Trying Different Mediums

Art is like anything else where the ground is unfamiliar.  People get skittish and don’t want to attempt something new in case of failure.

But guess what.

You will fail.  If you’re smart, you’ll try again.  If you’re really smart, you’ll keep trying until you get it right.  There will be no prouder moment in your life.

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I drew this Final Fantasy X character way back when I first started drawing, and I really thought that she was the bees knees.  Even now, many years later, I look at this drawing with a sense of satisfaction.

Is it the best drawing?  Hell no!  Could I do a ton better now if I were to redraw it?  Absolutely.  That’s not the point, though.  The point is that I decided to pick up the pencil and give it a try, and the result at the time was way better than I could have hoped to achieve.  This drawing inspired me to continue and to move on to greater things.

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Only today I decided that I wanted to give pencil pastels a shot.  Believe me when I tell you that I hate failure just as much as anyone else, but what did I have to lose?  A few bucks on the pastels, but I’d have them no matter what, so I can always try again later.  The image above was just some messing around that I did to get a feeling for the pastels.  I wanted to see how they’d blend, how they’d cling to the paper.  I got cocky and decided to try for a masterpiece.

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Say hello to Masterpiece.  Meow.  Not quite (or at all) what I hoped for, but hey, it was my first time attempting to use this medium!  With some practice and a ton of luck, I think I’ll eventually be able to make something out of these demon pencils, and that’ll be a moment that will equal the satisfaction that I achieved from that Final Fantasy character.  I’m looking forward to it.

Tracing

Dun dun dun… One of the more evil topics.

Is tracing ever good? Is it effective? Should I trace?

Maybe, not really, and probably not.

Tracing an image doesn’t do a lot for you. Of course you’ll have the outline, which is always fun, but you won’t gain any experience in drawing, and tracing developes hard lines that are difficult to work with. If your aim is to get photographic perfection in your drawing, it will save you a ton of time to just take a photo of your subject.

Tracing is a good technique for silhouettes, but that’s all I can really do to give tracing any credit. Silhouettes are a comment type of art that can be applied to pencil, pastel, and painted works.

So. What if you just want to have a copy of the outline so that you can practice shading?
I say to draw the outline a couple times to practice accuracy and to learn to keep a steady hand, then you can decide what you want from there. You can trace if you’re using crappy paper; you can use carbon paper if you press very lightly as to prevent hard, non-erasable lines; you could just photocopy your line art and accept that there will be impossible lines to deal with.

Some people claim to learn a lot from tracing; I say that you’ll learn a lot more from actually drawing.

Progression

It’s so easy to get frustrated when a certain drawing just isn’t working out.  I used to get to the point where I’d erase so much that the grains of my paper would start to lift off the page, and then I’d give up because it would be a matter of redoing the entire thing at that point.

My first ever portrait.
My first ever portrait.

Sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back for a while and come back with fresh eyes.  It can be a difficult thing to do, especially when all you want is to get that drawing finished and showcased, but it’s totally necessary.  Why are those eyes not looking right?  What is going on with that mouth?  It kind of looks like who it’s supposed to… But something isn’t right!

The best way to figure out what’s going on is to simply stop looking at it.  Stop thinking about it.  Give it a break for a day or two, then go back to it.  Suddenly, it’s like everything that wasn’t working out has an obvious reason!

Second Attempt
Second Attempt

The biggest make it or break it parts of a portrait are on the face.  The facial shape can be a little bit off without huge detriment, even though it’ll never look quite right, but if the eyes, nose, mouth, or even eyebrows aren’t right, the entire face looks wrong!

 

 

 

 

Second Ever Portrait
Third Ever Portrait

That’s why it’s important to practice seeing.  It sounds funny, because for most people, we think that we’re seeing every day.  A person doesn’t realize how much is missed in every day life.  Since I started doing portraits, my entire view of the world has altered.  I’m cognizant of shadows, of the shape of a person’s nostrils, or how the light reflects in a person’s eyes.  When I watch movies, I see how the sweat moves on the actors’ faces and which areas of their faces shine the most.

Eventually, something just clicks, and it becomes a natural movement to put those observations into portraits.

Work in Progress
Work in Progress

Are the teeth perfectly aligned?  Where is the reflection in the eyes?  Can the nostrils be seen?  How does the light hit the hair?  It all becomes important.

 

 

 

 

 

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Eventually it all comes together and starts to make sense.  There is nothing more important in a portrait than contrasts, and when the eye is able to see the contrasts without struggling, drawing becomes much easier.

Tutorials – Video or Image

(Click here to see a ‘how to draw hair tutorial!) It’s true that everyone learns differently. My husband will turn to YouTube for everything, and he’ll have the subject down in one view. When he’s done, he’ll look at me and say, “Let’s do that!”
Ever watch the Peanuts cartoons where all the adults make funny blah blah blah noises when they’re talking? That’s what I hear with YouTube. Blah blah blah.
Stop talking and just show me what we’re doing, piece by piece. YouTube is supposed to be a visual resource, right?

