Drybrush Painting

It’s true – I said that I’d sworn off painting, and then I was like, “Well, now I’m excited to try painting again…” Then, of course, I didn’t proceed with doing anything, so ’round and ’round we go.

Well, guess what.  I was perusing Instagram (yes, Instagram – you can follow me here) and all these people had beautiful portraits with such amazing contrasts that I could hardly believe it.  How on earth did they do that?

Hahahaha.  With my nemesis, of course – OIL PAINT.  It’s a whole thing with using what is called drybrush technique with oil paint to paint these amazing portraits that look like they’re pencil drawn, except smoother and darker.  Amazing.

After watching a gazillion videos on the technique and stocking up on the items that I would need, I decided to take a portrait that wasn’t going the way I wanted it to and use it as my guinea pig for this incredible painting technique.

The result?

Happy Child - Oil Dry Brush
Happy Child – Oil Dry Brush

Well, I learned that I wasn’t quite sure how to do blond hair with black oil paint, so the hair was done in pencil, and I think it shows; however, the portrait as a whole came out rather nicely, if I do say so myself!  It looks like a technique that I will be continuing to explore in the future, and I hope to present many more portraits with this beautiful contrast.

“The Quick Sketch”

A few days ago I did up a “quick sketch” of Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister (because, in my opinion, celebrities are good subjects for quick sketches) and posted the sketch to social media (G+).  One of the users of the site commented something akin to, “Quick sketch my ass – this took at least two hours.”  Okay, so maybe his comment wasn’t so brash, but that’s the gist of it.

But he’s right!  The sketch did take an hour and a half…. So why would I call it a “quick sketch?”

Because it was one.

Quick Sketch - Lena Headey
Quick Sketch – Lena Headey

The average drawing, depending on the subject, can take me 8-12 hours, maybe more if there’s some killer detail.  For me to do a drawing that is only 1-2 hours – that’s a really quick sketch!  You may notice that the eyes aren’t quite right, that the hair isn’t fully rendered, her eyebrows aren’t quite Lena Headey’s eyebrows; it’s not meant for perfection, it’s meant for practice.

It’s all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

Advice from Various Artists and Why You Shouldn’t Always Listen

All right, I’m not going to quote anything verbatim, because this is all pretty general advice that a variety of artists will tell anyone. Plus, who knows where they got it from to begin with?

1) Fully render one part of the drawing at a time.
Kinda, sorta… if you want to. Rendering one section at a time makes the artist pay more attention to tedious details, and the overall view is less overwhelming. The downside is that there’s a lot of prep work, because you’ll need to make a reference value to make sure you don’t have different values in one area as opposed to another; plus, if you’re drawing freehand, you might have some trouble with proportions.

2) Always do the darkest areas first.
This helps with maintaining values. Cool; however, I personally like to do the lighter areas on skin first, because it’s easier to darken than to lighten, especially with charcoal. I also like drawing hair (often dark) last. It’s a matter of preference.

3) Take an art program.
You can… there’s nothing wrong with doing so, and taking a program will likely fast-track your progress. You could also save your money and study independently and practice practice practice.

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.

Step-by-Steps

If you follow a lot of amateur artists online, you’ve probably seen this drawing a lot.

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I drew that particular set of lips, but it’s certainly not my design.  Why is everyone drawing this particular mouth, or some variation of it?

The answer is easy – a Mark Crilley instruction video!

Videos are a good resource to learn from, even though I’m not a huge fan in general, but it’s important to keep in mind that thousands of other people are seeing the same video, and at least a few hundred will attempt the step-by-step.  It’s not a bad thing for practice, but don’t try to market off the results of watching that video.  As I already said, other people are posting the exact same thing!

The experience is valuable, but don’t forget that nothing is more valuable than finding your own way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

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.