Graphite Pencil Drawing Technique
The process of creating my models is simple, but creative nonetheless. I don't use live models, as it would be too costly. What I do is gather information from different sources which I use as reference in order to get the posture anatomically correct. When I envision something in my head, I search through my digital or paper files and try to find something close to what I'm looking for. I upload/scan the image into Photoshop and I play around with it. I take the face from here, the body from there or move the clothing from one image to the other. I also take digital photos of some of my wife’s "body parts" (hands, feet, knees, etc) as needed and incorporate them into the image. Everything kind of looks like a mess at the beginning, however with the magic of Photoshop I can make it look good enough so I can bear looking at it for the many hours to come. I print it and use this as my reference for my new project. One thing that I have learned though, is that in order to draw the human figure accurately (the female figure in this case) you have to depend on good reference otherwise you’re not going to have a drawing that looks realistic.
I put the printout on my Autograph AG100 projector and I enlarge the image on my wall where I have already taped my illustration paper. I outline the main features of the image very lightly and without much detail. Time is of the essence when you're working on several projects at the same time and using the AG100 is definitely a time saver for me. After all, this is the easy part. Whether you’re doing it by hand or using a projector, we know that the most challenging part will come later when you need to make the picture look realistic and come alive. The wrong shading or incorrect value, as insignificant as it may be, can make a big difference.
I understand that many artists will disagree with my drawing techniques as I use a more contemporary approach to creating my illustrations and portraits, but that's OK (and honestly, don't care). These days not everybody has time to sit and pose for a portrait, or the means to spend money to hire a model for the next project, so a photograph will have to do. If you have an observant eye and a pretty good knowledge of the proportions of the human body (especially the face in my case) then you'll manage well using a photo. A good concept of values and contrast, which I will go into detail below, also helps--not to mention, of course, some good valuable experience. I can personally say that throughout the years I have gained enough [artistic] wisdom that I can allow myself to take certain shortcuts.
My drawing tools:
|Turquoise graphite pencils -- I like this particular brand because the graphite is nice and soft and not as dark as the other brands. I normally like to work with the H, HB, B, F, 2B and 6B. I have actually experimented with other brands and I didn't like them. The same grades vary in darkness from brand to brand. The Turquoise HB for example is not the same as the Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB. The SML has a much darker value than the Turquoise (almost like a 2B Turquoise). It's really all a matter of taste, however.
||Electric sharpener -- I always like to keep my pencils very sharp so I definitely need one of these. When I first started drawing I used to sharpen my pencils with a blade and although you can get a pretty sharp point it was very time consuming. Now I just use the electric sharpener and have a sharp point in a second. You can “eat” a lot pencils this way but it's absolutely well worth it if you’re trying to move fast. I personally don’t have the patience anymore to sharpen the pencils by hand.
||Kneaded eraser -- Another of my favorites drawing tools. I don’t really use it as much to erase something but rather to create highlights. I can shape it to a point so I can pick up the highlight on the eyes, lips, cheeks; shape it as a sharp flat edge to actually “draw” some highlights on the hair; or as a ball to create some highlights in the background.
||Strathmore Bristol paper -- I like to use the 14x17" Strathmore Bristol (smooth finish) illustration paper. It’s smooth enough that it allows me to pick up the highlights effortlessly (provided of course that I haven't yet used the 6B).
||Sable brush -- I use a Winston & Newton #5 sable brush mostly to brush away the eraser and graphite residue from the surface.
||Autograph AG100 projector -- To enlarge the images.
||Napkin or tissue -- I like to tape a napkin to my easel so I can wipe off the excess graphite from my pencils after I sharpen them.
||Paper stumps -- I use these to blend and soften some of the hard edges, like the eyes, lips, or nipples and sometimes on the hair.
||Fingertip -- Yes, just like any other artist I like to use my fingertip (right ring finger and right pinky) to do minor blending.
||Mirror -- I like to see my pictures through a mirror because it helps me see any imperfections. You'll be able to see whether the proportions are correct or not. This really helps me a lot because I'm able to see the whole picture from a different perspective.
||Adobe Photoshop (and computer) -- In recent years Photoshop has been one of my best friends. As I have explained above, I use it to create my models.
||Digital Camera -- This is something new to me but which I find very useful and I think every artist should have one. If I need something quickly for reference--whether it’s a hand, a foot or just about any part of the body that I’m missing--I can just ask my wife or any one for that matter to pose for me. Then I download the picture into Photoshop and add it to my image.
||Music -- I always like to listen to music when I'm drawing. It blurs out all of my surroundings and helps me concentrate on my work (I mostly like to listen to the 70's or early 80's because it brings me back to a time when I was younger and life was a lot less complicated).
