I find myself getting questions from readers about various art medium and technique.  So, I have decided to dedicate a page on this site to those questions. If you have a question that you would like answered, please send me an email at info@pencilportrait.org.

Question: Do I have to use the Tortillion as a blending tool?

Answer: No.
There are many blending tools that artists use for various effects.  Different papers can be used by rolling or twisting them up into an easily controlled tool.  I have seen people use felt or terry cloth.  Tissue paper is popular.  I have seen people use bathroom tissue and paper towels but I do not recommend doing that.  Cheap paper products contain acids that will decrease the life of your artwork.  Also, never use your finger as a blending tool.  The oils from your skin will transfer to the paper and you will be very unhappy with the results.

I prefer using the tortillions because they are good for blending tiny detail, they are easy to use and are inexpensive.  Experiment with different tools to see what works best for you.

Question: I read in your book that you advocate tracing a photograph to start your portrait.  Isn't that cheating?

Answer: No
Have you ever hired a carpenter to do work for you, or have you ever done carpentry work?  One of the most important tools that a carpenter uses is a level.  He uses it to make sure that every strut, beam and panel is perfectly straight.  Would you want him to build a room on the back of your house if he refused to use the level and insisted on building everything by sight alone?  Of course not.  As soon as he started doing that you would fire him and get a replacement.  Why? Because you want it done right, you want it to be as level and straight as possible.

It is the same with your portraits.  Granted, if you have developed the skills to draw a perfect rendering of your subject by sight alone then you may choose to do just that.  However, you may spend days working on the initial sketch in order to make sure it is exactly right.  If so, you will end up with the exact same sketch as you would have by tracing the primary facial features.  The only difference is that drawing it freehand may take you days, when tracing will only take a couple of minutes.  Remember, that initial sketch is nothing more than a guideline to make sure you have all of the proportions correct.  The real art in your portrait is turning that sketch into a realistic portrayal of your subject.  Don't be fooled.  Professional artists throughout history have used various tools, including tracing, to make sure everything is correct.

So, make use of the tools you have available to you, just like a carpenter that uses a level.  You will be very happy with the result, you will save lots of time and you will avoid many hours of frustration.