Work in Progress 2: “Ichifuku-san”

I have finished my portrait of Ichifuku-san who was, when I photographed her in 2010, about to become a Geiko.  It was two days before her erikae hence she was wearing ‘sakkou’ – which a Maiko wears for a short period before transition to Geiko.

Though she is from Pontocho, I found her posing for an official photographer near the Shirakawa River in Gion.  Hardly another soul was around therefore I felt that I had chanced upon a wonderful secret.

I will show the drawing in five stages.  To see the work more closely, click on each image to enlarge.

1. Here is the tracing stage – with just a little colour begun on her face and surrounds.

work in progress 1

work in progress 1

2. The under colour (or undercoat) is completed with the original lead pencil lines gently removed as I go.  Now I start to build up layers of colour.

Putting the under colour on is like working on a puzzle.  Which lines correspond to which colours and shapes?

work in progress 2

work in progress 2

3. I generally begin in the distance and work forward.  At stage 3 of the drawing I am in the midst of working on the leaves of the weeping willow.

work in progress 3

work in progress 3

4. Although I am working on the kimono at this stage, I am constantly adjusting all around the drawing.  Making one thing more intense means intensifying EVERYTHING.

work in progress 4

work in progress 4

5.  Once the drawing is nearly complete I take it off the drawing desk (which I sit at) and put it on my big easel so that from now on I have to work standing up.  Then I can begin to pull the work together.

The last stage can take days as I find I have to go away and come back (ie do the housework, cook dinner, watch tv … anything but look at the drawing).  At intervals I return to look at the picture with fresh eyes.  Then I can see what needs fixing.

This one took A LOT of fixing.  Indeed, I hope it really IS finished now.  I will announce that it is finished and leave it.

The image below shows the final work “Ichifuku-san” which is 400 x 475 mm, 2013.

Ichifuku san email size

Final note: In January I had thought the work was finished but I had another look at it six months later in June and found that it wasn’t good enough.  I reworked the drawing to the point that finally, now, I am happy with it.

Related page: Subject 2: Geisha

16 Responses to Work in Progress 2: “Ichifuku-san”

  1. Virginia Benker says:

    When you have put in your background, which is the darkest area, how do you keep the lightest areas (like her face) from being contaminated?

  2. Virginia Benker says:

    PS. Ichifuku-san is beautiful!

  3. Hi Virginia, I am trying to interpret your question. Do you mean, how do the light areas not get dirty from the pencil dust? Or perhaps you are wondering if your hand resting on the page might smudge some dirt into the light areas.
    First point,regarding pencil dust, some people use a gentle brush, like a make-up brush or a fluffy soft (dry) water colour brush, to brush away dust every now and then. I don’t use a brush at all. I simply blow the dust off every so often.
    Second point, to keep my hand from smudging one colour into another, mostly my hand is not touching the page at all but sometimes I do need to rest my hand on the page when I am doing something intricate with my pencil. Before I touch the page with my hand I put a piece of clean white paper between my hand and the page. I use the same paper that I would use in a photocopy machine – just ordinary copy paper. When it is grubby, I use a new sheet.
    I do not seem to have any problem with one area contaminating another area. But if a mark inadvertently goes into the wrong area, I use my eraser to gently lift it off.
    Do these answers help?

  4. Virginia Benker says:

    Thank you Julie, your answers do help. I was having problems with the pencil dust getting into my light areas. I do have a soft bristle drafer’s brush which I will try using.
    Enjoy your new blog….keep up the great work! Virginia

    • I hope that works for you, Virginia. Experience tells me that there is more dust with some papers than others. That is one of the things I love about my Magnani Pescia paper; not much dust is created.

  5. I have learn a few good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much attempt you set to create this sort of magnificent informative website.

  6. Malcolm says:

    Hi Julie, thanks for this new posting and congratulations on the piece.

  7. Hi Malcolm. If you look at this piece you can see what I am saying in my answer to you about colour mixing. The blue of the kimono is so bright because you will see that I have put plenty of blue’s complement (orange) into the surrounds of the kimono.

  8. Malcolm says:

    Hi Julie. Yes I can see what you mean. I had a close look at the kimono and by enlarging the image the orange can be seen. It is interesting that if you made the same mixture in watercolour you end up with something of a dirty brown.

    I have, in the past, done a bit of work on color theory but it certainly would be a good idea to have a refresher. It seems to me that colour mixing in coloured pencil work is particularly challenging because it seems that you are relying on the optical effect created by layering transparent colours over one another rather than direct mixing.



  9. Hi Malcolm, I’m no stranger to dirty brown! Getting it wrong can be a reason my pictures go in the bin (see the ‘Failures!’ page). I’ve only dabbled in watercolour but I used oils for years and the same principles applied. I learned heaps about mixing using oil paint.
    I was thinking about what you said yesterday; that the books you were looking at on coloured pencils suggested artists were layering with up to 15 colours. I would never put so many layers of colour on – I expect I layer with three to five colours – sometimes less. I bought a couple of ‘how to’ books from USA just out of interest a couple of years ago. I found that they were a bit pedantic.
    For instance they insisted on a super sharp pencil at all times. Boy, I so don’t work like that. The blunt pencil makes some wonderful marks. So take your advice with a pinch of salt.

  10. Malcolm says:

    I really appreciate your comments Julie, especially about the sharp pencils. Keeping them as sharp as some books suggest sees them disappear pretty quickly.

    best wishes


  11. Robyn says:

    Hi Julie,
    Thanks to Malcolm for asking questions that I have also pondered and thank you to Julie for the clear and helpful answers, your pics of your WIP are particularly helpful. It’s good to see how you get started with the tracing, along with an explanation of your process with photocopying (I do a very similar process, but use a computer program to flip the image, print, trace over the main outline with graphite, then flip over again to transfer the image onto the paper….if that makes sense….it ends up the right way, no light box needed)
    The colour mixing using complementary colours – good to see how this works from your photo, love the depth in the fabric folds by using the complemetary colours
    Thanks again Julie, for the tips

  12. Malcolm says:

    Hi Julie, another request. Could you elaborate on the process of applying the undercolour. Is this simply to establish the local colours that appear in the various shapes or does it involve preliminary shading ? What kinds of issues are on your mind at the time ? What sort of choices are you making ? Do you put in ‘darks’ first or just be guided by what you see in your master image ?

    Please just say if you think the question unreasonable, its a lot to ask.

    best wishes


    • Hi Malcolm,
      The main way that I think of applying the undercolour is simply ‘mapping’. Or to put it another way, I am replacing traced lines with patches of colour. These patches establish the basic shapes within the composition. These really basic patches of colour will be my guides, helping me to understand what is what later on.
      I am not, at this mapping stage, thinking about preliminary shading whatsoever. My only issue is to make sense of the traced lines and turn them into shapes that I can understand.
      I don’t put in darks first necessarily. I think I just start wherever I want on the page. In the case of a portrait though, I start with the face; mostly because the traced lines by themselves look so ugly on a face that I want to be rid of them as soon as possible; to replace them with recognisable features.
      The mapping stage is quite rough in my drawings. Nothing, at this stage, is refined whether in shape or colour. All that will come later. If I was using watercolour, this stage would be in watery washes. Similarly, when I used to paint in oils I did the same thing. I blocked the shapes in with very turps-y washes.
      I hope this helps.

  13. Malcolm says:

    Hi Julie, as always your replies help enormously, they are very much appreciated


  14. Fascinating piece. Your work is incredible.

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