TIPS, TRICKS, TECHNIQUES
And just things I’ve learned in my first year of Drawing
Disclaimer: These are simply things I have learned, and what I personally do for my drawings. There are many ways to draw, such as line drawings, cross-hatching, non-blending, etc, but my chosen area is one that strives for Realism. I am 100% self-taught, meaning that I never went to Art school. I have drawn on rare occasion through the years, but I have maybe drawn 3 or 4 times until I was 46 years old. Then in October of 2008, I decided I needed a hobby. I’m surprised and others that I had this ability. I also wonder why I just NOW discovered I that can draw? Now, almost 1 year later, I have completed over 80 portraits, which is a total of between 400 and 600 hours of practice!!! Later, someone suggested I call a local college and offer to teach a course on portrait drawing. They actually created a course for me, which I get to create 100% start to finish. As PART of that class, I am making this list to give the students. So far, there are 8 people who signed up. I’m excited to see if teaching artist get better, is my calling, or if I will even enjoy it? We shall see?? In the 10 hours together, I am going to take them start to finish through the same celebrity portrait, using the steps outlined below.
1) CLEAN HANDS: I always start by washing my hands of any oil or dirt that would damage the drawing surface area. NEVER touch the area you are drawing on and NEVER use your finger to blend. That’s just what I’ve read, AND experienced. I also use copy paper to lay over parts of a drawing I don’t want to lay my hand across. Some say to work from upper left to downward right, if you are right handed, but I don’t always WANT to work that way.
2) PHOTOS: I have gotten really good at finding good photos on the web! There are lots of sites, but I find plenty at Google by using “images of _________” in the search box. There is SO much I could type about photos, but the main things I do, BECAUSE I crop the photo to use only the head, is to only use a photo that has a file size large enough not to become blurry and pixilated after I print it to THE SAME SIZE I’m going to draw it. There are reasons for that, but mainly because I want my eyes to draw a 1:1 ratio of what I see. I use a photo program to crap the photo, to remove color (saturation), which makes it a Black and White photo, and to improve Contrast (making the lights lighter and the darks darker). If you are in to taking photos, use natural light, so that shadows define the facial features. I also crop the top of the head off, if you’ve noticed, for two reasons. ONE is that it gives the illusion that the subject is closer to you. Grab a newspaper and notice now how most all of the columnists crop the tops of their heads off. It’s for this reason! SECOND, I hate drawing hair, and this is the side benefit of cropping. Note: you do not have to draw every single detail in a photo. If there is an area that looks strange, it will look strange when you draw it? Create something else.
3) SIZE: Yes, size does matter in drawing! I read that if you make a drawing just 20% larger, will take up to 50% more time to draw. I have personally found that the IDEAL size for ME, it to keep the total face size between 5 to 6 INCHES from the hairline to the bottom of the chin. If it’s TOO big, there are too many details to ignore, and I find it affects the motion of my blending. If it is too small, obviously you cannot get enough details. For ME, it is about finding the balance between the level of details and how long it takes me to draw, because I get bored fast and want to move on. I have my total AVERAGE drawing time down to somewhere between 3 to 5 hours.
4) PAPER: Much can be said about types of drawing papers, and I have tried many. The main types I tried early on, were Strathmore and Canson MEDIUM tooth “Drawing” papers. I have SINCE moved on to using ONLY “Strathmore’s Bristol Smooth 300 series, for many reasons. It is THICK paper. Its “tooth” is not easily destroyed and you can get DARK darks from it. It is PERFECT for blending graphite; it forgives easily and has excellent eras-ability! If you note that my Chevy Chase was the FIRST time I used Bristol smooth, and all since, and you should see a difference in contrast? It took some getting used to, because it draws darker, meaning the pencils you use show lighter than you may be used to, so I use a lot more B and 2B pencils now. View or buy it here: http://www.dickblick.com/products/strathmore-300-series-bristol-board-pads/
5) PENCILS: I have also tried many types, but will now ONLY use “Staedtler pencils, made in Germany. They are excellent, and have “predictable and consistent” results. I find them at www.DickBlick.com along with everything else I need!!! Always make SURE your pencil is SHARP!!! There many ways, the obvious of which is an electric sharpener, which I use, but I sometimes fine-tune the point with fine sandpaper, or by rubbing the point sideways on a scrap piece of paper. I have also tried “Clutch Pencils” or called “Lead Holders”. I use BOTH but for different reasons and parts of the drawing. The advantages of using Clutch Pencils are that their weight and length remain consistent, unlike pencils that are constantly shrinking in size and weight. It’s also cheaper to buy just the graphite refills than whole pencils. Staedtler make both the holders and the refills. Go to www. Staedtler.com There are a wide range of darks and lights, but I use only the middle range. Rarely 2H and H, a lot of F, HB and 80% B and 2B. I have the following, just in case (light to dark) 2H, H, F, HB, B, 2B, 3B, 4B, 5B, 6B, 9B
6) OUTLINE: I START with an outline. You want to get a feel for the layout and perspective. Once I draw an outline, I move on to the border.
