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Sometimes I even surprise myself

Yesterday I had to teach someone how to draw something from a photo infront of her onto her canvas before she could start to do the painting.

I know that a few people can do the drawing in paint straight onto a canvas and sometimes I have done just that. But knew in this case teaching a novice that she wouldn’t be able to do it.

I measured the photo which was almost 12 x 10 inches and the canvas exactly 20 x 16 inches. So not an exact to scale transfer of image. And again, I had to think of the novice and the best way of transferring the image for her. Mmm… how would I do it if it was my painting? And will it be easy to teach it to her….

I quickly went though all the options in my head….

Drawing it out free hand……………. (she’s going to get that wrong I know before we start) griding up the photo and the canvas and drawing out the image that way(she can do that but it will take a while to do it) ………… using a pantograph (she’d never heard of one when I mentioned it) …. using a pantograph onto tracing paper (ditto the pantograph technique if she’s never used one) ….. using a pantograph drawing it onto sketching paper and transferring it over by laying the paper directly over the canvas then using the flicking the paper quickly technique that keeps your eye in place of where the pencil mark should be, and marking it below on the canvas. Its quite an easy technique I think, and probably the best option to use in this case. It will be the quickest and easiest option. Yep! We’ll go with that. drawing paper (2)

I’ve shown my pupil how to do the grid technique before for other pictures so this will be a new technique to learn for her. All of it useful. And as I explain to her often, there is always more than one way to paint or draw something. Nothing is cheating, its all down to technique and getting the image down.

She looked at me in slight concern when she saw the pantograph and I smiled and said I’d do the image for her using it, and she could do the harder job of transferring it over to the canvas. I hate to take over a pupils work, its their job to learn by doing it themselves, but this wasn’t doing the painting, it was just doing the working drawing to be transferred to the canvas she was painting on. And also it meant that watching me do it, she could learn as I knew it wouldn’t take me more than a couple of minutes.

With a scrap of paper I worked out the best permutation to get the image on the working paper, and decided it would be  x 1.5 which meant the 12 x 10 image would be 18 x 15 leaving a bit of lee way on the length by two inches and the width by one. Ok, the image of a young woman sitting on a vanity unit looking down, with her reflection in a mirror on the wall by her would fit nicely on the canvas.

I did the quick sketch drawing using the pantograph and as I expected it took me a couple of minutes.

I put the working drawing over the canvas and moved it around slightly so that fitted the canvas below it and made a nice image. Then I cut the paper to size so we knew that the working drawing was exactly in place, and taped it briefly down one side with three small strips of masking tape. Ok, job done, now it was the pupils turn.

She asked me to show her how to start, so I stood and leant over it as it lay flat on my work bench so that I could see the image and quickly started flicking the paper back and forth as I did quick dotted lines on the canvas following the image on the paper. And smiled as I handed it over to her to carry on……Simple!

And so it should have been…. although not as simple as I thought she would find it. Even though I explained that you have to flick it quickly, and have to be directly over the top of it, she struggled a bit. When she had laboriously done a few lines and I had sat watching her for ages, she hadn’t got them right, some were out by half an inch or so, or she had “guessed” where a line was going, instead of following the line she should have been, making it a straight line instead of a nicely curved one. I explained that she didn’t need to know what the image WAS, just follow what the line below WAS.

After an hour of this, with her making the comment that it must be boring for me watching it, she still hadn’t drawn out half of the image. And there was only half an hour left of the class. I could see that we would be doing this for some time to come, and wanted her to get to the painting stage. I gently and brightly suggested that whatever she hadn’t done by the end of the half hour I would finish off, not to take over the painting, since she had learnt the technique, but to speed up the creative process. She agreed with a quiet smile….

I sat back, and let her get on with it, although in that time, she ended up rubbing out more than a third of what she had drawn as the lines were “out” from the sketch.

At the end of the half hour, there was still more than a third of the drawing to finish off. I picked up my pencil, stood over the drawing and started quickly flicking the paper over the canvas, checking the drawing underneath to make sure it was correct, and correcting it where it wasn’t quite. Then I did the rest of the drawing, the last third. All of that took me about seven minutes. If I had done the whole lot, I’d have done it easily in fifteen minutes. It took the novice more than one and a half hours to do what would have taken me ten minutes.

But what was surprising for me is I can’t remember when I last used that technique. Its been  decades and decades since I did that. And yet it was in me to do it. When you learn it as an artist, its there in you. Until its needed… !

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