Mike Sibley is a well-known British graphite artist. His book, Drawing from Line to Life, was published last year. To his many fans, this was a long-awaited event, and it created a lot of excitement. The book even has its own Yahoo group. For anyone interested in graphite drawing, especially in a realistic style, this book will provide a feast of information. There is bound to be something new to learn for everyone as Sibley is a very experienced artist who has developed many tricks over the years. I have to admit that I don't particularly like his art, but one cannot fail to admire his technique.
The book has twenty-four chapters.
The first set deal with tools and techniques, including line drawing, tone drawing, erasing and indenting. Sibley's own technique is sometimes surprising, but always clearly explained. Here, for example, is what he says about blending.
Personally I wouldn't entertain the use of foreground blending except in circumstances where the texture produced is exactly the one I wish to depict. Such exceptions include muddy or dusty floors, uneven plastered walls, anywhere that doesn't include sharp edges or hard shadows. The slap floor and walls in this Bearded Collie study are totally blended - in fact much of the 'detail' was drawn with an old graphite-coated tortillon. Graphite, mainly 2B and F in this case, was repeatedly applied to the floor and blended until I achieved the desired appearance. The initial blending was carried out with a piece of toilet tissue wrapped around my finger.
The section ends with a step-by-step demonstration of a drawing of a young girl. This is very useful, with many detailed descriptions of technique and detail view of the work in progress, such as this one showing the technique he uses to render hair.
When I wrote that the first part was about technique, I may have given the impression that the other parts of the book were about something else! In fact, section two is also about technique, though perhaps more advanced. It includes chapters called Fooling the Brain, Working from Photos, Negative Drawing and Perspective. Interestingly, Fooling the Brain deals with some of the tricks discussed in Betty Edward's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, in particular the use of negative drawing. This technique is something of a Sibley specialty, and the chapter devoted to this method is one of the highlights of the book.
The final set of chapters deals with drawing particular elements of a drawing: ellipses, textures, reflections, foliage, hair and features. This may well be my favourite part of the book. The chapter on trees and foliage is especially good; but that might just be because I draw a lot of trees! Here is some of Sibley's advice.
There are three major aspects of a tree that are important to its appearance - surface texture and shape, internal bough structure, and gaps through which you can see through to the other side. A tree is not an amorphous collection of leaf-shaped items or random marks that, you hope, will fool a viewer's brain into reading as 'tree'. A tree is an ordered, layered object with an outer covering around an inner armature or core. It's only by analysing what you see that you will gain the full understanding that allows you to draw realistically.You can't argue with that! The book is 287 pages long, and contains far too many illustrations to count. I find I am constantly dipping in to it to get ideas, advice and inspiration. For example, I'm off to look at the chapter on drawing hair before going back to my drawing of Jonathan! I can't recommend it highly enough.