Ken Carbone: How to Draw

For the past 10 years, designer Ken Carbone has joined other artists on Friday mornings to draw live figures. They gather in a quiet, windowless Soho studio that burns brightly with creative intensity. “The room’s silence is only interrupted by the scratching of charcoal or turning of a page,” says Carbone, founding partner of Carbone Smolan Agency. “For many New York artists, Spring Studio is a sanctuary in the midst of one of the world’s most frenetic cities.”

A model provides a single “long pose” in 20-minute sets, and Carbone usually completes a finished drawing in under three hours. “This is a welcomed contrast to work at the agency, where projects sometimes take three years to complete,” he says.

Carbone’s insightful comments on drawing are included in “Putting Lines Around Ideas,” a feature article in HOW Magazine’s May issue. We asked Carbone to take the finished portrait of a model named Andrea and give a detailed, step-by-step description of his drawing process.

The Andrea portrait was drawn in one hour and 20 minutes. The materials I use are charcoal, pastel, Conte crayon and occasionally graphite on the 18-by-24-inch sheet of paper. Combined with a kneaded eraser and a chamois, these basic drawing materials allow an incredible range of creative possibilities and visual effects. I begin with fast, broad gestures in charcoal to block the basic composition. This helps me capture the overall proportions and determine light and shadow. I’m not too precious about the marks I’m making here—I want to avoid choking the drawing with unnecessary detail. At this stage, it’s important to let the drawing breathe. Once the sketch is done, I spend 20 minutes evaluating what I drew in the first set.

I now start correcting and adjusting the image by smudging, erasing, adding
and subtracting. I’m deciding what’s important and interesting. I see potential
in contrasting Andea’s hair with the light on her face. I also realize that correctly
drawing the position of her left arm could present a challenge.

In the third set, I begin to lay in color. I do this with bold, fast strokes to quickly
determine how much color is needed and the degree of intensity. The color’s
roughness keeps the drawing malleable as I get ready for the final set.

This final stage is often about taking away. It’s the fun part for me, the home
stretch. Here I decide what level of finish I want the drawing to have. I decide
to keep some of the spontaneity of the quick gestural marks, but I lighten the
overall image. I like the implied line following the contour from her forehead
to the tip of her nose. And I’m pleased with how this contrasts with her hair’s
weight and depth. As for that troublesome left arm, I cheat a bit by leaving it
ambiguous and undefined. Instead, I deepen the shadow under her arm to help
frame her face.

At this point, the session still has another hour and a half of drawing time. But
as most artists will agree, knowing when to stop drawing is as important as the
drawing itself. So while Andrea takes a break, I decide not to overwork the piece.
I declare the portrait complete and head for the office—relaxed and ready to
take on the day.




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