For the Malinké, dancing plays a very important role. Music exists for dancing; in fact the word for song, donkilo, is made up of the root words don (dance) and kilo (to call), so could be loosely translated to “come dance.” The music calls both young and old to participate in a joyful and healthy act of expression and joy. Here, a griotte woman shows her joy for the music at one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year.

The drawing below is 14x17” pencil and graphite powder on bristol board, and was a great opportunity to do a portrait study and attempt to capture the personality and joy of a woman dancing in a village in Guinea, West Africa. Below, I outline some thoughts and challenges I encountered along the way. I hope you enjoy and find this useful!

This artwork is included in my book Drawing on Culture: An Artist’s West Africa Travelogue, which is available to purchase here.

La Griotte II
14x17” pencil on bristol by Dave Kobrenski

Finished Drawing

This last stage was a lot of work, and I had some tense moments! Fixing the eyes was tricky so late in the game, but it paid off — it feels much better now, and the expression on her face is settling in nicely. Also, I had some challenges with deciding how much of the detail in the fabric I should render, and decided it was interesting enough to go for it in her headdress. My concern was that it would be too busy and distract from the focal point of the drawing, so I had to be careful with my value ranges here so it didn’t steal the show. Also, rendering her dress was a real challenge, because I felt that I really had to push the values quite dark so that it didn’t compete with the rest of the drawing. In the final hour of the drawing, I actually erased all the little fabric details I had started putting into the dress and started the dress over! Pretty dicey. But sometimes less detail is better: “say as much as you can with as little as you can” is a good mantra. In the end, I’m happier with how the garment aids in the overall movement and energy of the drawing without detracting from the rest of the drawing. Phew. Learned a lot! I hope you enjoy — DK