I’m asked quite frequently to explain some of the techniques I use whilst scribbling pics. It’s very lovely that anyone would wish to know, and I try my best to give a few tips, but I’m not the best at explaining such things. I’ll try my very best not to bore you, and should such things be of little interest feel free to duck out and make a cake, or suchlike. Yes, make a cake and send me a slice. If you want.
The subject of this drawing is Robert Wyatt, a drummer, singer, songwriter, artist, etc, whose biography I read just before beginning this pic. The book is a wonderfully eclectic and bohemian read, and I recommend it heartily.
So, the technique? Well, I began with a grey tinted drawing paper. Made by Fabriano. I find that choosing the right colour paper is vastly underrated, and by doing so one can reduce the amount of effort one puts in. Then, upon said grey paper I sketched out a light outline of the face with a 3H pencil, barely visible but workable nonetheless.
I worked on the eyes first, using Polychromos pencils in light Ultramarine, white and warm grey. A 2B pencil and earth green creates the pupils along with a little blue, and a white highlighter pen picks out reflection on the eyes and moisture on the lower lids, just above the conjunctival sacs. I love drawing eyes, to me they speak the loudest in a portrait. If I’m relatively happy with the eyes then the rest finds its own level.
A B pencil and white Polychromos pencil pick out eyebrow hair.
The skin on the face required many pencils, the main ones being warm grey, white, cream, sand, raw umber, yellow ochre and bright pink. I guess that most people overlook the sheer multitude of different tones on the human skin, whatever the race. The key to applying colour, in my case, is to sharpen the ends of the pencils well and use spiral motions and short lines to build up depth. By using a cotton bud one can blend these layers a little. At this point I added some HB pencil in order to highlight certain areas, such as around the nose. The addition of blemishes, moles, liver spots, wrinkles, etc, using raw umber and walnut brown, seem to add more depth and character. After all, we’re all gonna get them eventually, right?
The hair at the sides of the face required pastel pencil, a dry colour that blends well with the finger to give it the necessary depth of field. In this instance I used white, light grey, raw umber and a little Ultramarine. The downside is one has to be careful not to erase it with misguided hands after laying the colour down. I’m particularly mindful of this if I should partake of a tot of tequila between sessions. A fixative can sort this problem out, or a paper towel upon which to lean.
The beard is not as fiddly as many people seem to think. A base layer, a light one, of light grey is applied, then the sharp nib of a white Polychromos pencil creates the whiskers. Then, once in place, a B pencil, sharpened but not overly so, can be applied between strands of hair to make them stand out a little more. The lips have rose and bright pink and white to highlight.
There you go. Like most drawings, when you view them up close the technique becomes more apparent. I don’t strive for photorealism, it holds no attraction for me. All I wish for is that I see some character in the pic. If that comes through, I’m ok.
If you’re still awake after all that feel free to suggest drawings for similar dissection in the future, and I shall try and oblige.
4 replies on “Technique and stuff”
Every now and then I come across one of your jewels in my twitter feed and find myself lost in their beauty – thank you 👍 Did you always have the ability to draw or is it down to many hours practice and mastering technique? How long did the Robert Wyatt portrait take to complete?
Hi Paul, thanks for your kind words. I’ve always enjoyed drawing, but over the last 12 years have drawn pretty much every day. I believe anybody can draw if they are focussed enough to put the hours in.
The Wyatt pic took around 30 hours, if I remember correctly….👍
Lovely read, Ian. I am in awe of pencil artists like yourself. You may not be going for photorealism, but you seem to have achieved it. I will enjoy looking and reading further on your blog.
Thank you, that’s very kind. You’re right, I don’t aim for photorealism. I always want to get a close likeness, but it is rarely the only thing I wish to achieve. Welcome to the site 🙂