Original Artwork   Fine Art   Commissions   Exhibits   Teaching   Contact   Demos   Tutorials   Facebook

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Drawing depth in your portraits tutorial

One of the most common mistakes beginners make is to outline their subjects which results in a flat one-dimensional drawing. To create drawings that are three dimensional, it is best to avoid drawing with lines completely. Try drawing shapes rather than lines. The easiest way to accomplish this is to think of your subject as a series of lights and darks. Squinting your eyes and peering at the subject, whether it be a photo or a live object, will separate the lights and darks for you more easily.

It is always best to draw from life when learning to draw depth so set up a simple subject to practice from. To create more interest, side light the object to create stronger shadows. Sketch a contour drawing lightly using and H or F pencil using short broken lines. Block in the different areas of light and dark using HB for the middle values and 2B for the darker values. Try using different strokes with your pencil rather than using straight lines. Try circular motions, cross-hatching or side-by-side lines either short or long. The more variations the better as different variations of lines create interest in your drawing and work better for different areas. Work in thin layers building up the tone as you go to create an even layer of tonal values.

You can blend as you go using a tissue, cloth or cotton or you can leave unblended for more texture. Avoid using your fingers as oil from your fingers can leave stains on your work. If you have over blended and you have lost your dark values, just add more dark layers and do not blend as much as the illusion of depth results from the contrast of light and dark. Use a kneaded eraser or a regular eraser to pull out highlights.

The strongest areas of contrast will draw the viewers eye and adds interest to the overall drawing. The lightest area will draw the viewers eye the strongest, especially when surrounded by the darkest darks. Always keep this in mind when drawing so as not to accidentally pull the viewers eye away from your focal point. Practice these simple steps and you will see more depth in your drawings.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wedding Portrait - WIP#6

Karen is starting to really look like Karen now, even without the eyes drawn in. It is very weird for me to leave the eyes to the end but I am using a poor reference photo and am dreading drawing what I can hardly see ... always get a good reference photo! I have 'roughed up' Mike's skin a little as he was looking much too young, sorry Mike. I have darkened Mike and Karen's skin again. I constantly go back and modify the dark's and lights to compensate for any darks/lights that I have added. It took several layers on Karen's neck to build up the muscle tone. Her cheek that is touching Mike's was too plump so I thinned it out more and I am much happier with the resemblance.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wedding Portrait - WIP #5

Karen's portrait is starting to take shape. The mouth is loosely defined and I have roughed in the hair. I darkened her skin tone and blended. Will need to repeat several times.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Using grids for proportions tutorial

I was taught to use the grid method in elementary school and was amazed at how simple it was to use. Unfortunately, I was under the impression that using a grid was 'cheating' so I never used it again. Years later I went to an exhibit of Vincent van Gogh and was astonished to see that he and many other masters used the grid method! Well that was good enough for me!

I decided to give the method another try. I drew grid lines, 1 inch apart, with a permanent marker onto an sheet of acetate film. I blew up my reference photo to the size that I wanted and placed the acetate over top. I then drew grid lines with an F pencil onto my drawing surface. While this worked very well, I was spending too much time drawing and erasing the grid lines.

I now use the process below:
  • I now blow up my image to a size that I am happy with and print it off.

  • I then print a grid using 1 inch squares that I created in Photoshop (you can also use a word document for the grid) directly overtop of the printed image. You can use whatever grid size you like but I prefer a 1 inch by 1 inch grid.

  • Then I print the same grid onto a piece of tracing paper and draw my initial sketch on the tracing paper.

  • Once I am happy with my drawing I use a light box (ok, so I use my glass dining room table with a lamp underneath) and transfer the drawing to my drawing paper.

  • If I have a hard time seeing the lines, I will go over them with a black felt pen.

This may seem like a bit of work, but if you have ever used the traditional grid method only to be dismayed by grid lines showing through on your final drawing, the work seems minimal in the long run. Also, I found that drawing my grid lines manually often led to slight discrepancies between the grid on the picture and on my drawing. Small discrepencies turn into big discrepancies when you are working on a portrait!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Wedding Portrait - WIP #4

It has been awhile since I have had a chance to work on this portrait! The skin tone is pretty much finished now for Mike and his eyes have been roughed in. I ll leave the finishing touches until I have more of Karen's portrait completed. I have added more graphite for her skin and need to blend in with a blending stump and chamois.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Wedding Portrait - WIP #3

More of the skin tone has been built up. The eyes look a little scary! Usually the eyes are the first area I define but the reference photo I am using is poor so I am hoping to get a better quality picture to work from. The mouth is looking better and the first layer of hair has been added.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wedding Portrait - WIP #2

The base skin tone has been added in and I am now building up the depth of the features. It always looks kind of muddy at this point as it takes a lot of blending and reapplying graphite to build up the depth. The lip is too wide on top which makes it look too feminine which I will re-work shortly.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wedding Portrait - WIP

I thought I would post a portrait that I am currently working on. It is a wedding portait that I am giving as a gift to friends of mine.

