What we can learn from Michelangelo

What we can learn from Michelangelo

Portrait by Betty, Drawing Academy student

Hi Vladimir,

I used Mars Lumograph HB and 2B graphite pencils on Canson 9×12 65 lb Universal Sketch Artist Series 1557 paper for this project. I used a reference photo of “David” by Michelangelo, which I was inspired by while visiting Florence’s Museum Academie.

Before I started this project, I studied your drawing of Thalia and other lessons on Drawing Academy to learn the different techniques, such as drawing the features, tonal values, cross hatching and of course how to draw a portrait. These are of immense help to me.

When I started the project, I following exactly how you do Thalia. I started with linear construction of the portrait using pencil measuring methods, proportions and how and where to place the features. Once the outlines were done, I started with rendering the darkest dark, mostly the shadows in the hair, and in the hand and jaw. For this I started with 2B pencil. Then I progress to rendering the lights using HB pencil. I tried using the hatching technique but was not too successful, so I ended up using many layers one on top of the other using different angles. That seems to work well for now until I master the hatching techniquue. I will work on my hatching techniques after this. I also will work on different parts of the portrait simultaneously just like you suggested and I find that very gratifying.

My goal for this drawing practice is to learn to draw realistically and especially I want to learn to draw better edges and give my drawing a beautiful finish.

I have learned a lot from Drawing Academy lessons. I will refer back to these lessons whenever I need to refresh some techniques. I find that I have to go back to these lessons regularly in order to really learn the techniques and apply them.

Thank you once again in advance for your critique, and all the lessons.


Artwork critique by Vladimir London, Drawing Academy tutor

Dear Betty,

Thank you very much for your beautiful portrait drawing and story how you made it. You are doing everything the right way and the result looks amazing. But, I’m sure you want to hear what needs to be improved and how to make better portraits, so I will mention several points you may think about next time you make a portrait.

While you are learning, you may develop a good habit of keeping helping lines of construction, such as lines of alignments, proportions and symmetry in place without erasing them. This way, your studies will benefit from more professional look, telling a viewer what you know about human head’s construction and proportions. Such lines also make drawings more three-dimensional. Later on, when you achieve strong drawing skills, such lines would become optional and you may keep them in mind rather than on paper. Until then, it is better to use helping lines to their full potential.

Another important topic for any figurative artist is anatomy. The challenge with anatomy is that people do not see what they don’t know about. Here’s one example. Should you know the construction of the ear’s cartilages, you would see the intertragic notch on the photo you used as a reference despite it might not be a very clear picture. In your drawing, this anatomical feature is not present, which makes David’s ear anatomy doubtful.

When it comes to rendering tonal values, you need to remember that the primary purpose of this exercise is not to fill in outlines with different tones to decorate an artwork, but to further work on revealing three-dimensional construction of the model. Here’s where contours become very handy. Contours are imaginary lines and they can greatly help in describing 3D volumes on a flat surface of paper. That is why when you render tonal values in HB and 2B pencils, it is better to do it with strokes, which should go along contours rather than blend graphite marks, missing the opportunity to tell about head’s planes and volumes.

Also, the style of pencil strokes should become your very own “signature”. You don’t want to smudge your signature, but make it pronounced and beautiful.

Of course, when you draw with soft materials, like sanguine or charcoal, blending dust particles is one of the ways to go.

In terms what we can learn from Michelangelo, here is one inspirational quote from this great artist:

Artist's block - how to get motivated - Life Drawing Academy

If you are serious about figurative drawing, there is one art course that will be very helpful – Life Drawing Academy Correspondence Course. Every great artist had talented art teachers. It is simply impossible to learn on your own all you need to know about drawing. Without someone telling you what mistakes you do and how to fix them, you will continue not seeing what you don’t know about. Without such knowledge, you would not know what and how you need to work on and your progress would stagnate. There are plenty of self-taught artists who might say such things as “I just don’t know how to make this artwork better”, or “it looks a bit flat and something is off, but I can’t put my finger on it”. Even if you get professional critique on every artwork you make, it won’t get you far because you will also need special exercises and know-how, which only come with personal tutoring that is custom-tailored to your skills and needs. This is exactly what we provide in the Correspondence Course – an unlimited personal coaching with up to 100 drawing tasks according to your very own art curriculum. No art college or academy would ever provide you the same service.


Let me know if you have any questions, I will be happy to help.

Kind regards,

Vladimir London
Art tutor

To learn human anatomy fast, visit the Anatomy Master Class »

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Categorized: Critique My Artworks , Drawing Academy News , Students Gallery

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Irene Sharkey says:

    Betty, I appreciate the work you put into your drawing of Michelangelo’s David. It is very soothing and beautiful to see.
    I also understand Vladimir’s critique indicating the value of not erasing construction lines.
    I admire your courage and dedication in sharing your art work as well as your process.
    Than you

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