7) BORDER: After I finish my outline, I take a ruler, and establish the framed sides of my drawing, so I know where it ends. I do NOT ever (maybe I should?) draw to any frame specific size that can fit a standard frame. I have not framed any of my drawings, but if and when I do, I will have it custom matted, which will then fit a standard sized frame. I store all of my drawings in “Display Books” which are clear plastic sleeves that protect them. I also seal each drawing with a spray “workable fixative” (more on that later)
8) EYES: I ALWAYS start with the eyes!!! They are the “windows to a soul” and if you don’t get them write, why waste time finishing the drawing. (That’s just how I feel). I usually just finish one eye, and move on to start the first layer on other areas. I never finish the first eye 100% at first. The important things to remember are the “key highlights” or spots of light in every photo, and person you see. One basic rule that I read and remember as to eyes and feature placement is this: Eyes are approximately in the center of the face, about half way between the top of the forehead and the bottom of the chin, and are approximately the same distance APART from each other as the width of a single eye (not always). The bottom of the NOSE is then about half way between the eyes and bottom of chin; the mouth is about half way between the bottom of the nose and bottom of the chin. These are obviously rough guidelines. Remember, eyes are NOT pure white! I use a light touch with a blending stump around the corners of the eyes, on MOST drawings. The same goes with teeth.
9) CONTRAST is always been just obvious to me, and I believe is one of the main things that take a drawing to the “next level”? I have learned to select a photo that has a wide range of contrast and as many variations in between! I discovered that I am FIRST inspired by a dramatic photo with lots of contrast, NOT so much the celebrity, but when you find BOTH, it’s magic!!! One way I have trained my eyes to see Contrast, besides printing the photo in Black and White, is to sometimes, TURN the DIRECT light you are using, AWAY from you. You will be amazed at what you see in darker lighting conditions! I use a drawing desk now, with a combo swing-arm light/magnifying glass. I USED to, and sometimes still do, use a Lap-Desk, which is portable. Another KEY thing I do, is to CONSTANTLY walk away from the drawing, and come back with “fresh eyes”. Things I could NOT see or notice before, become obvious to me. Especially, first thing in the morning. In the 4 to 5 hours I invest with each drawing, I may start and come back 10-20 times!!! This keeps giving me fresh perspective.
10) TONE RANGE: I have also learned to establish the RANGE of tonal values early in a drawing. What I mean is, after drawing one eye; I look for the darkest areas of the photo, and start laying down some graphite in those areas. Another reason for starting some of the darkest areas first, is that I often get some of the graphite from those areas on my Blending Stump for use in other areas of the drawing. I don’t always start an area with a pencil, but sometimes with the graphite from an old Blending Stump, Tortillion, or Torchillon.
11) LAYERING: I find it takes many “layers” of graphite to build up certain areas. Shadows of course, lips, hair, etc. After I draw the eyes, and establish tone range, I may lightly color the lips? All lips are different, but I start with something light, like H, F, HB, or sometimes B. I look for key highlights and I’m careful to preserve those areas for later. Other areas that I layer are, eyebrows, eyelashes, hair, eye pupils, lips and of course shading.
12) SHADING: The type of shadows that are in the photo, obviously determine how dark I start? I usually start around the eyes, just after I do the first layer of the eyebrows. I take my pencil of choice and hold it lightly and sideways, so that the side of the tip is rubbing the paper, NOT the point. This makes for a larger coverage area, and can also be used to create certain effects of the skin. “Hard Shadows” are the toughest I think? Like my Sean Connery portrait. I never start the shadow or darkest part, AS DARK as it will later become. It’s something I build into, in case I need to erase.
13) BLENDING: I am convinced now that it’s ALL IN THE BLENDING!!! I use Blending Stumps, Tortillions, Torchillons, Paper towels, and sometimes Q-tips and make-up sponges. Many of the techniques would require me showing you, rather than describing them, but I will try a few. For one, I am always mindful of how much graphite is already on the stump, which determines how much pressure I apply when blending? I have many different sizes for both tight spots and large areas. Again, layering is the key. When a Blending Stump gets too much graphite on it, it tends to get slick and shiny, and stops blending. To extend it’s life, I will scrape off the excess graphite by turning it while scraping it on sandpaper until the fibers are useful again. Whether I am Shading or Blending (Rendering) I most Always blend in the SAME direction that the skin is going, in order to build the illusion of dimension and shapes. I also turn the stump as I blend, if more graphite is needed, it is usually on the other side of the stump. If not, I lay down some more with pencils, or rub it on a dark area, to get some. Keep in mind that you will need to go back over the dark areas you borrowed graphite from. More on the key to dark darks later. I do NOT always blend EVERY area of the drawing. For some effects, a light touch with a pencil only may do? But I do blend about 95% of the entire drawing (NEVER BLACK AREAS though)
14) NEGATIVE SPACE: One great trick I learned, was to use a small nail, duct tapped to an old pencil, as a stylus for scratching out whiskers, white hairs, highlights, etc. IMPORTANT: PRACTICE this before you ruin a drawing. Get an old piece of drawing paper, and practice the procedure. What I do, BEFORE (key) I put any graphite on the area, is hold the paper sideways in the light, so I can see where I am scratching, and I make the needed lines, hairs or whiskers in the paper. THEN, I rub a pencil SIDEWAYS over the scratch mark, to Expose the white lines. I can then draw between them, or what ever, but the effect is amazing to me! It’s a PERFECT tool for creating white whiskers, white hair (against dark back ground), etc. You will find many uses for this! The MAIN concept of “Negative Drawing” is that you create what you are trying to draw, NOT by drawing it, but by drawing first what surrounds the object. Hair is a perfect example (hair type depending). Hair should NOT be many pencils lines, but the shadows BETWEEN the hairs, which by default, will create the ILLUSION of hair. The same with teeth. I draw the dark areas AROUND the teeth, which as a result, forms the shape of teeth.
