Over about four sessions, I finally finished my pencil on paper reproduction of Edgar Degas’ Girl Combing Her Hair. This is a piece Degas worked and reproduced many times. Here is the image I was working from on the easel with my own version:
A little about the process and the image:
While working on this piece, there were two mistakes I made early on with my sketch that I had to contend with. I did what I could to solve problems as I could while working on the piece.
First, since I had only intended to make this a figure/compositional study on a day our still model was not able to attend the class, I started the sketch on a large sheet of low-quality paper. I had intended to use this as an in-class demonstration for my students, so the choice I made for paper was something I would end up contending with later, since a very smooth and thin paper will hold pencil much differently. (I advise all young artists to use good paper as often as they can afford and generally follow my own advice, using inexpensive papers only for my practice sketches and studies.)
The second mistake I made with this sketch was in making the initial lines of my sketch. Overall, I made the body much too large, and I essentially ran out of room for the left arm. By the time I had realized this I had gotten a bit far into the drawing, having already added a great deal of detail. I choose to attempt to bring the arm forward as I was drawing it, as though pointed more in front of the model to make the arm fore-shortened enough to still fit on the paper. Even after that, the result was less than satisfactory, and at one point I slightly shortened the right arm to make the mistake less obvious.
So, that speaks, obviously, to why pre-planning remains so vital to getting an image right –especially when reproducing another piece. If I had been more careful, or looked more carefully as I placed the outside lines in my sketch, I would have been able to place all of the image easily withing the space it was intended for.
Something to think about when you are working on a piece. Perhaps when you think your initial sketch is done, pause, take a break, and come back to view the initial sketch. Make sure that you have proportioned and placed all your lines correctly before you begin shading and adding detail. (While drawing, I was walking around a classroom, interacting with my students and doing the business of teaching, –not that this necessarily forgives me).
Obviously, this is a very challenging pose, no wonder Degas returned to it again and again, the same pose, and even this pose using other figure models. If you don’t get it right, do it again.
Nonetheless, I was pretty pleased with the end result. I’ll add a couple more pictures at the end, when I have the light to take them without the glare from a flash. Until then here’s a shot of the detail:
The lesson –sort of within a lesson– if you try to create you will make mistakes. You’ll make mistakes whether you are starting, or advancing or have been working in a medium for years. Relax, it’s your art. It probably won’t be perfect. You will realize you have made an error, you may spend hours trying to correct it and still be unhappy with the result. Don’t be afraid of your mistakes or toss your imperfect works away. Instead, look at what happened and analyze the problem. You can probably learn more from those works that are imperfect than you can from others that simply have problems that escape your notice or the notice of people you seek feedback from.
After you are finished, do it again. Make that mistake ten times, or until you don’t. Happy arting.