Vestal Virgin (Graphite)

This is a graphite and white charcoal drawing on toned paper (~6”x8”). The subject is one of the vestal virgins in the Roman Forum.

I’d love some critique on the composition and the shading of the tree. In particular, I’ve had a hard time settling on the shading of the left side of the tree. I feel like I’m on the verge of overworking it with too many layers, but I’m also not entirely happy with the areas of shadow and highlights.

I didn’t spend much time on the building in the lower right—should I work that a bit more? Get rid of it?

Thanks for having a look!


hi Becky; I do mostly graphite so im always anxious to see another’s work.
Looking at the tree i love the work you did here. The lighter shading i think is nicely placed giving the appearance of depth. Just the area above the left shoulder appears less defined.
The statue is nicely done. The texture tells me this is a statue. the shadows are rendered just like the real statue (i peaked) .
Composition ,the statue is all the way to the left and i travel to the right and there is too much there. Im reminded of the pastel critique Matt did this week of the child on the beach and he placed a bucket in the empty sand. Thus my observation.
Just remember now that i am pretty much a beginner who is always going back to revisit my work .
anyway thanks for posting a graphite. tom

here’s my thoughts;

you saw a building when you composed the pic; but now that the picture is done it looks too small and disconnected /distracting.

I don’t think though I would just Give up on the building (or at least if you Do- don’t do so without some study and thought)

instead experiment a little, what happens if you bring it into the scene; perhaps Behind the statue/tree. is that something you can envision and draw?

its ultimately what kind of statement you are making; are you seeking to just highlight the vestal virgin or do you want to provide her with a context?

i’m not sure what works and what doesn’t. but analyze the reference photos, and do some thumbnail sketches seems the right process to exploring these thoughts.

I too am a beginner.

and as such I think for myself something that plagues these kinds of changes for me is confidence.

confidence that I could redraw the statue as well; and confidence that I could move things about and not be so enslaved to my reference photos.

I know I need to get over this.

so I’m giving both of us (what I think as) good advise for the future…

BTW; its a beautiful drawing. ty for sharing it.

Thank you, Tom! Everything you say makes sense, especially the reference to last week’s pastel critique.

This is such helpful feedback, thank you. I agree about the building and you targeted exactly what happened during the composition process: it was in the photo so I just copied it.

Re: thumbnails. I’ve always avoided them out of impatience, but the deeper I get into drawing the more I realize that they are necessary.

Thanks so much for offering this detailed feedback!

I like the picture but I would probably not put in the building. I think darkening the leaves around the statue will make it stand out more as the ‘subject’ of the picture. But, I think if you have already sprayed a fixitue on it, you would not be able to take the building out. Love the subject. Lenora

Hi Becky,
Two things come to mind for me on this:
Being that objects in the distance are usually lighter than objects in the foreground, I think the building could have been lighter/more diffuse to add distance/depth to the scene. Actually, I do not mind the building. I think it gives the viewer a sense of place. From looking at the statue, the light source is at the left. Is the tree shading the building in the reference photo? If not, the building seems to be lit from the right due to its tonal gradation.
Being that the entire tree is not visible we do not know if the leaves visible to the left of the statue are being directly lit. I think if they are not, they should be a slightly deeper tone. I really like the tree a lot- they are challenging for me to draw.
I also follow reference photos too closely- seems like many of us do.
Great work!