In portrait drawing, the block-in is a detailed map or blueprint, a linear arrangement on a picture plane. Join Savannah Tate Cuff as she demonstrates blocking in a portrait drawing of a live model, with the goal of an accurate likeness and gesture. With several sharpened pencils at the ready, Savannah begins by sketching the envelope, the shape that encompasses the entire portrait. Working from larger mass to smaller mass, she uses light erasable pencil strokes, keeping them wide so they can be carved into; nothing is defined at this stage, but she indicates angles and tilts of the features.
Now it’s time to take measurements, comparing the width of the face to the height, and the width of the entire head to the height. Savannah makes these comparative measurements with a pencil, then makes adjustments in her block-in and adds a center line and indicators for light shapes and shadow shapes. She’ll lightly fill in the key shadow shapes on model breaks. Checking proportions as she goes, Savannah develops the block-in, sketching in hair masses and adding highlights in the hair by erasing. (When working with a live model, Savannah says, make conscious choices about things like hair placement by determining what will best serve the composition.)
Savannah now begins to clarify edges within the drawing, and uses a brush to help flatten shadows. She cautions not to stay in any one area for too long, and to step back periodically to observe. As the block-in progresses, she defines contours and cleans up the drawing. Next, Savannah uses white chalk (General’s Charcoal brand) to place highlights on her toned paper. She continues to refine the drawing, aiming for an accurate likeness for the fewest changes in later modeling phases. With shadow shapes well established, the first phase of the block-in is complete.