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Artist research: Paul Cesar Helleu

My style of using pastels and pencils is to blend. As part one of the course is focused on different types of mark making, I researched pastel artists to see if I could find any art work where the pastel-work is primarily lines. Paul Cesar Helleu (1859-1927) is mentioned in the course materials and I was delighted to find many examples of expressive use of line without much blending in his work.

I copied Helleu’s Elegant woman at the rail pastel drawing to see what I could learn. I chose black, white and brown conte chalks. I couldn’t replicate the fine line of his marks as my paper was too grainy however I still learned a huge amount from the exercise. My work-based art tutor confirmed I needed to use smoother paper, perhaps hot pressed or not paper. He also suggested using a pencil holder which helps you to draw straight lines as it reduces the impact of the curvature in lines caused by the natural movement of the wrist and arm.

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As I normally draw portraits it was challenging to move onto full figures. I was surprised how long it took to get the curvature of back and waist right and it is difficult to rub out conte chalk so this was quite an unforgiving exercise. I misjudged the length of her left arm but I was pleased with the shape of her skirts. I was also surprised how much you can convey with relatively little tonal shading and detail. I am definitely enjoying this looser style of drawing. I feel more encouraged to sketch knowing I can get still a convincing sense of form and likeness in this way.

I really like Helleu’s use of line. The background lines reinforce the path of the woman’s gaze which I particularly enjoyed. The direction of the rail reinforces this. I have not thought about background lines in this way before.  My work-based art club tutor said that diagonal lines are often used in drawings of women as they are gentler and less masculine than vertical lines and confirmed.

I enjoyed the way the use of tone in this piece moves the eye gradually around the drawing. The large chunk of shadow between the woman and the rail draws the eye first so your eye naturally focused on the elegance of her waist line. The contrasting white of the arm then leads the eye up to the most delicate detail which is on the face. The darkest darks are the the collar and hat which frames the detail on the face. The black lines down her spine draw the eye down waistline, which the eye is drawn into by the curved darks on it. The eye is then drawn down by the vertical lines of the skirts. I am fascinated by how well this use of tone and line works as a composition device. I have ordered, on recommendation of my work-based art tutor, The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art so I can learn more about effective composition and inform the progression of some of my sketch book ideas.

 

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