Monday, November 4, 2013

Change of Plans

Sometimes art takes you in a different direction than you had originally planned. In my last post I presented a reference photo and had created a preliminary sketch on paper to begin a pencil drawing of the female form. That project sat for a long time and I never completed it. There was always something that kept me away from it. Other projects, other interests (roller derby being one of them) and basic life in general pretty much kept me away from art for several months.

Then I read a book by Jacqueline Carey called Kushiel's Dart. I became completely enraptured with the main character of that book, Phedre no Delaunay. One day I was looking at the original photograph that I had taken of my model, Tamara Tenny, and I realized that I was looking at a photograph of Phedre. Everything from the curve of her back to the expression on her face was that character to me and it dawned on me that as I had been reading, I had been seeing her in the character.

That, for me, is where technique moves into the realm of art. I could no longer be satisfied with simply creating a drawing that demonstrated technique. I had to create the character that I had become so obsessed with.  I had to create a work of art that brought about the same emotion in me that I experienced while reading the book. So, I started over.

There was no way I could express what I wanted in a work that was only 11x14. So, I searched my stash and found a sheet of 20x30 cold press illustrator board that would work perfectly. It's smooth finish was ideal for the techniques I use and with that size, I would be able to capture that beauty that was the character. Not only the physical beauty, but the beauty of her personality.


Kushiel's Dart is set in a mythical world several hundred years ago. The kind of wall that my model was standing against is not appropriate for that time period. It is also not appropriate for the upper class world in which the character existed. My original thought was to have her standing in front of a marble pillar that would be illuminated by the light at the lower left but fade into blackness on the right. But the more I studied the work as I was creating it, the more I realized that too many things would be lost in the contrast of the darkness against her hair and that contrast with the body being lit from the distant light source on the right would be way too much. So, instead of a marble pillar, I decided to go with a solid marble wall. A Google image search brought me several options that I could choose from, but none of the results were really what I was looking for. In the end, I simply created my own marble based on many of the images that I had found. 

I began by sketching in some of the striations and deformities that would be inherent in the marble. Then starting in the lower left corner I began VERY lightly laying in some graphite, making sure that there was a lot of variation in the level of intensity (for more information about my techniques in laying down graphite and using the tortillion, please see my Lessons page.) Once the graphite was laid down, I used a medium sized tortillion to smooth and blend the graphite to create a line free depiction of a marble wall. 

I normally start a portrait from the eyes and work my way out. But since this one was so large, I was afraid that if I did not work from left to right, I would end up accidentally damaging work by laying my hand on a finished area. I also wanted to make sure I utilized the same light source in the finished piece as I did in the photograph.  In the photograph, the light was coming from a directional lamp that I had on the floor pointing up. My vision of the drawing is that she is standing near a fireplace and the illumination is coming from the fire. 

The Stages

There is not much to tell about the following images. If you have followed my lessons in the past then you know that I do not draw objects or people. I simply recreate lights and shadows using graphite. For the lighter areas I used a Derwent 2B woodless graphite pencil and for the darker areas, like the drape she is holding and her hair, I used a Derwent 6B woodless graphite pencil. If you have any questions about anything you see here, please email me and let me know. Or comment on this post. 

The last thing to do for this project was to create the tattoo that is a very important part of the story of Kushiel's Dart. The problem I ran into was that I did not agree with the publisher's official design. To me it did not evoke what was described in the book. So, I decided to create my own tattoo design based on what I saw while I was reading. 
"With some effort, I recognised the underlying design, which was based on a very old pattern, the briar rose. Somehow Master Tielhard had kept the dramatic vigor of the archaic lines, yet infused them with a subtlety that spoke at once of the vine, the bond and the lash. The thorny lines were stark black, accented in only a few choice hollows with a teardrop of scarlet - a petal, a drop of blood, the mote in my eye."
(Ph├Ędre no Delaunay, Kushiel's Dart)
The following image is the completed piece with my own version of Phedre's Marque.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

New Graphite Project: Tammi

I have been getting a lot of requests from people to expand upon the pencil portrait lessons and start working on the full body instead of just the face. I have been blessed with the friendship of an amazing woman that has agreed to, not only be my model, but to co-write my next book with me. The book will cover as many aspects of drawing the female form realistically as possible. To that end, I would really like to hear from you. What would you like to see in this book? What areas do you have problems with that you would like to see us cover?

