This is clearly not the right approach. Especially because… As I begin shading the mouth, I will need to make adjustments to the nose area, so everything fits together. As I begin shading the cheek, I will need to make adjustments to the eye area, so everything fits together. And so on.
In most of my posts, I tend to be pretty positive (i.e. “Whoa, today went better than expected…”, “I’m really pleased with today’s progress…”, “I can’t believe how good this is…”, etc.).
After working for about an hour, I was able to finish sketching the outline of the head, hair, and neck.
With all the steps documented, it’s now time to deliberately practice the most important skills.
Then, over the next 3.5 weeks, I completed a 10-hour drawing course, drew a few other people, and then spent 8 hours on a new self-portrait.
And here’s my attempt to locate the peak of her hair, the lowest point of her chin (again on the chin’s left side), the rightmost point of her cheek, the leftmost point of her hair, and the notch of her neck.
Establishing the key is straightforward, and doesn’t require much visual interpretation (i.e. it’s easy to find the lightest lights and the darkest darks).
And while my most recent self-portrait is a major improvement, and does look very much like me, I still do have some quick critical thoughts on it, which I’ve broken down into two parts: 1. Likeness and 2. Artistry.
This set of 24 pencils contains every type of pencil you could wish for, from a fine, crisp 9H to a soft, smudgy 9B. The pencils were recommended to us by an artist and when we tried them out for size we could understand why. The softer pencils are great for loose sketches, while the harder ones are good for intricate detail.
Watching Derren paint, it seems like there are clear parallels between shading a drawing and painting a portrait: He sets a mid-tone color, adds the lights and darks, works his way towards the middle, and then adds detail.
Last month, it only took me 22 hours to become a grandmaster of memory.
Finally, I added in shapes for the eyelids and eyes, and finished up for the day.
M2M Day 33: There’s a science to drawing portraits, and it’s all based on trianglesToday, I spent 2.5 hours starting the drawing course and beginning my first portrait.medium.com
After my light-seeking adventure, here’s what I was able to accomplish.
This is where I stopped for the day, after another 2.5 hours of working.
However, Derren didn’t inspire me with his drawings, but rather, his paintings, like these…
In fact, I suspect that today was least consequential to the outcome of the portrait. If I mess up the shape of the head and the location of the features, I have very little chance of capturing a likeness. If the features are not quite accurately detailed, but in the right place, I still might have something…
Basically, I’ve used everything at my disposal (except for fine arts skills) to create artistically.
This sounds obvious, but again, your brain and visual system can play tricks on you. Your brain is attempting to see a face (via your psychologically skewed, emotions-based mental model of a face), and not just tonal blobs.
Considering where I started only nine days ago (see the before portrait), it’s hard for me to believe that I actually drew this. It’s not perfect, but I’m definitely excited about the outcome.
Tomorrow, I’ll write up a more thorough critique. But until then, I’m declaring this month’s challenge a success.
Today, I practiced triangulating the complete head shape and gauging the level of features.
It’s starting to look like me, but it still looks like a drawing — mostly because I haven’t blended the newly developed areas like the neck, cheek, mouth, ear, forehead, etc. Pretty much the whole thing.
They look good too. Best of all, there are 26 colours, all with a high concentration of pigment, resulting in a very dense colour application.
Yesterday, I practiced triangulating the proportions of a few celebrity heads.
Anyway, I think the takeaway is that I need to invest in a better pencil sharpener…
On December 24, 2016, after 26 hours of practice, I found out that the answer was yes.
Here are two portraits that I made for my cousins Adam and Marissa.
Yesterday, I declared this month’s challenge a success, noting the differences between my before and after self-portraits.
Then, I arbitrarily marked, on the top level, the highest point of the head, and then used the angle between this point and the bottom of the chin, to locate the bottom of the chin on the page.
I ended up across the street from my apartment at a well-lit coworking space, which was great for drawing, but not-so-great for picture-taking. The abundance of overhead lights meant that, however I positioned my body, I was always casting a shadow on the portrait.
Arguably, the contrast of the Derren Brown portrait makes it a more visually compelling portrait, but this is another topic completely (first, I wanted to master accurate portraiture before tackling well-composed portraiture).
As a result, the portrait definitely has a stunning roundness, but I wouldn’t call it photorealistic.
For my first piece, rather than drawing the model from the course, I’ve chosen to draw Derren Brown, who originally inspired me to pursuit portrait drawing.
Since I was accurate with the face shape and the level of features, if I continued working, I suspect I would develop the face fairly accurately. As a result, I would likely have enough accurate information to gradually correct the major mistakes with the head and hair shape.