Once I have the sketch on paper I change the features some more. This is when I get the freedom to really get creative. I go and adjust the size of the breasts (I've drawn so many breasts that I can draw them by memory if I want to), enlarging the thighs, making the buttocks rounder, the eye lashes longer, making the lips thicker, adding a pretty necklace, or sometimes I even decide last minute that she should be looking to the side… I really have fun with it! It’s exciting for me to be able to create my own models--it’s like giving birth. I can make her look as pretty, shapely and as beautiful as I want to, there's no limit to what I can do. I look forward so much to completing the illustration that it's almost like foreplay--a 10 to 15 hour foreplay session.
After I'm happy with the initial sketch I concentrate on the face and work my way down. I have to have some sense of completeness in the first session, at least on the face. I want to make sure that the proportions on the face are good and when I'm done that night (I only work at nights when everybody at home is asleep) it already has to look somewhat realistic, at least the eyes, nose and lips.
I first apply a light layer (or glaze) over the whole drawing using the side of the pencil. An HB or F grade will work. I apply it just dark enough that I can go with my kneaded eraser and pick up some highlights--like on the forehead, cheeks, nose, lower lips, shoulder, breasts, or really anything that protrudes (this makes sense if you really think about it). I pay attention to where the light is coming from. Even if the image I’m using as reference does not have the proper lighting then I have to imagine it. Most of the time the light source comes from above, so on the head for example, the lightest highlight will be on the forehead (top of the forehead or the part just above the eyebrow), then the tip of the nose and so forth. The chin will have the lowest highlight and will almost look blurred out. You have to have this transition for the drawing to work. Let’s keep in mind that a good drawing consists of proper values and good contrast.
Consider the following, when you’re looking at a person from a few feet away, if you squint and observe how the light is being reflected on the face you’ll notice that you really don’t see much of the stuff that we like to draw, and many times overstate. A good example is the eyes, hair and teeth.
|Many [amateur] artists like to overemphasize the white of the eyes, for instance. They have the misconception that since this part of the eye is white then it must look white when you draw it. This is incorrect however, as most of the eye is really overshadowed by the eyebrows. We, as artists, have to be able to balance this out. The white of the eye cannot be as bright as your lightest highlight on the face. I myself love to draw eyes and look forward to making them as realistic as possible, but I always make sure that they don’t have that “bug--eye” look.
||As far as the hair, there’s no need to draw every strand of hair. Think about what you really see on a person, you see a mass, so this is what you want to show in the drawing. If you stand real close to a person then you’ll see some of the hair sticking out, out of place or frizzy. The way to convey this on your drawing is by blurring out that area. By this I mean going with your F or HB pencil and gently create a layer extending the edge of the hair, or you could also just soften the edge with a paper stump.
||As for the teeth, many professional portrait artists will refuse to paint a person smiling; this is a "no, no" in the business. I personally think it's a stupid rule because drawing or painting the teeth makes the subject look a lot more natural. You just have to know how to do it. I love drawing them because really there's not much to draw. I just shade the whole area, lightly outline the shape of the teeth and then go with the eraser and add some highlights on the front teeth. To soften them a little and not make them stand out I go and just kind of blend that area with a paper stump. Again, they need not be overemphasized as they're not exposed to the light.
When I was going to art school the teacher kept reminding us that we as artists have the “Artist License”, simply meaning that we are allowed to break the rules and not always draw what we see. We can add or omit things as we please when we notice that the drawing is not making sense.
What I also like to do is draw soft little circles indicating the highlights (see sample below). On the nose, for instance, I first apply a relatively dark value using my HB pencil over the whole area and then I draw a little circle on the tip of the nose. Next I go and add a highlight with my kneaded eraser in the middle of the circle and I slightly darken the values right outside of it (in order to have that transition). The highlights vary in value, naturally, depending on how much pressure you apply with the eraser. One thing to remember is that the nose (just like the cheeks and lips) will always be darker than the rest of the face as more blood runs through it. By making these parts of the face darker you will achieve that “blushing” look.
Another technique I like to use is the “lost and found”. A lot of artists like to use this but many don’t, it depends on their style. The concept behind it is that not everything has to have a hard edge. In my mind, if you see a lot of hard edges then the drawing will look like a caricature, not realistic. So what I do, just like I described above when I talked about drawing the hair, is create a soft layer extending the edge, or blur out the area perhaps with a paper stump. If you notice on the sample above I've done this on the hair by the forehead and slightly on her right arm underneath the shoulder. This is really done is strategic places on the drawing in order to re--direct the viewer to the focal point, is this case being the face. You know, like when you’re talking to somebody, most of the time you're looking at the eyes or lips but it's impossible to look at everything at the same time. Your eyes can only focus on a specific part of the face, the rest is blurred out. This is sort of what the lost and found technique does.