We are just getting started with the art for this book and have done very little writing at this point. But we have done an amazing photo shoot that I'm sure you will absolutely love as reference material for your own learning.

Over the next few weeks, as we begin work on the book, we will be posting a series of lessons that will deal with a bit more than just the face. The photo we have chosen for this lesson includes muscle definition in the back, dramatic lighting, Tattoos, fabric and a texture for the background. The following image is what we will be using for this project.

We will be working with:
  • Strathmore Bristol smooth 100 lb stock 11 x 14. 
  • A good quality 2B pencil
  • A click eraser
  • A selection of tortillions

If you have any questions regarding any of the tools please see the lesson entitled The Right Tools

I choose to work with Strathmore Bristol smooth 100 lb stock because I like to get as smooth of a surface as possible in order to get a nice even blend with the shading. But here is a little tip for getting an even smoother surface. The face of the paper is designed with a certain texture specific for certain artistic needs. But if you turn the paper over and use the back side, you will find that it is even smoother still. 

Once the tools have been gathered you have to create your initial sketch. I go over several methods of doing this in a previous tutorial called Creating the Initial Sketch. The method that you choose is entirely up to you and what you are comfortable with. As in previous lessons, we are working from a photograph instead of creating a figure out of nothing. So make the best use you can out of the reference available

Below is a scan of my initial sketch. Please note that the lines you see here are a lot darker than what is actually on my paper. You can barely see what is on my paper so I had to enhance the image a great deal in order to show it to you. Remember that you will be erasing or drawing over all of these lines as you progress so you want them very light and easy to erase. Also, if you put too much pressure with the pencil on your initial sketch you will cause indentations in the paper. If you need to blend over those indentations (as will be done with the definitions in her back and with the draping) you will end up with very unpleasant lines where the graphite is having to work over them. 

As you can see, I only sketched out the roughest of details in order to use as a guideline for the rest of the work. At this point I have some decisions to make. Mainly in what order to work on the various elements. Most likely I will start with the face because it is most important for detail. If the face does not work correctly then the entire project will look wrong and I will have to start over. From there I will move to her body, likely starting with her left hand and making my way towards the right. Since I am right handing, this will lessen the chances of my hand damaging work I have already done. Then I will work on the wall behind her. This is going to take a lot more work that you might imagine because of the texture detail. If done incorrectly it could look flat and boring or it could be way too exaggerated and completely take away from the beauty of the subject. We want the viewer's eye to be drawn to her, not the background. Finally we will work on the fabric and hair. I want to leave the darkest areas for last because using that much graphite can get very messy if you aren't careful, plus there is a technique to getting a darker coverage but in order to do that, the rest of the image needs to be complete. 

That's it for now. Mull over what I have said here. Work on getting you supplies together and creating your initial sketch. I will be back in a few days to talk about the next step. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

First Art Tutorial Video: Yellow Rose Colored Pencil

This is the first of what I hope to be a long series of art tutorial videos. This image is the finished project. So, click play on the video below and enjoy.

Supplies List:

Strathmore Smooth Bristle acid free 100 lb white paper

Prismacolor Art Markers:
  • Dark Green (art marker)
  • Canary Yellow (art marker)
Prismacolor Premier Colored Pencils:
  • Carmine Red PC926
  • Mineral Orange PC1033
  • Warm Gray 20% PC1051
  • Canary Yellow PC916
  • Sienna Brown PC945
  • White PC938
  • Dark Green PC908

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Art for Alzheimer patients.