M2M Day 36: Throwing some shadeThis post is part of Month to Master, a 12-month accelerated learning project. For December, my goal is to draw a…medium.com
I start by blackening one of the eyebrows. This is easy, and hopefully will help me build momentum.
Then, I simply filled in the sketch with paint according to my computer-generated instructions.
Tomorrow, I need to finish the mouth, the ear, the neck, the lower part of the beard, and perhaps the clothing.
Tim’s journey is documented in the Penn and Teller-produced film “Tim’s Vermeer”, which I highly recommend you check out.
I considered drawing in the bathroom, but this isn’t entirely comfortable. Especially because I was worried that the portrait would get wet/damaged on the sink, whose counter is the most viable drawing area.
Today, I didn’t have too much time to draw. So, I quickly progressed the Matt Damon sketch I started two days ago.
Today, I only had ten minutes to draw, so I spent all ten darkening the hair and eyebrows on my self-portrait, until they were as black as I could get them.
Well, that’s not exactly right. While I didn’t cultivate any new drawing-enabled motor skills or artistic skills, I did learned to structure my already-existing skills inside of a better drawing process.
The Derwent Pencil Museum in the Cumbrian town of Keswick is well worth a visit if you’re interested in the history of pencils. The area has a long history of pencil making, dating back to the discovery of graphite in the Borrowdale Valley. The Cumberland Pencil Company launched in 1816 and the first Derwent colour pencil was introduced in 1938.
I continued shading the darkest areas along the right side of the face.
Derren looks a bit too shiny right now — a bit like a mannequin or the Tin Man — but I’m optimistic that this effect will vanish once I model the rest of the form.
Then, I addressed the right half of the face — further developing the shadow.
Nevertheless, I must continue. So, here I go… Time to temporarily deface my work.
In other words, if the highlight on the forehead is angular, drawing it with rounded edges wouldn’t properly capture the form.
Today, for the third day in a row, I spent 2.5 hours on my Derren Brown drawing. However, unlike the other days, today, I feel like I made a lot of progress.
I’m definitely eager to start a new challenge, since I like the idea of always being in pursuit of something (which maybe suggests that I need to learn how to relax). Nevertheless, instead, these past two months, I’ve finished both challenges on Day 24 (of the month), and thus, needed to wait, without a challenge, for a week, until the next one began/begins.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the outcome — especially since I sketched this fairly quickly. I guess that means I’m improving…
This was a bit of a mistake, but a good learning opportunity. As a result of this decision, unlike with my Derren portrait, I had to pencil-shade the mid-tones on my face, leading to a slightly dirtier portrait. (In the case with Derren, where there were midtones, I left the blank paper untouched and clean).
This new challenge starts today, December 1, 2016, and, by December 31, I hope to be a master of portrait drawing.
After checking the angles again, I updated these two new points.
I’ve also experimented using optical tools (like mirrors and lens) to mechanically create. Although, I haven’t invested enough time to produce anything worth sharing.
Last month, when I was learning to memorize a deck of cards at grandmaster speeds, I started unintentionally seeing playing cards in the real-world. In particular, real-world things (like wheelchairs and airplanes), which have association in my mnemonic system, were triggering images of playing cards, without any conscious thought on my part.
Today, to celebrate the New Year, I decided to compile my personal highlights from 2016, which includes Month to Master, but also everything else from my life.
I would like to receive INDY/BEST product reviews from our home, food, fashion, sport and tech experts, every week by email
I may need to invest in some powder graphite (but I’ll return to this later).
These steps are based on the excellent portrait drawing course by Vitruvian Studio, which I highly recommend you purchase if you are serious about learning how to draw.
Clearly, I have some amount of obsessive compulsiveness going on, but I’m curious to know what you think…
With these four outer points drawn, the next step is to draw in the shape of the head. To do this, I continued to triangulate more points, and draw in the necessary curves to connect them.
I start by blocking in shadow areas near the mouth, on the forehead, and on the neck.
After many more minutes of work on the eye, I stop for the night. I’ll continue more tomorrow.
Start by identifying the absolute darkest and absolute lightest areas of the drawing. For the darkest areas, shade them as dark as you can/want. For the lightest areas, highlight them as light as you can/want.
This portrait is the example drawn in the Vitruvian Studio Portrait Drawing Course, which is the course I’ll be following this month.
Professional and amateur artists use brush pens for everything from drawings and cartoons to Manga-style artwork and calligraphy. The Pentel version is a particular favourite, mainly because it’s clean and simple to refill and doesn’t make splodges all over the page. Even if you aren’t quite in Leonardo da Vinci’s league it’s easy to create fine or broad lines with a single stroke.
