Geb was the Egyptian god of the Earth and a member of the Ennead of Heliopolis. The name was pronounced as Geb from the Greek period onward or as Keb. He was the husband of Nut – the Sky, and fathered 4 children with her – Osiris, Set, Isis and Nephthys. As deity, he became associated with the habitable land of Egypt, it’s cultivation and harvest. (More on Geb in Wikipedia).

I imagine if Geb had ever taken a form of a man, he might have looked like this. Isn’t mythology great?!

In reality the story is much more prosaic. As told by a fellow artist from WetCanvas, the man worked as a guard at the temple complex of Karnak, Egypt. He was one of those guards who, when no one is looking, would show you all the places no one else will show you (of course!) and then ask for money, and that’s when you realize you’ve been had. This man was better than others though, he did not blatantly ask for money and agreed to pose for photos. He is now known around the world as many have drawn and painted him for the wonderful worn face full of character.

I’ve been working on this portrait since November 2009. Had to pause for a time to teach myself negative drawing – I couldn’t get the white beard/stubble right by any other method. Then I waited for Hi-Polymer 0.3mm graphite leads to arrive, because my regular 2mm lead pencils were too fat and too shiny for the task. This is the third version of the beard, not counting numerous trials in my sketchbook. As it sometimes happens to me, I was afraid this drawing would go unfinished because my skills were not up to this challenge. It looks like I was wrong.

7.5” x 9” (19 x 23 cm) Graphite on Bristol Smooth 300 Series.

37 thoughts on “Geb

    • Thank you, Ryan! I had to change the eyes from the way the reference was. The large white highlights in the centers made him look like a blind man, that was not the idea I had in mind. So I gave him different eyes. Glad you liked him!

  1. I already commented on this at WC, but it’s really interesting to finally know that there’s an actual story behind this guy, I’m glad you posted it.

    What sort of paper is it you mean by Bristol Smooth? I’ve seen that mentioned everywhere but there are different companies that make bristol. I know the one I’ve been using is Strathmore Plate bristol which I gather is smoother than their 300/400 series although I’m not sure how it compares to other manufacturers.

    • It is a neat and humorous story, isn’t it? 🙂 Yet, I feel that his face transcends the meager circumstances in which the photo was taken. In a way it is like the photo of Afghan girl by Steve McCurry which has become more than the girl herself, but the face of the country.

      The paper I used was Strathmore 300 series Bristol Smooth in a pad. This is the paper our own Ken from WC! recommended a while back. It is not as smooth as Strathmore Bristol Plate, which is very smooth IMO, but smooth enough for female skin. I only have one other kind of drawing paper – Stonehenge, Bristol Smooth 300 is noticeably smoother and brighter than that.

      • Get some of the Plate, it’s 100% cotton and archival. You seem to like to work in smaller sizes so you could cut a 14×17″ sheet in half and get 30 sheets of 7×8.5″ from a single pad.

        I believe Ken said he also uses that paper sometimes. It and Stonehenge are the only two papers I use for 30+ hour graphite drawings… well, I’ve only actually ever done three that took that long, hehe. It’s really challenging to work on, but great for ladies and youngsters, or young ladies in particular. 😀

        I dunno, it’s just that 300 series bristol is just plain acid-free, not archival. I’d like to see your finished drawings on archival paper; you’re good enough that it’d be a real shame if they didn’t last a loooong time.

        • Huh? It is not archival? How unfortunate! It is very kind of you praise my work like that. I have some doubts about Plate finish, I hear it is hard to achieve dark darks on it. What was your experience with darks on Bristol Plate? I was thinking I want to try Mellotex. I want to get Mike Sibley’s book anyway and will get some of that paper with it.

          • The last Shayna and the naked woman from the magazine were on Plate.
            Here’s a little sample to compare the blacks of the two. There’s a strip of solid black from Photoshop on the top for comparison.

            I use a 7b or 9b pencil and more pressure with the point for the black of the hair. It works pretty well (won’t erase at all so it had to be accurate!) and isn’t too hard, the hardest part is doing the darker areas of the skin because they take a lot of layers to get right. None of it will be as black as charcoal but after you apply a coat or two of fixative, everything gets darker.

            I’m curious about Mellotex as well; it’s archival and Ken and Mike Sibley speak very highly of it.

    • Funny that you asked, Francis! That beard was giving me a lot of trouble. Being a purist I ruled out all the non-graphite methods, all white gels, liquid paper, gouache and the like. There are several pure methods to achieve white in graphite: indenting, erasing and negative drawing. I tryed drawing white hairs with an eraser and didn’t like the result. I dislike the idea of indenting my paper and did not go this route. What was left is negative drawing. I had to teach myself this method first, before I tried it on the actual portrait. It seemed to work out. Thank you for visiting!

