Back against the wall
Back Against the Wall.

Often I find myself drawing a figure with no pose in mind, and so I have to figure out what to do with the arms, legs, hands, and feet as I come to them. But this time around I wanted to challenge myself. I knew I wanted to draw the arms in an uncommon position while maintaining a natural feel which is harder than it sounds. Usually, with arms at the sides, the palms face the body as that’s their neutral state; gestures will turn the palms forward such as a sheepish shrug or a show of surrender. But there’s really no reason to turn the palms in a dorsal direction even though we can do it. The only reason that comes to my mind is if something large were behind the person, and they wanted to touch it without looking. Something like a wall, or railing—something to lean on or brace against. Remember that, because that’s going to come back to bite me.

Now, often times I also draw a figure with no intended background. Once again, since the background and pose go together, this time I actually saw the wall and tile floor from the get go. But I didn’t know if I wanted to draw them. So I get our named girl who shall remain nameless completely drawn and shaded, and I’m mostly pleased with it except I realize this pose really needs the background. Even though the pose, itself, technically looks fine, in a sea of negative space, she has no reason to turn her arms that way. As a result it just looks weird—not necessarily wrong—but ... not right ... robotic ... unnatural.

Well, one of the things I’ve been looking into, reading up and practicing up on is drawing more dynamic backgrounds: two and three-point perspective, vanishing points, landscapes, cityscapes, buildings, and trees. So, okay, great! I need a background! Time to show off all that newly acquired knowledge. Oh wait, that’s right, this pose needs a flat wall parallel with the view just like all my other flat backgrounds.

Damn it!

So, I decided if I’m going to draw another bloody flat wall, it’s going to be the best frickin’ wall I’ve ever drawn ... and Jesus Christ did it take me an eternity. I even broke out a ruler for the occasion so the lines would be straight and, in theory, the bricks would be equal size ... except I didn’t use the measuring ticks to actually get them equal size and you can clearly see that (third row up from the bottom.) In essence what I did was draw a light grid where each rectangle was the width of half a brick. To get a brick, I would shade in two rectangles, leaving a little bit of a border unshaded to distinguish one brick from its neighbors while the intersecting grid lines disappeared into the shading. Then in the next row, I would shift the shaded rectangle pairs over by one to get a more constant geometric pattern (which would have been even more accurate had I used the ruler as a ruler and not just a straight edge.)

Anyway, the basic pattern of the brick wall in place (which looked terrible, by the way), I then made some random eraser streaks, some random pencil marks, and followed that up by erasing the gridlines where the mortar should be which gives the effect of a weathered wall with markings across several consecutive bricks and not the space in-between because, typically, the bricks protrude a little further than the mortar and, thus, scarring often appears on the outer-most parts of the wall (the bricks) while the mortar remains untouched (although far from pristine). Next up: depth. I applied two dark lines to each and every brick keeping in mind the light source is centered on and above the girl, so the position of each brick relative to the girl dictates whether it gets a shadow on the left or right side (all bricks got a shadow on the underside.) Then another round of shadows, this time a more subtle shade on the mortar right next to the brick’s shadow. And lastly I shaded two subtle gradients on both the bricks and the mortar (yes, I had to do them separately) because the light source is above her so the bricks get darker the closer to the floor they get. But also, the light is centered on her, so the wall also gets darker on either side of her. The dual gradients also serve as a subliminal line to circle the eye back to the girl, the central focal point.

And you know what? Despite all the attention to detail and steps taken to give the wall a sense of realism, it really wasn’t until the dual gradients that it looked good. Until everything was in place, at best, it looked “bleh” ... that and the eye kept wandering away because there was nothing to reinforce the focus on her.

Which brings me to the floor ... have you ever taken on a pretty basic task and then made it way more difficult than it should have been? Ever push on a door that requires a pull to open? That’s what happened with the floor which, like the wall, was conceived from the very beginning. I knew I wanted tile. I knew I wanted them diagonal to the frame and that’s what inexplicably screwed with my mind when it game to figuring out how to render it. I could do square tiles, but turning them forty-five degrees mystified me—something more complex than one point perspective ... something like ... like two point perspective. You know, the same two-point perspective used to render tables, chairs, beds, desks, countertops, stairs, railings, televisions, bookshelves, books, DVD cases, VCRs, DVD players, video game consoles, computers, boxes, houses, barns, skyscrapers, cars, vans, trucks—basically anything and everything in three dimensions?

I actually originally drew the tiles equally spaced and parallel to one another hoping we were close enough to the subject that perspective wouldn’t be that noticeable and I could get away without it. Of course it wasn’t that easy. It looked embarrassingly bad. I then proceeded to lightly draw the tiles squared up with the wall using a single vanishing point. Then in darker lines I connected the corners with diagonal lines to make diamonds out of the squares figuring if it’s correct at 90°, it’s correct at 45°. As you can see, it didn’t work so well. Why it didn’t cross my mind to use the obvious (and easy) two-point perspective to render the tiles? I actually have a theory: I don’t usually eat lunch at work; I usually play chess or draw, so I was delirious from hunger that particular day.

Or I’m just plain stupid.

Anyway, the floor sucks, and I know it. It works purely from a composition standpoint, and even then it only started to work when, once again, I shaded in the gradients centering on her to keep the eye forever flowing from point to point within the image and not wandering off the page. I did a lot of experimenting—I fiddled with drawing streaks, erasing streaks, trying to give it an intricate horizontal light pattern to compliment the diamond shapes and give the floor a buffed shiny quality but nothing really worked. The best results of these efforts was a distracting and overpowering floor that took away from the intended focal point, and the worst case results? It looked like crap. I wager the less than fruitful experiments are because floors are not high up on my list of things to draw.

Maybe that should be the focus of my next study.

—Jay Wilson