Art for therapy has always been very important in my life.  When I was a teenager and a young adult, I used art to help me get through tough times.  My art was how I expressed the difficulties I was going through.  Recently I have seen more and more people promoting the use of art for healing purposes.  This video on CNN shows how art is used to enrich the lives of people with Alzheimer.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tuesday Afternoon - The Evolution of the Design

The Inspiration

A couple of years ago I drew a quick sketch that I stuck away in a sketch book and forgot about.  A few weeks ago I was going through my old sketches and it caught my eye.  As I was looking at it, a finished piece started to form in my mind.  I imagined a faerie sitting on a the hands of a clock with a couple of birds.

The sketch itself had some problems and needed some work, so I spent a few minutes fixing those issues and went looking for reference material for the final piece.

The Elements

I can't remember life as an artist before the internet and Photoshop.  I must have blocked it out because life is so much easier now.  What used to take hours at the library searching for reference material and possibly days drawing and redrawing to come up with the perfect design can now be done in a very short time.

I sat at my trusty laptop and searched for three things: a clock face, doves and wings.  I found three images that I liked and saved them.  I separated the doves from an image that contained several birds and started putting the image together.


The composition of a piece of artwork is as important as the composition of a great piece of music.  All of the elements must work with each other and they must fit into a framework that is pleasing to the viewer.  Centuries of studying great artists have lead to the discovery of the use of the Golden Mean.

The Golden Mean, or Golden Ratio, is a geometrical concept derived from the mathematical Pi.  There are tons of websites that describe how it all works on a mathematical level involving the Fibonacci Sequence.  But for our purposes on this site, I am simply going to show you what it looks like when drawn visually.

So what does this have to do with artistic composition?  For some reason that has yet to be accurately explained, the human brain absolutely loves this visual design.  The eye follows the spiral line to it's natural conclusion and everyone is happy.  Have you ever noticed that vacation snap shots tend to be boring, but professional images of the same locations can be stunning?  We live in a very ordered society.  Everything has to be compartmentalized, labeled and put in its place.  So when we take a snap shot we try to do the same thing.  We put our main subject directly in the center and the horizon line exactly halfway down.  The professional photographer does not do that.  They almost always have the main subject off center and the horizon line is never in the middle.  The closer the photographer composes his shot to the Golden Mean, the more appealing his final image will be.  The same goes for art.  It doesn't matter what direction the spiral is going, but the elements in your final design should always follow its lead.

With all of this in mind I started putting my elements together in Photoshop for a first draft of the design. I liked this ok, but it did not have the dynamic pop that I was looking for.  It did not express the emotion that I was wanting to present and the faerie, as well as the doves, got lost in the mass of purple I used for the clock face.  It did not looks so much like constructed work of art as it did a really weird acid trip.

I also noticed that I put the clock hand right across the middle.  Essentially putting the horizon line exactly where I was not supposed to put the horizon line.

Finally, the image was very top heavy.  The bottom of the image was just empty space.

Fixing the design

The first thing I decided to do was to create my own clock face instead of relying on photo reference from the internet.  This was simple enough to do in Photoshop.  I'm not going to go into detail here about how to use Photoshop, there are lots of tutorial based web sites that will give you all of the information you need to know.  Once I got the clock face created I decided that instead of making the whole thing one solid color, I would turn the clock face itself into a stained glass window.

I remembered one of my art books having a tutorial on how to create stained glass using watercolor.  So, I scanned an image from that book as an additional element to my composition.  I knew I was not going to use this exact stained glass design for my final image, but this would at least allow me to do a mock-up to use as a guide for my finished piece.

I found a different reference for the wings.  I did a LOT of distorting a duplicating in Photoshop to get the wings to look exactly the way I wanted them.  Then I had to deal with the empty space at the bottom.  The faerie obviously had a piece of fabric wrapped around her body, so I decided to continue that fabric into a long drape that she was sitting on.  A quick web search resulted in a window drape that worked nicely with a bit of tweaking and distortion. 

Final Draft

So here is my final draft.  In future postings I will talk about the processes of designing the stained glass, transferring the design and how to bring each of the elements to life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Yellow Rose - A Tutorial

Pencil Portrait Lessons is going color! I am currently working on a new book called The Real World of Colored Pencil.  As I create the tutorials for that book, I will be presenting them here.  Those that read this site will have access to them long before the book is ever released.