  2. Alex, no wonder your avatar is a pencil point. You are MAGIC with pencil drawings. This drawing is absolutely fantastic. What I like most about it is you didn’t just reproduce a portrait of a man. You CAPTURED the essence, spirit, soul of him!!!!

    And thanks for the story. I love all different mythology stories.

        • I worked from a photo reference, I am not yet at the level where I can invent an amazing face like that. But I deviated from the reference and changed things. The eyes are completely different, the original eyes didn’t convey what I wanted. And I made him older and more archetypal.

  3. Wow Alex! This is so good. You know an awful lot about graphite drawings. I just work on plain drawing paper for graphite drawings. I am scared of using Bristol because I make so much corrections and I believe that the smooth surface of bristol cannot stand up to my repeated erasing.

    • Thank you, Raji! While I do know my way around a pencil a little by now, there is still so much to be learned. There are some fantastic graphite artists out there, it is amazing what they can do!

      I want to encourage you to try Bristol paper, especially Strathmore Bristol Smooth 300 series. I find it to be able to take quite a lot of abuse. I erase and redraw a lot, do eraser drawing on graphite layers – this paper takes it all, cleans back to pristine white without a problem. I stopped using my regular drawing paper, except for quick sketches and disposable trials, just to use up the supply I got. Besides the regular drawing paper cannot take as many layers as I need to get my darkest darks. There’s really no comparison between the two.

  4. WOW

    Did I say WOW????

    This is so good you can taste it. I cannot believe this is not a photograph. I swear to you that when he first came up, I thought it was a mistake and that I had linked to a black and white photograph. I LOVE your sketches, woman! You rock big time with this one.

  5. I just want you to know that I have been staring at him since I wrote that. This is BEAUTIFUL work. I’m not an expert but I can tell a good thing when I see it. Okay, now draw the rest of his body… HA HA Just kidding!!! I”m being silly. This is so good. His eyes are so real and loving and warm and believable. And you know, I went to an art show once where there were original Picasso paintings, and I remember they were from his “Blue Period,” and I distinctly remember reading about this period and it said to look at his paintings in this period for how he draws hair. That hair is different in different places on the body. And you did that here!

    • I look at your IP address, and it tells me that you are somewhere on the West Coast. That’s just too bad, because I’d love to get together with you for a cup of coffee, a couple of laughs, and perhaps push you a little harder to start drawing. I like your sense of humor and we share the love for nature and animals among other things. Do you have any business or relatives to visit in Chicago by any chance? Make sure to let me know!

  6. Okay, one last thing. I just want to say that I get tired of looking at pretty paintings all the time -not from you, just in general. This happens in the US all the time. Personally, I appreciate when the truth of something shines through, so that even if something is “pretty,” that something not so pretty shines through, that the truth of something deeper shines through, that the human condition is in the picture in some way, shape or form. I love Marc Chagall’s work for this principle. This picture has that quality. I look at this man and there is something in his eyes that looks like he has lived a life and SEEN things. Okay, I’ll shut up now. It’s glorious.

    • I love Chagall!!! I happen know the history of the period he was painting, his portrayal of it is deeply personal and historically true. He gets to my heart with his paintings, more than is comfortable sometimes. I hear you about “pretty” paintings. I am encountering another extreme way too often – art made intentionally ugly, with high shock value, art made with bodily fluids and the like. I refuse to call this stuff art. When you think of it, pretty or ugly – it is made that way because it is devoid of depth. Unfortunately. Raphael or Modigliani cannot be classified as pretty or ugly, but their images are deep.

  7. I am too much? I’ll have to tone down my compliments… Chagall can portray death and life in the same painting, with vibrant colors. Did you know he grew up on a farm and was heavily influenced by the animals that were slaughtered? I read his autobiography. They show up in his paintings all the time…Your shock value comment -I think I understand but on the flip side, shock value is hard to quantify because it is so complex. How many artists have been told they had to take down their work because what they drew shocked people? Thank God for the ones that refused to take them down. I was in Madrid once at El Museo del Prado and I stood in a room and stared at Picasso’s “La Guernica.” That had great shock value at the time. I think, though, that some so-called artists are just looking for attention and they may have a real talent but our culture has gotten to the point where it literally rids us of being individuals. It’s impossible to have your own way of being without being told your out of line -someone is going to come along and tell you to get back in place. I think some of the creativity you may be talking about has something to do with these people searching for an identity. It’s a good subject and you can fly here and we can talk about it 🙂

  8. Pingback: Thinking « Leslie White

  9. Alex,
    First of all THANK you so much for the blog award.
    It’s been a joy watching your art evolve!

    Secondly, this is mesmerizing, juicy and full of promise. I love the placement of the ears! So unusual. And the whole portrait just makes me feel some kind of wonderful.

    • Thank you, Christy, for the help, suggestions and encouragement heart! I now have a friend in Canada, who would’ve thunk? I’ve never been to Canada, except changing planes in Toronto International.

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