Monday, May 12, 2008

The Right Tools

The first thing I want to talk about is selecting the right tools for this technique. Every project requires its own tools. You wouldn't replace the drywall in your house with automotive tools. You would want to make sure you had exactly the right tools to get exactly the results you wanted. The world of art is no different.

Your Subject
This image is of a portrait that I did for a very close friend of mine in Texas. She is a beautiful young woman with a wonderful soul. I worked from a photograph, but I also tried to capture the elements of her personality that I have come to know and love. That brings me to the first tool that you strive to acquire: an intimate knowledge of your subject.

I have worked from photos of celebrities and have been able to duplicate the photos fairly well, but I do not know those celebrities. I have never spent time around them and learned what makes them laugh and what makes them cry. So, I was not able to capture the essence of the subject. When I did this portrait of Sarah, what I knew of her personality came through. When I looked at the finished work, I realized that it looked more like her than the original photo did.

Once you have your subject and your knowledge of that subject, you are ready to decide what tools you are going to use. We are starting this blog working with pencil, so those are the only tools that I will talk about right now. As we get into other media in the future I will discuss the tools that you need to accomplish each technique. Bare minimum, you are going to need the following tools:
You can of course use any pencil lying around and any piece of paper that you can scrounge up, but let's face it, you would not be happy with the results. There are lots of expensive styles of art out there, but this is not one of them. Even the most expensive materials are still rather cheap when you consider the end result. I strongly encourage you to invest a few dollars on the best tools that you can find. I would recommend trying your local art stores like:
You will not get very far without a pencil, and it is very important that you choose the right pencils for your project. Graphite pencils are numbered from 9H to 9B. This determines the hardness of the pencil lead, with 9H being the hardest and 9B being the softest. The harder the lead, the more precise detail you can achieve, but you will end up with lighter images. The softer leads will produce rich dark tones, but you will not get the fine detail that you may be wanting. At some point you will want to invest in a full set of pencils and use multiple pencils in each drawing. But for our purposes in this blog, we will be focusing on a 2B.

Don't skimp out! This tool and your paper are the two most important items that you will be using. Go ahead and splurge the $1.25 that it takes to purchase a good one.

There are way too may aspects of paper to even begin touching the surface in this blog. What I want to focus on is quality and finish. There are two primary finishes that you will want to work with at first: Cold Press and Hot Press. Cold press paper is created by forcing the paper between two cold cylinders. The result is a paper with a bit of a texture to it. Hot press is just the opposite. The cylinders are hot, resulting in a much smoother finish. There are pros and cons to both of them but this is the basic gist. Cold press, or textured, paper will pull more graphite from your pencil resulting in darker and richer tones. However, the down side is that you will not be able to get the same detail that you can get from the smooth surface of a hot pressed paper. I prefer to get as much detail as I can. Therefore I use a hot press. As you begin working with the medium you will decide for yourself what works best for each project.

Now I want to talk about quality for a moment. A good quality paper will hold up very well. This technique is pretty brutal on the paper. A cheaper grade of paper will not hold up as well and you will end up with the paper fibers actually breaking apart and your paper starting to disintegrate. You can get a really good pad of paper for anywhere between $7 and $15. Spend the money. You will be happy that you did.

For our purposes we will be using a nice 100 lb Bristol vellum.

Everyone has their favorite erasers. Most artists use a kneaded eraser, many use a gum eraser, I use a click eraser. Yup, the white erasers that they sell in the school supply isle for $1.50. It works just fine for me. The benefit of a kneaded eraser is that you can knead it like play-do to create fine tip points to lift out graphite to create highlights. If you want to use one, by all means. They are wonderful for that purpose. I just never use them myself.

A tortillion is basically a tightly wound roll of paper that is used to blend graphite. It is actually the key to doing the style of art that we are discussing here. Without this tool, you will never get the smooth gradations of tone that you need to get a photo-realistic look. The good news is that this is the cheapest of all of your tools. You can usually get several in a package for around a dollar.

Pencil Sharpener
What pencil sharpener you use is entirely your choice. Just keep in mind that you will want a nice sharp lead for most of the work that you are doing. So, don't skimp out too cheaply.

That is about it for tools. In our next discussion we will talk about different methods of getting an initial sketch of your subject. There are several ways you can make sure that your proportions are accurate and that your details are in exactly the right place.


Stacy said...

Hi Michael! I'm here checking the place out. Your drawings are beautiful and I can tell from this post that you are very knowledgeable. I definitely think it is time for you to pick up your pencils again. :)

Michael said...

Stacey, thank you for your kind words. With people like you encouraging me, I might actually be able to keep this up. :)

Anonymous said...

I love this site. I would like to also say you can make your own tortillons very easily and the home made ones work just as well as the store bought.