So, let's get started!

Our Goal

This image is our final goal.  I decided to create this tutorial because it demonstrates a very important issue when dealing with color: The importance of seeing the colors that actually exist.  At first you might think that all you need to represent the petals is yellow and maybe red.  The background looks like it might be just a couple of colors of green.  The reality is I used 12 different colors to create this final image.
Decision Time

This is the original photograph that we will be working from.  Before you start, many decisions must be made.  My first decision was realism.  How realistic do I want to make my final piece.  I decided to go with a more artistic look as apposed to seeking photo-realism.  I wanted a soft, but powerful image.

The next decision was cropping.  I wanted the flower to stand out and make a strong statement.  So, I made the background considerably smaller than the flower itself.

Next decision was tools.  Paper was easy to decide on.  I wanted bright vivid colors so the paper needed to be pure white.  I also wanted a smooth finish without texture but enough of a tooth to get good solid pigment coverage.  I went with Strathmore Smooth Bristle acid free 100 lb white.

After spending a couple of hours studying the image and looking closely at the colors it contained, I decided to go with the following Prismacolore Premier Pencils and Art Markers:
  • Dark Green (art marker)
  • Canary Yellow (art marker)
  • Carmine Red PC926
  • Mineral Orange PC1033
  • Warm Gray 20% PC1051
  • Canary Yellow PC916
  • Sienna Brown PC945
  • White PC938
  • Dark Green PC908
  • Spring Green PC913
  • Periwinkle PC1025
  • Black Grape PC996


I created the initial sketch with a Derwent 2B drawing pencil.  The sketch was a lot lighter than what you see here, but it was necessary to enhance it so you could see what I have done.

There are many ways that you can do an underpainting. You can use watercolor, watercolor pencil, markers or any number of media.  I decided to use the Prismacolor Premier Art Markers.  An underpainting is important because colored pencils are difficult to completely cover an area.  In most cases, little bits of the paper will show through unless you really overdo the pigment.  I used to do that and suffered from a problem called Wax Bloom.  I put so much wax on the paper that over time it all rose to the surface and clouded the original image making it dull and lackluster.

Using the Canary Yellow and the Dark Green art markers I quickly laid in the base colors for the image.  I was not too concerned at the point on making it look smooth since I was going to cover the whole thing with pencil anyway.

Canary Yellow Marker

I want the background to be dynamic.  I want it to give the illusion that there is more vegetation behind the rose, but the detail is out of focus.  One of the fantastic properties of the Prismacolor art markers is you can blend a light color right on top of a darker color without damaging the lighter marker.  In this case, I used the technique to put in some yellow/green patches.  Later, this will allow for some very interesting colored pencil effects.
Carmine Red PC926

Colored pencils are transparent.  Because of this it is beneficial to work with darker colors first. Lighter colors can be used over the darker ones making blending fairly simple.

Here I used the red on the tips of some of the petals and used light circular strokes to start laying in some of the shadow areas.  This is the beginning of defining the depth or the image.  Also note the red that was added to the stem.

The key to good colored pencil is working in layers.  This is starting the first layer.  Don't forget to pay close attention to your original reference photo.  Everything you need to know for you work is in the photo.  Study it very carefully and refer to it constantly.
Mineral Orange PC1033

The orange is used to further enhance the shadowed areas and to blend some of the red that was laid down in the last step.
Warm Gray 20% PC1051

A lot of artist will reach for black the instant they want to darken something.  It is better to use a value of gray.  I chose warm gray for this because the yellows and reds are warm colors.  I chose 20% because I did not want to go extremely dark, I just wanted to desaturate some areas giving the impression of depth.

