In late February, 2015 I began a journey to study Russian Academic drawing. I chose 2 of the most well known masters of the art, Ilya Repin and Nicolai Fechin. Repin was a 19th century painter who helped to establish a tradition of realist, academic art in Russia and brought Russian art into the mainstream of European and western culture. Fechin was a painter and sculptor who moved to America where he became an admired and celebrated artist.
My reason or purpose for studying these Russian masters was to satisfy a curiosity and of course, for the mileage. What I wanted to know was how these men thought and worked. ‘How did they approach head drawing?’ and ‘how did they execute their drawings?’ were the questions I wanted answers to.
In the next 5 weeks, I studied their head drawings almost every day. During that time, I was able to record 2 of the studies (see video below):
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For a detailed breakdown of the month long (36 days!) journey, read below.
Feb 22, 2015 – Day 1
I begin this journey by looking at Repin. I have been a fan of Repin for a long, long time. The West Coast / Reilly tradition that I inherited is heavily influenced by Russian academic drawing. So in a way, I was paying homage to the source of everything I had learned and come to love about realist drawing.
At first my goal was simply to observe and understand Repin’s technique and look. I love the way Russian artists draw heads and figures and how they approach form, edges and rendering. They’re use of straights and clearly defined planes is a hallmark of Russian academic drawing and that’s exactly the look I wanted to perfect in my own work.
As you can see in the image above, the first drawing on the left turned out o.k. The drawing on the right was not as successful in my opinion. The lesson I learned here was that it will be extremely difficult to reproduce the effects Repin achieved in his charcoal drawing by using ball point pen which is my current favorite medium.
To stay true to the master, it’s best to use the original medium. But I made a judgement call in the moment and on this day I paid the price for that decision.
Feb 24th – Getting Comfortable
As a look study, I feel these were successful. The drawings feel close to the chiseled and hatched look I wanted. Although the drawings are emotionally flat and lifeless compared to the originals, I was starting to feel comfortable using the pen to match Repin’s charcoal effects.