Dan Thompson 4 Color Chalk Workshop

Dan Thompson with his diagram explaining the anatomy of the nose and mouth.
Dan Thompson with his diagram explaining the anatomy of the nose and mouth.

Back in December I had the real pleasure of attending my first Dan Thompson workshop at the Art League in Alexandria VA. Dan happens to be teaching another workshop next weekend on March 23 & 24 and believe me when I tell you that it is completely worth your time and money to attend if you can. I had pages and pages of notes from his first workshop on anatomy alone, something I had not expected from a 4 color chalk portrait drawing class.

In full disclosure, Dan and I have some shared history–as in we both attended the Corcoran College of Art + Design back in the 90’s. Dan graduated two years before me but I still remember his amazing realism and sensitive self portraits which stood apart from every one else’s work simply because no one was painting like that at the Corcoran then or even since. Flash forward 18 years post his Corcoran BFA, an MFA from the Graduate School of Figurative Art of the New York Academy of Art and Dan is now a highly respected artist & teacher. In 2006 Thompson co-founded the Grand Central Academy of Art in New York. In 2008, he co-founded the Janus Collaborative School of Art in New York. In addition he has instructed privately at Studio 126 in New York and is on the faculty of Parsons the New School for Design, the New York Academy of Art, The Art Students League of New York, and Studio Incamminati, in Philadelphia, PA. In 2007, Thompson was selected an ARC Living Master Artist. To say I am proud to know this generous artist & gifted teacher is an understatement.

And now without further ado, my notes from his 4 Color Chalk Workshop, straight from my archives of workshop “awesomeness”:

Thompson_4ColorChalk_Echorche
Thompson explaining the rhythmic planes of the face on his écorché sculpture.

Notes of Materials & Drawing Aids

-Uses Othello & Conte pencils in red, black, yellow & white.
-Capitalize on chalk based material early on in your drawing because it is easy to remove.
-Also uses Kremer pigments, Lapis Lazuli, Smalt Blue, Red Ball chalks, vine charcoal & shammy.
-Be careful when working on a toned paper not to lift the ground when erasing.
-Best watercolor wash for paper- raw umber, ultramarine blue & dioxazine purple. Shoot for a cool colored neutral.
-READ the John H. Vanderpoel book, “The Human Figure” published in 1907. A must for understanding proper figure construction based on anatomy.
-“Figure out someone’s technical model for planes of the head & use it!”
-Likes Strathmore 400 artist’s series paper or semi tooth laid paper like Ingres etc. Must be ph neutral and 100% acid free.
-Get yourself a resin cast skull for serious portrait drawing ($250 –Bone Room, Berkley CA.)
-Take an écorché class (without skin) for accurate muscle awareness. Steve Perkins @ Janus School–excellent écorché instructor.

Notes on Anatomy of the Face

-The temporal ridge, where the side of the head meets the front resembles a covered bridge.
-The back of the skull resembles a pentagon in shape.
-Planes in the face follow each other, upward planes flanked by downward planes creating a rhythm.
-The underside of the cranium & jaw is shaped like a woman’s high heel when viewed from the side.
-Occipital bone is the lower point on the back of the head.
-There is a “triple curve” from the outside flare of the nose stepping along the outside of the mouth.
-The eye socket drops in a series of steps & terminates in the the lower eyelid furrow.
-The node of the mouth is the convergence of different muscles.
-Lines or creases form perpendicular to the muscle fiber (look for this).
-You can craft the nose out of a block, “door stop” form of the nose.
-Emphasize the under plane of the nose.
-A common mistake when rendering the nose is to not go past the eye lid with the nasal bone.
-“Alar cartilage” is the ball of the nose, shaped like an olive. It comes from the tear duct, twists & drops into a V shape
-The nose is a lesson in triangles.
-There is a rim in the enclosure of the nostril that often gets overlooked, make sure to include it.
-Develop your own secret figure reference (canon) for what anatomy should look like so that you know when it differs in an individual.
-There are 5 transitional planes in the nose when looking at it in profile beginning with the bridge, curving around the tip and ending in the plane before the lip.
-Ears will get bigger as people age.
-From the side an ear looks like a little capital D within another D.
-The ear comes out from the head like a door suspended open by the “concha” or hollow next to the ear canal.
-The helix is the upper curve of the outer ear.
-The anti-helix is the y shape with the ear.
-Draw in pairs when you can; feet, hands etc. Each completed form helps define the other.

Dan Thompson's beautiful finished 4 color chalk demo.
Dan Thompson’s beautiful 4 color chalk demo.
Detail of Dan Thompson's 4 color chalk demo.
Detail of Dan Thompson’s 4 color chalk demo. Just look at all that amazing mark making he does!

Notes on creating the 4 chalk drawing

-Test out your pencils on your paper.
-Red pencil + stump = warm
-Red pencil +white pencil= cool pink
-Red pencil+ yellow pencil= warm orange
-Red pencil + black pencil= cool violet
-Black pencil + yellow pencil= warm green
-Helpful to have a pencil the same color as your toned paper should you erase too much of the base color away.
-Shellacking makes paper more resilient.
-Look for the simple design in light & dark.
-Think more about what’s there and not adding to what you are seeing.
-Focuses on his “scanning eye” that sees quickly to give him information of the forms.
-Pulls lines through & out of drawing-trajectory.
-Works at life size of slightly smaller.
-Focus on gesture, that way you get into the spirit of the pose.
-Abbreviate what you see to encourage the mobility of the eye around the portrait.
-Keep areas (measurements) open, allows flexibility to accommodate change & correction.
-Flat patterns of dark & light.
-Charcoal vines are great for the initial layout. They make you think broadly, no detail & are very forgiving.
-If you pretend not to “focus” on the model you see big forms better.
-It is useful not to think of features in the beginning, only shapes & their proportions to each other.
-Search for the 2D. Squint to see “flat” shapes.
-Find a fixed variable based on life size and note it down on your drawing. Then allow for “flex” in other directions to improve your drawing.
-Does not lighten his darks in the beginning. Instead keeps them a a false value–all shadow the same tone to help him arrive at the underlying forms.
-Pay attention to the things that artists ignore like the neck & ear. It will make you better than the average artist.
-Be careful when your drawing transitions from the 2D to the 3D. This is where the integrity of the drawing can begin to break down.
-Be aware of your eye level & what impact that has on your drawing.
-Turn the light off to see what your model’s head movement is (and not what the light is doing).
-Highlights should be indicated in a directional manner along anatomy references. They are place holders.
-Often uses two whites when drawing. One is kept really sharp for detail, one more blunt for softening edges.

My drawing from Dan Thompson's workshop.
My drawing from Dan Thompson’s workshop.

To register for Dan Thompson’s portrait painting workshop at the Art League in Alexandria VA on March 23 & 24 click here. http://www.theartleague.org/school/course_desc.php?class_id=1075

Hope to see you all there!

4 thoughts on “Dan Thompson 4 Color Chalk Workshop

  1. 1…… the time you spend learning from a professional artist is time well-spent
    2. then you must practice what you have been taught to get to be any good yourself

    1. Agreed! Learning is a life long process. Every artist no matter what their level should continue to improve and get better. Workshops and classes offer that chance for self improvement. I created my drawing “Will” using Thompson’s technique which is well suited to the way I work in pastel. Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s