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In Detail: Fred Dalkeys Conté Drawings

In Detail: Fred Dalkeys Conté Drawings

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Sacramento, California artist Fred Dalkey has spent much of his career creating luminous Conté drawings of figures and still lifes. The latest issue of Drawing magazine includes an interview with the artist, and here we’re pleased to share a portion of that article, accompanied by detail views of several of the artist’s works, giving us a better understanding of the countless fine marks that make up the drawings’ delicate areas of tone.

To read the full interview with Fred Dalkey, get your copy of the fall issue of Drawing, or download the magazine here.

Drawing: In many of your drawings the figure almost seems to dissolve into the background. How do you view the relationship between figure and ground?

Fred Dalkey: That’s a very conscious thing for me. I consider there to be two types of people who draw: those who draw compositions and those who draw objects. And you can trace this back to childhood. I was very much an object drawer, be it a train, a sailboat or a dinosaur. I didn’t think in terms of composition. When I started my art education, and especially in college, the idea of composition was emphasized, and drawing the object was looked down on. I became very conscious of thinking in terms of composition—I’d think, “I’ve got to address composition right from the beginning.” It’s now part of the way I work, creating a sort of light atmosphere.

DR: What are your first steps as you begin a drawing?

FD: It might not show, but most of them start with a very light gestural drawing. This helps me with compositional placement and also with trying to keep some life in the work. Then I start quickly building value, looking for large patterns of lights and darks, which I’ll establish fairly lightly. As that builds, I’ll just keep working and refining that light-and-dark pattern. It’s a very traditional way of working. In earlier works I would use a paper stump to block in lights and darks, but in recent years I rarely stump. It’s almost all built up.

DR: What form of Conté do you use? And do you use other materials?

FD: I draw with a very sharp sanguine Conté pencil—I sharpen it with a knife and sand it into a point. Those big soft tones in the background are actually made from the texture of the paper. I just kind of graze the pencil over the surface of the thing. If I get hot spots in building up tones, I’ll pick them out with a pointed kneaded eraser.

Sometimes I work with charcoal—especially when I was teaching, because with charcoal I can work large—but I’d use it essentially the same way. Occasionally, if I’m working on a paper where it’s appropriate, I’ll use just a little bit of whitening for highlighting. For that I use a General’s white charcoal pencil.

DR: What sort of paper do you prefer? Do you like it to have some texture?

FD: I draw on handmade paper that I tear into pieces of various sizes. They’re generally pretty small; I rarely go over 11 inches. I like fairly light papers, not heavy, textural papers. I’ll try whatever I can get my hands on, but I often use hot-pressed Twinrocker.

About the Artist

Fred Dalkey, a native of Sacramento, California, was interested in art from an early age. As a teenager he studied with the Austrian painter Abe Nussbaum, and he went on to study at Sacramento City College and Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento). He served as an instructor at Sacramento City College for 40 years until his retirement in 2009. He has held dozens of solo shows, and his artwork can be found in the collections of institutions including the Crocker Art Museum, in Sacramento; the Legion of Honor, in San Francisco; and the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC. For more information, visit the website of Paul Thiebaud Gallery at

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