As I mentioned before a good drawing consists of the proper values and good contrast. Without them the drawing will look flat and lack that "3--D" look.
|The values, of course, is all about how a specific object looks when reflected by a light source. It has to contain the four basic elements--the nuts and bolts--of drawing a realistic picture (I'm sure you have heard about them before). They are: the highlights, middle--tones, reflected light and shadow. If you always apply these basic principles into your drawings, no matter what you draw, then they will always look realistic.
||If you want to have a drawing that's going to be well composed and balanced then you have to have good contrast. This means putting a dark against a light value. This is what will make the picture "pop out". I have utilized this with the hair against the face in the sample above and similarly with the hair against the light background. This creates a beautiful contrast and makes the highlights really stand out. Again, this is something that you can control; just because you don’t see it on your reference image doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate it into your drawing. This is when you have to use your Artistic License and apply it when it's needed. For example, if the subject is wearing a bright blouse and you see that it creates a conflict with the tone on the face then you should make the blouse relatively darker so it creates a distinctive contrast against the face and it doesn't blend together.
One of my main objectives also is to make sure that I cover every area of my subject. Whether with cross--hatching, using the side of the pencil or even with a paper stump, but I don't like to see the white of the paper--except only in an extreme highlight when you're trying to achieve a specific effect. Otherwise everything must be covered. To accomplish this I pretty much like to use the cross--hatch technique where I just put layer upon layer and move slowly onward. This, I think, is what makes the picture look more like a painting rather than just a drawing.
I constantly like to turn my picture upside down. I'm not really positive what this does but I know that it helps me determine whether the values are accurate. If I see that the picture looks "real" upside down or sideways, and it almost seems like the hair or the breasts somehow are going to turn over, then I know that the picture is right. Crazy, but it works for me.
All I can tell you is that you will learn all these things with experience and many hours on the drawing board. There is really no other way to learn but to practice and always keep drawing, and most of all--very important--be observant. I work in New York City and I take the train every day. I just love seeing all the different faces! Pretty faces… and not so very pretty, but regardless, to me it's so amazing that I see so many people in this big city (literally thousands) and everyone looks different. I watch people in the subway train and I wish I could take a picture of their faces and go home and draw them. I stare at their facial features, their lips, their eyes, their hair and the way the light is reflected on their face. I try to memorize these faces in my head so I can go home and use it as reference for my drawings. I see a pretty girl and have a sudden desire to draw her! This is how passionate I am about drawing faces (and female bodies too). You’ve got to have this enthusiasm and passion otherwise you'll always do a mediocre job. I believe this probably applies to everything you do in life as well.
One more thing that we need to remember also, as professional artists, is that there will be frustrating moments. There's always a moment for me, especially at the beginning of creating an illustration when there just seems like nothing is working! The values are not there, the proportions and likeness are way off, the face looks blotchy and no matter what I do it doesn't seem to improve. You wonder whether you're ever going to get the picture finished and there even comes a point where you loose complete confidence in yourself. I have to walk away for a while or sometimes just stop and continue the next day. However, I never give up on the drawing. When I come back the next time I feel refreshed, motivated and ready to take on whatever obstacle I may find. I stand back (something I always do), squint at the picture and start taking note of all the things that need to be corrected. I go, OK… number 1) I need to lighten up the picture, it's too dark; 2) the legs are too skinny in proportion to the rest of the body; 3) the nose needs to be darker; 4) the teeth are too bright… so I just go and take one problem at a time.
I always like to persevere. I change my frame of mind and start seeing it as a "challenge". I always remember, of course, that my drawings turn out OK at the end anyway. I know that once I get past this frustrating moment I'll begin to feel better about the drawing and it will inspire me to make it one of my best works! I really look forward to this exhilarating and gratifying moment, and it's what gets me through the bad ones. I think many amateur artists reach this particular moment of frustration and just give up and say "this is not for me. I wasn't cut out to be an artist!". They don't give themselves a chance. Please be perseverant and don't give up!
I receive emails from people (men and women) and artists that have seen my illustrations and compliment me on the work I do. I save all of these emails. This is a great inspiration and motivates me to keep working harder. I believe also that my illustrations inspire other artists the same way that I get inspired when I see good artwork.