Gestural composition drawings

Large scale drawings on cartridge paper. A2 or A1.

Make sure that the surface is the same proportion as the painting you are studying.

Use a soft pencil, 4B or softer and a putty rubber.

Tape down your paper firmly on a board and work at an easel.

So much can be learnt about seeing and about drawing by interpreting the work of artists such as Titian and Rembrandt, when the piece is complex and highly contrasting in tone.

Bacchanal of the Adrians. Titian.

Move the pencil or charcoal to follow the interconnecting dark zones. We are looking for the’ underlying rhythm of the composition. Don’t worry too much about the quality of your marks to begin with, use your arm, not just your hand. Scribble if you like, but draw with energy. Draw right up to the edges. You may find that you need to hold the pencil or charcoal differently, try holding it further away from the tip.

When you are interpreting the picture, try to keep to the scale, the proportions and the effect of the whole but be bold, take risks. Think about the mass and weight. Keep drawing without hesitation or fear, concentrating on the energy that flows through the image.

Use the putty rubber as a second tool.

The rubber is not for correcting your mistakes, it’s for applying light areas to break up the dark masses.

This way of drawing is about physical engagement and energy, concentrating on the connections in the painting, the negative spaces and the movement. The subject emerges as simplified shapes in light and dark. Details are unimportant. Consider the surface all over, the directional movement even where it is very light; the sky for instance. Keep loading dark into dark, moving your arm and finding new connections.

Where to stop is a personal decision. We can push back and forth between the drawing tool and the rubber, keeping our picture in a constant state of flux.

The purely abstract marks made can be interesting and beautiful in themselves.

This is about the process and not the result.

Many artists have drawn from the old masters. No doubt it would be even better to be standing in front of a great work of art in a gallery, and drawing directly from it, but at least we have this wealth of images on the internet.

Leon Kossoff, Frank Aubach and David Bomberg deserve to be studied and admired as they in their turn studied and admired the great art of the past.

A short video drawing from Titian’s ‘Bacchanal of the Adrians.’