years ago and to find the path that I should have taken years ago. Part of this new path is the painting that I started on tonight.

The Painting


I’m currently doing everything I can to work hard on drawing accuracy and training my eyes to notice the smallest differences. And this is mostly being done in the form of charcoal drawings from another old book “Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme Drawing Course“. This form of training is used in most of ateliers around the world and the work coming from students whom have trained like this is amazing. But, accordingly to Harold Speed this training is good but its lacks the combination of “mass drawing” in paint. Mr Speed indicates that in order to fully train in drawing one must utilize line drawing exercises as well as mass drawing exercises, separately as to fully understand each approach to drawing. The painting started tonight is the first of hopefully many mass drawing exercises.

Here I will go though the steps he has indicated for this exercise. I’m paraphrasing from the book, so if you want the full description I suggest you download the free epub book online.

Mass Drawing Steps

  • Select a simple object
  • Place it in strong artificial light (Make sure only light from 1 bulb is hitting your object, its easier)
  • Light should come from the left or the right, but not from the front.
  • On canvas draw in the outlines of the masses in charcoal.
  • Use straight lines and take care to get all the light and shadow shapes correct.
  • Use spray fixative on the drawing.
  • With raw umber and white oil paint mix up the exact half tone of the object.
  • Scumble the halftone over the entire canvas, you should barely see the drawing through this tone.
  • Mix up the lightest light on your object and map out the light areas on the object.
  • The scumbled half tone should stay where the halftones appear on your subject.
  • Take care in noticing how the light side edges meat the dark and if they are sharp or soft.
  • Mix up the darkest tone on the subject and map out the dark areas.
  • The thicker you paint the darker or lighter the tone your using will be, use this to indicate variation over you subject.

That is really simplistic, the book goes into much more detail.

The Setup


Beginning Drawing


Here I begin the drawing. Using a site-size method of drawing.

Drawing Comparison


I worked hard to get the drawing in charcoal pretty close, but I didn’t hesitate to obliterate it with paint. One thing I have heard over and over again is how artist kill the excitement in paintings by trying as hard as possible to save perfect drawings. Remember, painting IS drawing, your just using a brush loaded with paint. If you constantly think drawing while your painting your accuracy with your subject will increase.

Some things I noticed about this exercise. Its probably best not to start it on a previously toned canvas like I did. Also, it may be better to have a lighter background to start with rather than a dark sheet like I have. In the book Mr Speed says to take the utmost care in getting the beginning halftone color perfect. I didn’t do that and I had to do a lot of corrections even at these beginning stages.

I plan on continuing this painting tomorrow, hopefully I can complete it and do another Bargue drawing, I want to see how my brain reacts to switching from drawing in mass with a brush to line drawing in charcoal.

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