If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times: I’m a big fan of William Adolphe Bouguereau and he is one of my top five favorite artists of all time. His paintings are timeless, realistic, sensual, and brilliant. So how does a scribler like me, attempt to render a masterfully colored painting into black and white, using charcoal and carbon?
Well, let’s start with the foundation of this whole idea: W. A. Bouguereau’s famous Meditation
One can’t help but look at his and just be amazed at the realism, innocence, beauty, and warmth this painting exudes. It simply is breath-taking. So why would I want to draw this in charcoal and carbon? Well….because I don’t know how to paint and the only thing I know how to do is draw. So, I guess that’s why. Pretty simple, huh?
I started by getting a good outline drawn on a rather large piece of semi-transparent paper. Once I have the necessary proportions and areas where shadows and highlights will fall, I transfer that image onto my main drawing media – Fabriano Artistico 140 lb bright white water color paper. (Sorry for the bad photograph)
I first begin by laying down the darkest areas of the drawing, which would be the shadowy forest behind the girl. Since that area is near the top of the drawing, I’ll turn my drawing upside down so that any access charcoal will fall straight off the edge and not run down across the other white areas that I wish to remain clean. Keeping your drawing clean helps keep contrast and improve the overall image of your drawing.
As you can see, I have laid a foundation of charcoal around the girl. This foundation will act as a “filler” when I put in the background. If you look at the painting, you’ll see that there is mostly grass and a few, broad, green leaf plants surrounding the girl and in the foreground at the base of the stone upon which she sits. I wanted to replicate this to a certain degree but also didn’t want the drawing to be a “copy” of what I saw. I wanted to add my own touch to it. I’ll show you later what transpired.
I decided that I should start rendering the girls cloths and skin tone before I do any background drawing, so I focused on the girl next by getting in the basic shadows, features, and borders.
From this point, I decided to move to the feet and the area around where her feet would be resting. I know this seems like “jumping around” but that is how I work. I need to see a balance develop before I can fill in and render a background. Below is a close-up of the feet and some of the “tiling” I drew.
Now, let’s return to the background. Remember: the oil painting had grass and a few plants, but I didn’t want to create a “copy” of what I was seeing. I wanted some originality to my drawing, so I decided to draw whatever came to my mind. That is when I looked to the paper and the charcoal foundation for help.
I simply began to draw images and shapes of what I felt I saw within the foundation of charcoal I had laid down previously. What slowly developed as I progressed, was a garden of sorts, showing a variety of plants, grasses and ground cover. You might say, it is “botanical garden” rather than a natural forest. The final result is below, but first…a few things need to be said.
Sometimes when you draw, you experience this “altered state of conscious”, whereby time is going by but you are completely unaware of it. Any music that is playing in the background becomes silent. Any regular noise becomes absent. You hear absolutely nothing but all kinds of noise are happening around you. It’s one of those times when the right side of the brain goes into overdrive and the left goes nearly dormant. You swear the sun was shining outside your window just a little bit ago at 09:30 in the morning, but the clock says 10:45 and its dark outside.
These are the times when eating and drinking don’t even become an urge. You don’t feel any need, no hunger, no thirst, no tension, no anxiety, no anything. You’re in a zone and all you can do and want to do, is draw. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why it happens sometimes and other times it doesn’t but this is a time in which I do my best work. In fact, I can always tell when I’ve been drawing in a zone versus drawing on a schedule or just “whenever”. The quality is far superior and the detail is much greater. Forcing myself to draw is the worst thing I can do for myself. That is why I don’t practice or keep a sketch book, like so many artists recommend. I’m just not that way. When I want to draw, I draw. If I don’t want to draw….I simply stay away from it.
No. She’s not pouting. She is simply looking a little forelorn. I wanted to change the facial expression to that which matched more closely the title of Bougoureau’s painting, because to me, a smiling girl looking upwards doesn’t really come across as someone who is “meditating” but more like dreaming or even thinking. Oh well…that’s just my opinion any way.
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