“It doesn’t upset artists to find out that artists used lenses or mirrors or other aids, but it certainly does upset the art historians.” – Chuck Close
A few friends have asked me how I drew James. Apparently, “With pencils, paper, and a well-worn eraser,” wasn’t a sufficient answer. So for those of you who are curious about my methods, I used a grid.
Originally described by Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise, “On Painting,” to explain how a landscape could be accurately transposed using a gridded window, Renaissance artist, Alfred Durer, used the grid technique to draw live models.
By looking at a model through a window frame, strung with a grid of black thread, Durer could draw an accurate image of the model onto a corresponding gridded piece of paper (as seen in the image above). This technique allowed Durer to capture a truer likeness of the model by breaking a complex subject down into smaller, more manageable bites. Since my uncle lives in Paris and wasn’t available for a live drawing session, I used a gridded photo that I took of him as the source for my drawing.
I have heard some argue that using the grid technique is cheating and that an artist should be able to draw the likeness of a person using freehand only. My recent drawings of Maya and of Tommy Kane were both done without the use of a grid, so I’m confident that I can draw reasonably well. But if Chuck Close, Paul Cadden, and Jonathan Yeo sometimes use a grid in their paintings and drawings, then I figured I could too. Some of my favorite artists even trace projected photos that they have taken onto a canvas before they start painting. Artists have long employed technology in the production of their works, but their ideas and talents are no less impressive because of it.
I appreciate seeing how other artists create their works, so I took some “play-by-play” photos of James with my iPhone. These photos are not as clear as the final scan, but I thought it would give you a good sense of how I approached this drawing.
P.S. For an incredible story on how one of the world’s most famous artists used tools and technology to create his paintings, I recommend watching the documentary, Tim’s Vermeer. This film surely upset some art historians.