Drawing Lessons from Michelangelo

Painter, Sculptor, Architect — Drawing United His Genius

If the High Renaissance had a leading man, Michelangelo Buonarroti would be one of the last artists standing. He was almost more artistic myth than man and the root of all that creativity in painting, sculpting and architecture was drawing. So get to know the ropes with drawing lessons directly from Michelangelo himself and inspired by his works.

“Draw Antonio, draw Antonio, draw and don’t waste time.”

Studies of the Virgin and Child by Michelangelo in brown ink with red chalk marks by Antonio Mini, 1522-24, © The Trustees of the British Museum
Studies of the Virgin and Child by Michelangelo in brown ink with red chalk marks by Antonio Mini, 1522-24, © The Trustees of the British Museum

Michelangelo wrote those exact words on the sketch of one of his studio assistants, Antonio Mini. As an art instructor, Michelangelo was straight to the point.

He believed that drawing — and drawing repeatedly — was the way forward in one’s art practice. There’s no time like the present, so grab a sketchbook and get to filling it.

Draw All the Possibilities

Studies for the Last Judgement (1534), Michelangelo. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Studies for the Last Judgement (1534), Michelangelo. © The Trustees of the British Museum

When it came to the human body and experimentation, Michelangelo was an artist of endless possibilities. He loved positioning figures in countless different postures and poses.

His studies for The Last Judgment, for example, show how he brainstormed (via drawing) different compositions and arrangements for the figures of his famed Sistine Chapel fresco. Drawing was where he unleashed all the possibilities, with no hesitation or preconceived notions of what would work and what wouldn’t.

The Tool for Everything

Sistine Ceiling by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Wikipedia)
Sistine Ceiling by Michelangelo Buonarroti (Wikipedia)

First attempts and ideas, hand-eye exercises, brainstorming, exploring, planning and mapping — drawing can be there for a learning artist through it all. It certainly was for Michelangelo in his own work.

Drawing was his touchstone for everything from sparks of inspiration to layout and composition to preparatory sketches for the walls of the Sistine Chapel. When we look at the myriad of famous finished artworks and sculptures he created, we often forget that.

Every Finger, Every Toe, Deserves Attention

Studies for the Libyan Sibyl by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1510-11.
Studies for the Libyan Sibyl by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1510-11.

One of Michelangelo’s most famous figures in the Sistine Chapel is his Libyan Sibyl. His sketch of her is equally well known and close study of the drawing reveals how occupied the artist was with her every aspect.

From the splay of her toes to the twist in her spine and set of her shoulders to her hands to the profile of her face — no detail that made her a lasting work of art was overlooked at the drawing stage. Michelangelo looked with deep scrutiny and drew that way as well.

Sculpt with the Pencil

Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1530
Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1530

Michelangelo was always very much a sculptor, even when drawing. He would do this by creating several versions of the same subject from different vantage points, turning the form across the page just like he would turn a piece of stone he was working.

Seeing his model from all sides, on paper, led him to his final composition selections. But without this study of all vantage points, the choices he could make would have been much reduced.

Michelangelo sculpts in a different way in the formal portrait drawing, the only one he ever created, of Andrea Quaratesi. With black chalk and a deft hand, the artist layers pigment to gently build up the form, just like he would with true sculpting, only the process is reversed.

With sculpting marble, you chisel down to your hidden form. In drawing, Michelangelo builds up form with subtle layer upon layer of tone. Using pen and ink or a bit of chalk, he was able to “sculpt” the flat surface of his page, hewing form like he would with chisel and mallet.

Drawing with the Masters

Opening your sketchbook and putting your hand and your eye in a Michelangelo mindset just got a whole lot easier for learning artists with the eMag, Drawing with the Masters. Materials, techniques and approaches of the kings of drawing are all here. Enjoy — because you are in the very best of artistic company!

 

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