To create an outline of the drawing I use a grid printed onto tracing paper. I then print the same grid onto my reference photo and use an F pencil to draw my outline. Once the outline is complete I transfer it to my drawing surface using graphite paper.

I am starting to fill in the skin tones and hair alternating with 2B, 4B and F graphite working from left to right to avoid smuding.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Latest Portrait

Just finished another commision in graphite and charcoal on bristol board. You can view at my website as well. I am also working on a watercolor portrait using the same reference material. I hope to have it completed early next month as I have another commission to start mid September.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Graphite & Charcoal Materials Tutorial

Drawing Surface

My favorite drawing surfaces are Strathmore Smooth or Medium bristol board, Strathmore Drawing Paper and Arches hot pressed watercolor paper. The watercolor paper provides more tooth for the graphite and charcoal to settle into so it is great for artwork where more texture is required. The bristol board is great especially when starting out as it can take alot of abuse from erasing.  I prefer the Strathmore but any brand will do.  I posted the images below to help you find amongst the mass of papers in the stores ;)


Any artist grade pencils will do. Experiment to find a brand that you feel comfortable with, my favorite is Staedler. I generally use F for the initial drawing as it erases easily without too much damage to the paper.

I also like to use mechanical pencils as well as regular pencils as they maintain their shape well. For the mechanical pencils I like the Stadeler 2mm leads in H, HB, B and 2B. Varying the pressure you can achieve a full range of lights and darks with only these four leads.

Charcoal or Conte Pencils

Again any artist grade charcoal that you can find will work well. The degrees of hardness ranges from HB (hardest) to 3B (softest).  Charcoal and sepia powder may also be purchased in ground format for larger areas.


I use kneaded eraser (or mak tac), a white stadeler eraser and a Tuff Stuff eraser pen. Mac tac can be found at any stationary store. It is used for tacking pictures to walls but it works perfectly for lifting graphite and/or charcoal from drawings and for erasing. If you are in the UK or don't mind paying the duty, Blue Tack is also a fantastic kneaded eraser and seems to pick up more than the standard kneaded erasers.

When using kneaded erasers, blot the graphite from the paper, don't rub, as it actually pulls the graphite from the paper more effectively if you press the eraser gently and lift off. Rubbing can push the graphite down into the paper which is what you don't want.

Blending Stumps

Soft paper felt with double pointed ends used for blending. I like these for blending medium to large areas. Once I have my graphite where I want it, I gently rub the blending stump to "lock" the graphite into the area. Always hold at an angle, not with the tip poitning up. If the point wears down you can use sand paper to repoint. If your blending stump is clean, you will lighten areas when you use it, if it is saturated with graphite already, it will darken areas. Keep a full range of stumps from clean to dirty to use for different jobs. Once saturated with graphite or charcoal, these can also be used like a pencil to draw with.


Soft rolled paper with pointed end used for blending. If you look closely you can see the lines of paper rolled around. They are hollow inside so if you flatten the tip accidently, use a paper clip (opened up) to push the tip back out. I like these for the finer details. Again always hold at an angle and press lightly so as not to dent the paper. Once saturated with graphite or charcoal, these can also be used like a pencil to draw with. The smaller ones are great for fine details such as wrinkles and lashes.

Can be used for the smoothest blending and to lift off extra graphite or charcoal. You can use tissue Paper for a rougher blending effect and to lift off extra graphite or charcoal. Try using differnt materials for blending to see which you prefer, (felt, q-tips etc) Save yourself a ton of cash and buy from and automotive store as they are also used for cleaning cars and they charge a quarter of the price art stores charge.


Tracing paper to draw original artwork on, transfer paper or make your own, masking tape for holding template or drawing paper in place in place, drafting brush or a hake brush to remove eraser and graphite residue drawing board.