So what is the best way to learn to draw?

Well, the obvious and not so obvious answer is to do. The best way to learn to draw is to actually do it. You need to feel the texture and movements, and you need to learn how to keep a steady hand.
Some people believe that tracing is the way to get that experience; tracing is not usually a valuable learning technique. You can’t learn to eye up and measure a drawing by tracing, and those are very valuable skills for an artist to have!

So, where to begin?

Some artists will say to find a photograph and just start drawing what you see, but that isn’t effective for everyone. How do you draw that weird curve? How do you get the hair highlights? (Find out about hair here).

I started with instruction books, but not the step-by-step kind. They’re the type of books that give a starting point, a middle point, and an end. These books gave me a great starting point where I could learn to draw basic shapes, and then try different shading techniques until I found what I liked best.

Here are some of my recommendations:

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Some of Lee Hammond’s books come with a DVD that contains basic instructions, but I wouldn’t pay the extra money for it. Notice that the cover says ‘step-by-step demonstrations.’ That’s not really an accurate description, but if you’re a somewhat experienced artist, you might feel like it’s step-by-step.

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Lee Hammond again? Yep, you bet. I really enjoy her methods and suggestions. The only book of hers (that I know of) that I would not recommend is her book about drawing pets. The reference images are way too dark and look like big blocky black photocopies. Not cool.

Yup, YouTube. Didn’t I just post a diatribe about how much I don’t like YouTube? Yeah. But, I do like Mark Crilley!  He does talk a lot, but he sounds friendly, he has funny dad jokes, and he draws the entire time he’s chatting! He also has very diverse drawing styles, from hyper realistic to manga and chibi. He’s talented, and he’s an excellent teacher!

Those are my top three resources for the time being, but I’ll add more a bit later.

Ciao.

Basic Drawing Tools

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Basic art tools are pretty simple.  In order to get started on some really basic sketches, all you need is paper (a little practice sketchbook is great!), a blending stump or tortillon (we won’t get too fussy on this in the beginning), a kneadable eraser (you’ll see why), and a mechanical pencil with 0.5mm 2B graphite.  You can also use a hard eraser, but make sure it’s good quality – you want to be able to erase mistakes without tearing up the grain on your paper.  Starting off, though, you should be drawing lightly enough that you can erase your mistakes with the kneadable eraser.

wp-1451423479297.jpegThis is a small size blending stump (virtually, paper squashed together with a pointy tip).  This is your new finger – never again use your finger to blend!  Your hands have oils all over them that can destroy your masterpiece.  Use a tortillon (for more textured drawings) or a blending stump (for smoother blending).  You can also use a shammy (chamois leather), mobile device cleaning cloth, etc.  It all depends on the texture that you want!  Avoid tissues if you can, as they leave behind little fluff that can get into the grain of your graphite and mess things up.

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Blending stumps and tortillons come in a variety of different sizes.  Choose the size that will let you work the most effectively.

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This little guy is a tortillon.  Notice how the tip is textured – that’s because it’s just rolled up paper!  You can buy these little gaffers in bulk at any art store.  I’m not sure about Wal-Mart, but you can look there if you’re super curious.  Tortillons are great for textured blending, such as for hair.

 

 

 

Spur of the Moment

Grandfather

My grandfather was a good-humoured man with an enormous heart.  He had a boyish sense of mischief to him that carried over into everything he did, from his love of fishing to the extensive volunteer work that he did in his community.

My focus in this drawing was to capture his good humour, which can be seen in the glint in his eyes in the portrait.  His closed-mouth smile draws out a sense of calm about him, though his eyes belie that beloved mischief.

Tools of the Trade

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Tools of the Trade

Trips to the art store for me are like trips to the Costco for other people: “I’m just going in to grab some milk.”  Next thing I know, I’m $50 broker than that I was when I went in, but unlike Costco shoppers, I don’t have any buyer’s remorse!  Today was the day that I decided to get more organized and grabbed this lovely craft organizer from Canadian Tire.  It won’t be long before it gets filled up!

Inspiration

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Senator

‘Senator’ was the first commission that I ever did.  It was an interesting outcome to posting some really quick sketches on my Facebook page.  A colleague of mine saw the quick sketches and asked if I’d be willing to draw his late golden retriever, Senator.

“No way,” I said. “I’m just a beginner, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do a very good job of it.”

With some encouragement, I finally agreed to give it a go.  The worst that could happen was that the portrait didn’t turn out, and I’d have to admit defeat (except that really, the worst that could happen was that I totally messed up the drawing and insulted the memory of someone’s beloved pet and that person would never talk to me again because I was such a failure).  As usual, my worst enemy was my own fear of failure, but with some encouragement from my husband, I got started.  It only took about 50 tries before I reached the final product, and you know, it wasn’t half bad!