15) HIGHLIGHTS: They can REALLY make a drawing come to life. From the “Key Highlights in the eyes, to the glimmer on the lips, and anywhere else that either the photo shows, or you THINK it would be realistic? Highlights are best saved for last, mainly because you may be blending over the same areas beforehand. I use 3 tools for highlights. The first is the Kneaded eraser. View or buy here: http://www.dickblick.com/products/design-kneaded-rubber-eraser It can be molded into many shapes you need. A point, for small areas, a knife-edge for lines next to wrinkles, or as a blunt dabbing tool. I also use a TUFF STUFF stick eraser by Papermate. View or buy it here: http://www.dickblick.com/products/sanford-tuff-stuff-eraser-stick It is firm and rigid, and looks like a pen. I use a razor to cut an angled point for fine line, where a soft kneaded eraser may flatten and remove graphite where I don’t want it removed? The third was recently discovered when I went to an Art Workshop in August, and is called BLU*TACK found at http://www.blutack.com It is stretchy like a kneaded eraser, but is very sticky. I do NOT use it to rub, like a kneaded eraser, but to blot up excess graphite. It is an adhesive used to hold posters on walls, etc but an artist showed me its artist uses. One of the best tips I’ve heard and use, is that IF you want to make something lighter, like a highlight, then make what surrounds it, DARKER!
16) OTHER TIPS:
a) One of the last things I do is add fine, stray hairs, if applicable, to the edges of the hairline. I also take a sharp F or HB pencil, and make very small and short hairs along the forehead, where the hair meets the forehead (sometimes).
b) Whenever I think I’m done, I sleep on it. Invariably I notice something I swore was not there before.
c) Most every artist signs their work, in some form or another, but my dad gave me the idea to DATE each one as well, so that I could remember the order that I drew them, in case you don’t use a Display book.
d) I also use a “workable spray Fixative” to seal the drawing when it’s complete. It prevents smudging, keeps them from yellowing and also takes down the shine from the darkest areas of graphite. Here is the one I use: http://www.dickblick.com/products/krylon-1306-workable-matte-fixative
e) To get REALLY dark black areas, I generally use a SHARP 2B and go back and forth in small areas, expanding outward. I keep TURNING the pencil in my fingers, SO THAT the point digs deep into the TOOTH of the paper. When that area is complete, I use a harder pencil, like F or H and go over it again. IF I had used that area to grab graphite from with my blending stuff, during the drawing, I go back over it with 2B again, then F. The spray fixative will tone down the shine.
f) When I use clutch pencils, I no longer use a hand sharpener, which I used to string around my neck. I use a “Lead Pointer Tube” sharpener, which also holds the shaved graphite. View or buy here: http://www.staedtler.com/Mars_lead_pointer_tub_gb.Staedtler
g) I use an old paintbrush to remove dust, etc from a drawing in progress. It keeps me from rubbing it off, or spitting on the drawing when I blow it off. I didn’t notice one time, and accidentally spit a minute amount on the surface, and when I rubbed over it with my blending stump, it smeared, and I could not remove it!!
h) 7 months after discovering my passion for drawing, I bought a Drawing Table. Actually, my folks got it for my birthday. It the sports car of drawing tables! To view the one I got, go here: http://www.dickblick.com/products/studio-designs-futura-craft-station
i) Taking Photos of your work. After a drawing is complete, I use a digital camera to take a photo of it. I first used scanners, but they lighten the drawing, and you cannot see as much details. I take the photo in the daytime, in natural lighting, on the floor in front of a window, careful NOT to put it directly in the sun. After I take several shots, I upload them; pick the best one, which is usually the one where my name and date are IN FOCUS. Then I crop out the borders, and I also REMOVE the SATURATION, which removes any color that the camera picked up, turning it back to pure black and white. THEN I use a feature called Auto Enhance, which lightens it up and makes it look as close to the drawing as possible.
j) I NEVER show someone the photo next to my drawing, no matter how much it looks like the photo, because then it becomes a challenge for someone to see how many mistakes someone can find, and it takes away from the drawing.
k) The brain can be fooled to believing that what it THINKS it sees is real. One of the best illustrations of that is when I noticed that blurry, out of focus backgrounds, in some portraits, made it look like a photo.
Hope this helps my fellow artists!!! To view my drawings, go to: