Rendering Realistic Graphite Portraits. Book introduction by Jeremy Lee.

Pencil, on A4 paper
Pencil, on A4 paper | Source

Rendering realistic Portraits

These are the first few words and selected paragraphs from a new book on drawing that will soon be released as an e-book, initially priced at $2.99 or thereabouts. At present it has over 33,000 words and over 100 illustrations. I am looking for reviewers who will receive a free copy.

The reason I wrote the book is that there are literally hundreds of books on sketching and drawing, but I can't find a decent one that takes it to the next level and teaches people the methods used to create a finished work of art with nothing more than a pencil and paper.

If you would like to be informed when this e-book is on the market and at a very good value, please register an interest in the comment section or through my web site " spooks art".

The aim is to teach how to observe and render realistic objects with the ultimate goal to make detailed portraits that transcend simple photographic representation. It should help new students, and those already established.

About this book

After much practice, and interaction with other graphite artists, I've noticed that a specialised lexicon is common. These words and definitions are key to the ability to communicate process and technique to other artists. One of the barriers that I first encountered when seriously learning the craft was to find solid definitions of fundamental concepts as simple as the example 'value'. It is unfortunate that this word is in common use outside of the world of painting and illustration because that fact makes it difficult for the novice to isolate a relevant definition.

In this book, we explore the language used by graphite artists in preparation for descriptions on how to produce effects like: 3D, pop, form, shadow, light, texture, weight, balance, pattern, layering, luminosity, contrast and so on. There are well over 100 illustrations to assist careful descriptions.

In art, detail is critical. I need to qualify this. Attention to detail comes from careful observation. This is an analytical process which is a foundation of creativity. Only once you, as the creative entity, can truly appreciate the fine detail of what you depict, are you fully qualified to remove all that is not essential. The decision to remove or include detail depends upon your artistic choices and reason for producing the artwork. Let's consider the following highly detailed visual statement about my left hand.

My hand

A visual exercise in observation.
A visual exercise in observation. | Source

The first question about this work is, "What is it trying to say?" Only then can we decide what to leave out. The reason I drew this was as an exercise. It was to learn about skin texture, folds, tiny hairs, pores, shadow, form, value, tendons, bones, nails and so on. The idea is to communicate as many features about my hand as possible. To that end, no details once observed were to be left out. This extreme detail is at the other end of the scale when placed with works like that of Turner, Rothko, Mondrian and many others who sought to communicate with a very limited level of detail. There is no doubt in my mind that all these famous artists had already mastered the ability to keenly observe and reproduce what they see in fine detail but simply chose a new challenge.

Some might say that the ideal level of detail is to remove everything that is not essential to the artwork. Such minimalistic ideals have their place but like most idealistic philosophical goals, it can be limiting. For example, at what point do you stop removing detail? At what point does something that is easily described as art turn into nothing more than an object?

Don't forget that incredible detail fascinates the average observer so there is nothing wrong with expressing art in that way.


Introduction

It's commonly thought and taught that we either operate in a left brain mode for logical mathematical and analytic things, or a right brain mode for creative and intuitive problem solving.

The left-brain, right-brain contest in my opinion has been over-done. We use all of our brain, all of the time. It does seem to be true that certain analytical processes and in particular speech, is processed in the left hemisphere. Logic tends to be used for problem solving in the left hemisphere. Art -- that is creative art as opposed to illustration or mechanical copying is now almost universally called a right-brain activity. This not the whole story.

We need to use both analytic and logical processes in tandem with non-verbal intuitive thought in order to be successfully creative, and to solve problems. One might be tempted to think that modern abstract art and much contemporary art is purely a product of the right-brain. I challenge this. There are an extremely high number of very poor abstract art creations floating around the market. It seems that anyone who can pick up a brush and slap some colours on to a canvas could be called an artist. There have been cases where the art critics have been totally fooled by these pieces of work, and I think that tells us more about the critics than the art. For example the two year old Freddie W.R. Linsky as chronicled in the Uk's daily mail when his mother strung together some flowery pretentious words convinced a Manchester artist and collector to make a purchase. A gallery in Berlin wanted him to showcase his talents.

Excellent abstract art is invariably produced by people who are masters of drawing and technique. This is because good abstract art is hard. In a proper abstract work, all representational elements are removed leaving other components of an artwork to do the work. These components must do more work than normal in order to be successful. One might be tempted to think that once the burden of representation is removed, there is little else to do but switch on that right brain and slap paint around. That is nonsense. Just because there is no representational component, it does not mean that the artist can also forget about balance, emotion, impact, dominant hue, complementary colours, weight, compositional elements, focal point, many other components of the painting and... light fastness, texture, translucency, permanence, drying rate, support stability and a myriad other left-brain based essential knowledge.

The same argument holds for a representational monochromatic work. Just because the burden of hue has been removed, it does not trivialise the act of making good art. It is similar for abstract works. The difference of course is that it is much harder to measure the success of an abstract work compared to a representational work. People are naturally more familiar with representational works than pure abstracts which makes it easier in general to judge.

I maintain that an artist must first be a technician in order to permit the creative process to succeed. To that end, this book is filled with description of techniques. Visual mark-making artistic expression is not that far removed from being a musician. The musician requires a knowledge of notes, harmonies, layers, beat, riffs, melody and many deep technicalities on how to make a non-raucous noise from any particular instrument. Artists too, need to know how to make marks on paper using left-brain techniques. Artists who wish to make a life-like representational work need to analyse the subjects deeply. This means that we need to look very closely indeed at objects. We must view them with a different goal than the non-artist. We need to consider how light strikes an object, how it is reflected, and where it goes after that. We need to know ways to simulate texture, form and value and look at negative space as well as the object itself. In a way, you need to teach your left brain how and when to let go. If it makes sense to paint using your non-dominant hand, then this may well be a left-brain decision. Both hemispheres are necessary to produce art.

Once technique has become second nature, and you no longer need to work analytically, the creative process can come into play. What I hope to do in this book is to provide the tools to release creative freedom, and one of those tools, is to learn how to see like an artist. This means to abandon our normal way of looking, and submit to an observational view rather than a knowledge-based view that we so often use as non-artists. This also means being allowed to alter the representation of the subject under study for greater artistic effect, but do so on the back of solid technique.

Sample paragraph on the term "angle"

Angle

Lines which are drawn or implied and are not either horizontal or vertical create a dramatic effect. Diagonal and angled lines help to accentuate a subject or lead the eye to a specific place in the drawing. Sometimes, the diagonal lines are made from parts of the subject. Sometimes the lines will be part of the background. As with any tool, don’t over use the idea. Ideas that are over used become boring. It’s important to locate where the angles fit in your composition. For example, the jaw-line, tilt of head, slant of mouth etc. These angles work together to make the picture homogenous and each is related to the other. Another major point to note about angles is related to curves in the following way: If you simply observe and try to copy the curve from an ear to chin, then your brain will over emphasise the extent of the curve. To properly reproduce a curve like this, draw or imagine an angled line running along the curve. You will find that the curved part is only a very slight deviation from the angled line. It is for this reason that beginners in portraiture have problems with the outline of the face. Beginners tend to draw cheeks that bulge too far and it looks very odd.

The curves found on a face are often closer to a straight line than we realise at first sight.
The curves found on a face are often closer to a straight line than we realise at first sight.

In the example early sketch above, notice how little the curve of the woman's cheek deviates from a perfect straight line. Look for these strategic lines in your portraiture references and study not so much the curve, but how little it deviates from a straight line. For this reason, you can sometimes create a contour drawing of curved objects using only straight lines.

This is one of the useful tips revealed in the book.

Carbon pencils

Carbon is a little like charcoal because it is the result of burning something. You may also know of something called lamp-black. This is the soot that accumulates on the glass of an old-style burning lamp. It is sticky, very dark, and matte.

You can make your own lamp-black simply by holding an old spoon over the top of a paraffin candle flame. It creates a dark sticky dust that you can paint onto your drawing surface. As you can see from the photograph below, it makes a lovely non-shiny black but it is difficult to completely erase. It does well for shadow areas.

Make your own lamp black

Hold an old spoon over a candle flame to make a useful deep dark value for shadow areas without graphite-shine.
Hold an old spoon over a candle flame to make a useful deep dark value for shadow areas without graphite-shine.

Hard point for embossing

Embossing is a very interesting, fun, useful and sometimes almost essential tool. This is where you draw invisible lines with a blunt but pointy instrument to deliberately crush the tooth. If you make a deep enough groove then a layer of graphite or charcoal applied over the top will not fill the groove. It’s quite magical to see the previously invisible marks show up. This technique has been seen in TV cop-shows where the suspect’s note pad has been left at a crime scene. The detective takes a pencil and scribbles over the paper left behind to reveal what was written in the layer above. It takes a bit of planning and the difficult part is seeing where you have embossed before putting the graphite layer on top. It should be possible to get around this by using a bright directional desk lamp held at a shallow angle.

Embossing on white paper will preserve white marks despite all the layers that will follow. The only way to darken an embossed mark is to fill it using a very sharp pencil or perhaps work the graphite in using a soft brush. This, as any technique you learn or invent is perfectly valid. If it makes sense to emboss, then draw in the groove, then do it

Embossing can be done after any layer. You could emboss, apply a light layer, then emboss again and so on. This gives you the ability to create the full range of tones.

The technique was very useful for this very small (6cm) drawing of Ben Barba:

Embossed hair

The small white and near-white flecks in this dark hair was produced using the embossing technique.
The small white and near-white flecks in this dark hair was produced using the embossing technique.

Feedback

I'd love to hear from budding artists, and those already highly skilled. If you have specific questions about rendering using graphite, charcoal, carbon or about paper types, pencils etc please ask and if it's not already in the book, then I'll include the answer.

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Comments 2 comments

Skyler Raine 4 years ago

I'm a budding artist and since I'm on a limited budget all I use for sketching are plain white copy paper and Walmart sketching pencils (4H-8B). Are there better (cheap) tools I should use?


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Manna in the wild 4 years ago from Australia Author

Hi. You will find the biggest variable is the paper. You can buy by the sheet. Try to find something that takes dark well and erases easily. Go for a heavier paper than copy paper. Use cheap light mechanical pencils from a stationery shop.

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