Tip # 1 If you’re new to portraits, charcoal the BEST medium to start with.
Charcoal is inexpensive compared to other mediums, it’s FAST to work in and easy to fix mistakes. On top of that you learn to focus on your values (lights light enough, darks dark enough) to create form and shape instead of expecting the color to do the work for you.
Tip # 2 Don’t look at this as a drawing, look at it more as sculpting shapes and shadows.
We want to create a three-dimensional-looking portrait, not a flat cartoon. This means focusing on the shadows and highlights to sculpt those shapes, not lines and flat planes. Nothing on the face is flat.
Tip #3 Reality is made up of shapes and shadows, not so much with the lines.
When we think of drawing, we often think of LINES. Cartoons have lines. Avoid lines, even in wrinkles! Those too are a combo of shadows and highlights to create the depth in that crease.
Tip #4 Pencil Choices
For areas I want blended super smooth, I go with my higher wax content pencils like Derwent Drawing, Derwent Lightfast (i know i know, they are listed as more oil based, but performance to me is more wax…which I love them for), or Caran d’Ache luminance. When I get into the tiny details of the hair, eyes, or other spots that require more precision, I switch over to my higher oil content pencils, the Faber-castell polychromos.
Tip #5 Struggling to make your portraits look realistic? Try breaking down the face into smaller studies and master those first.
Draw just an eye, nose, ear, or mouth. Really focus on the small details of these studies. This will make it easier and less overwhelming when you try a full face.
Tip #6 Most people draw overall skin tones far FAR too light.
Use a color match tool to check your values and color, you will be surprised at how dark you should go most of the time. Now I don’t mean just make everything super dark, make sure your bright areas are bright enough too! You want that high contrast in order to sculpt the face.
Tip #7 There are many ways to achieve the same end result I get, but my preference is to build up multiple light layers.
Keep that pencil sharp so that it gets into the tooth of the paper to avoid the gritty grainy look. I add 3-5 layers of pencil, blend with odorless mineral spirits like Gamsol, then add 3-5 more layers, blend, and repeat until it looks good. If you start off by burnishing (pushing hard with your pencil), the color saturation happens fast, but you limit how many layers you can get given you flatten the tooth of the paper in that process. There’s nothing left for the pencil to stick to. I do practice burnishing in my work, but only for the final layers where I know I won’t need many more layers.
The type of paper you use will make a difference too. For portraits, I prefer either Arches HP watercolor paper (as I’m using here), or Stonehenge, the one that’s sold in individual sheets, the pad performs differently for some reason.
Tip #8 Tracing
If you want to improve your drawing skills and accuracy, draw ACCURATELY! If you keep freehanding and continuously make the same mistakes over and over and over, you’re not improving as quickly as you could AND what’s worse is your brain starts to accept the warped form as “correct”. Can you learn to draw accurately without tracing? Of course! It just takes a lot longer for most students. Instead, practice a combination of tracing and freehanding. The goal is not to only be able to trace, the goal is to learn to draw it correctly as quickly as possible.
Do you know how they teach bank tellers to spot counterfeit money? By having them handle the real thing over and over and over so that anything that’s off stands out to them. I’ve been teaching this method for over 20 years, and it works. When a student traces a subject, then does the shading/painting etc over that, they’re learning to draw faces or whatever the subject is accurate. They’re forcing their brain to see it correctly instead of accepting that the warped rug rats looking face is right because that’s what it’s used to seeing you draw.
Tip #9 How you hold the pencil matters.
When I’m filling out larger areas and working in light layers, I hold my pencil farther back from the point. When I’m working on tighter details or burnishing (pushing harder), I generally hold the pencil closer to the point.
Tip #10 Avoid Black and Yellow.
Black can be used for darker areas of the eyes or hair, but for shading, the skin try darker purples, burgundy, and magentas. Black tends to muddy up the skin tone. There are exceptions, of course, a very dramatic portrait where the person is largely in shadow would require some of the deeper shadows of the subject to have black. Same with yellow, there are absolutely times where you would have a yellow glow from the sun under certain light settings for example. However, these two are a bit harder to know when you can safely use them, so if you’re just starting out, make your life easier and skip these colors until you’ve got a bit more practice.
Supplies used in the charcoal portion of the video (affiliate links)
- Canson Mi-Teintes grey 12×16″ https://amzn.to/3kTBs9C (I’m going to work on the rough side)
- Generals White Charcoal Pencils https://amzn.to/34dAX3J
- Generals Sketch and Peel Charcoal Soft https://amzn.to/2GlmPNC
- Generals Charcoal set https://amzn.to/2UqSFzP
- Shading Tool https://amzn.to/3igMSTa
- Glassine https://amzn.to/3wdOyVN
- SpectraFix Fixative https://amzn.to/3caxSGn
- Fine Mist sprayer (to put the fixative in) https://amzn.to/3iaaLPW
- Soft Tools blenders https://amzn.to/3MT0Fiw
Supplies used in the colored pencil portion of the video (affiliate links)
- Arches Hot Pressed Watercolor Paper https://amzn.to/3z5BmX2
- Derwent Drawing Colored Pencils https://amzn.to/3auY80f
- Derwent Lightfast Colored Pencils https://amzn.to/3atN2bP
- Caran d’Ache Luminance https://amzn.to/3avcY6T
- Faber Castell Polychromos https://amzn.to/3z9nMSm
- Gamsol (for blending) https://amzn.to/38smGpR
- Touchup Texture and Titanium White mixed together from http://brushandpencil.com
- Glassine https://amzn.to/3wdOyVN
Colors used for the skintones and hair:
As always, you do NOT need to use the same colors or brands of pencils I’m using. The values are what you want to focus on, but this can give you an idea of the colors I chose.
Derwent Drawing: Chocolate, mars violet, sepia red, mars orange, white, ink blue, wheat, venetian red, smoke blue, terracotta, ruby earth, sanguine, light sienna
Derwent Lightfast: nightshade, midnight blue, arctic, white, fossil grey, chocolate, forest, black, flesh pink, bordeaux, merlot, brown ochre, blue violet, purple, warm grey, mars violet, cloud grey, wild lavender, sepia (red), salmon, wheat
Caran d’Ache Luminance: brown sienna 50%, turquoise blue, sepia 10%, burnt ochre 50%, Anth. Pink, Violet, burnt sienna 50%
Polychromos: caput mortuum, black, burnt umber, venetian red, dark flesh, bistre
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