Remember, art is nothing more than an illusion.  We want the brain to look at some of the petals and think they are actually behind the others, when in reality it is nothing more than a two dimensional image.  Desaturating color is a excellent way to establish this illusion.
Canary Yellow PC916

The bright Canary Yellow is used over all of the flower.  It is also used to blend all of the colors you have laid down so far, resulting in a much smoother transition from color to color.
White PC938

Don't forget to keep in mind that all you are doing is reproducing light and shadow.  Look closely at the original photo and notice where they light reflects the brightest.  Those areas appear to be white.  The next step in creating this illusion is to add white colored pencil to those area.
Mineral Orange PC1033 

The next layer of Mineral Orange is used to further deepen the shadowed areas.
Canary Yellow PC916

The final layer of yellow is applied pretty heavy.  Use the yellow as a burnishing layer to blend and smooth out the rest of the colors.
Sienna Brown PC945

At this point I decided that there was not enough contrast between the lighter and darker areas.  I considered using a darker gray, but I was not looking to mute the color.  I was looking to make the color more dramatic.  So, I used the Sienna Brown in the darkest areas.

That darker color against the white highlights really added dimension and color to the project.
Dark Green PC908

Finally we get to start on the background.  Put a thin layer of Dark Green over the entire background.  You don't want to cover everything up.  Make sure the yellow areas can be clearly seen through the layer of green.

Also notice that the leaves of the rose now get a layer of green to differentiate them from the flower itself.  Pay close attention to the stem.  Using the Dark Green, lay in the shadow areas of the stem.
Spring Green PC913

Spring Green is used to fill out the lighter green areas of the background as well and lay in the lighter areas of the stem.
Periwinkle PC1025

If you looked closely at the original photograph you noticed that there was a lot of light blue in the bacgkround as well as the stem of the flower.

I chose Periwinkle for the blue because it blends very well with the greens that we just finished using.
Dark Green PC908

Final layer for the Dark Green.  Use it to deepen the contrast between the lighter green and the blue.  More contrast means more drama.  If we really want to make this image pop, we should attempt to make it dramatic.
Black Grape PC996

The only real purpose for the Black Grape was to outline the border.  The dark tones in this color complement the blues and reds in the rest of the image.  It may be subtle, but the brain will pick up on it.  Using a solid black would not have been near as pleasant.

I used a short plastic ruler as a straight edge to make sure the lines were as perfect as I could get them.  Then I used the Dark Green to fill in some areas that remained white between the border and the background.
That wraps it up for this tutorial. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments. Thank you so much for joining me in this project. I look forward to sharing more projects and discussions soon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

David Deen - Everybody should have one

This image was created by an incredible artist by the name of David Deen.  I have the true honor of calling him my friend.  He created this image as a book cover for War of the Outcast written by another good friend: Michales Warwick Joy.

I met David at the first Science Fiction Fantasy convention that I ever attended.  His work was absolutely stunning and I made it a goal to get to know him that weekend.  I am so happy that I did.  Like any other aspiring artist, I was full of questions about techniques and how to possibly make a living with art.  When I asked him how he makes his colored pencil work so realistic, he gave me four bits of advice.
  • Don't be afraid to use dark colors
  • Use a lot of pigment
  • Use good quality pencils
  • Focus on one inch of your work at a time
I took his advice and immediately following the convention I purchased a good set of PrismaColor pencils and created Monarch; the first of my butterfly series.

In the years since, David has gone on to be one of the most popular artists in the midwest convention circuit, he has created many book covers and most recently worked on a popular young adult series called Groovy Tubes.  Be sure to check out Groovy Tubes: Mythical Beasts at Amazon.  

David has been a true inspiration to me and is the primary reason why I became an artist instead of just using art as a hobby.  When I met him, my work was amateur at best, but he saw potential and treated me as an equal artist.  Each of us needs a David in our lives.  Someone that encourages us and believes in our dreams. Someone that not only sees us for who we are but sees us for who we will be.

I encourage you to seek out local artists, go to art shows and talk to them, comment on their blogs and get to know them.  What you will learn from them can be amazing and take your life in wonderful directions.

I owe a debt of gratitude to David and I highly recommend you check out his web site -  If you are interested in learning his artistic techniques, check out his newsletter Imprint.  He has two series on his site, one detailing an incredible work of art using colored pencil and the other using acrylics. 

If you have your own version of David Deen, your own artistic inspiration, please let us know in the comments.  We love to promote other artists and to hear their success stories.