Progress still seems fairly slow on the drawing, but I’m making a conscious effort to work carefully through the blocking in phase (so I can practice what I’m learning, and so I can ensure the portrait is built on a strong foundation).
There are also clearly major differences, like evaluating and mixing colors, general painting hygiene (letting paint dry, etc.), and best practices I’m probably not yet aware of.
I did, however, bring a Rubik’s Cube with me in preparation for January’s challenge (which starts in two days).
However, before I make it happen, I thought it would be fun to share some of my previous works.
Tomorrow, I’ll starting adding tonal values (i.e. shading) to the drawing.
The set also has a sharpening board and a blending stick. Working with pastels can be messy so it’s helpful to have a wet wipe or cloth at the ready.
I’m happy with the result, and actually think the self-portrait looks a lot like me.
Before I show today’s progress, I want to share two techniques I learned that make it significantly easier to accurately add tonal values to portraits.
Yesterday, I was able to sketch about 80% of the portrait. Today, I just need to add the final details.
Here is my “Portrait Drawing Cheat Sheet”, which features step-by-step instructions on how to draw a portrait.
Next, I included the eye sockets and some more detail around the nose.
To do so, tomorrow, I’ll focus, not on perfectly detailing the mouth and cheek, but instead, broadly blocking in the right tonal values.
Although I’m loving the composition of my self-portrait, I’ve sadly draw everything 10–20% too small.
My 2016 highlights2016 was my first full year living in San Francisco and also my first full year as a post-college “working adult”.medium.com
When compared with the before, the difference is pretty striking. In the before portrait, I look like a sickly, pencil-sketched version of myself, while the after version has a much nicer roundness and weight to it.
Here I try to locate the peak of his head, the lowest point of his chin, the rightmost point of his ear, the leftmost point of his ear, and the notch of his neck.
In Photoshop, I overlaid my sketch on the photo to check. I was pretty accurate.
I started by adjusting the center line slightly for the nose, and marking the nose’s outer boundary.
I can’t seem to easily get the hair to be one smooth black mass. Instead, the grain of the paper is very noticeable, giving me a nice salted look. Even after aggressive blending with a blending stump and a dry brush, I still can’t get the material distributed nicely on the paper.
If the bristles get clogged up with ink you can rinse them with warm water and get back to the drawing board. Available with black, sepia or grey ink, the brush pen comes with two refills.
Since, without deconstruction, the kitchen table doesn’t fit through the bathroom door (I tried…), I needed to find somewhere else to work tonight.
This establishes the entire tonal range of the drawing, which is called the key of the drawing.
The first thing I did today was add construction lines to my drawing. These construction lines are designed to act as landmarks and help me eventually place the facial features.
Anyway, continuing with this theme, today, I want to share an interesting struggle.
Yesterday, after 7.5 hours of work, I finally finished sketching / laying out my first portrait. Today, I started adding tonal values (a.k.a. “shading the drawing”).
I finished up my key, by adding shadows to the lower face and the back of the head, and was ready to begin modeling the form (finding the intermediate values between the darks and lights).
However, now that I’m trying to carefully model the lights/shadows of my face, I need more light.
In particular, as I said on Day 35, I believe that it’s most important to accurately capture the proportions of the head, the head shape, and the level of the features. If these things are done correctly, the rest of the process is very forgiving. If not, the portrait will end up beautifully shaded, but won’t look like the subject.
Our testers loved the fact that charcoal creates a more relaxed, spontaneous effect than graphite pencils.
For the month of December, my goal is to draw a realistic self-portrait with only pencil and paper. Along the way, in order to learn the fundamentals of drawing and portraiture, I will also draw many other faces, which will hopefully keep this month’s posts more varied and interesting.
If you want to try your hand at sketching but feel stuck for inspiration this book will give you loads of ideas. Author Felicity Allen explains how to make the most of your sketchbook, recommending that you always take it with you and write or draw in it every day. “The minute you have an idea, write it or draw it,” she says.
Checking in Photoshop, everything seems pretty accurate. Although, the low point of the chin may be slightly too far left.
Thus, instead of relying on visual inferences, tonal values can be better approximated through a simple, not-so-interpretative procedure.
For artists who like using a brush and want to experiment with colour, this sleek-looking box is just the ticket. The set features 12 Cotman watercolours in vibrant hues from yellow ochre to ultramarine, a fine tip water brush and a mixing pallet in the lid.
To check, I then sighted the angle between the two new points, ensuring this angle matches what I see on Derren’s head.
Tomorrow, I’ll go swing by the art store and pick up a few fresh ones.
While I am still very positive about this project, and happily take on the micro-challenges, I thought sharing some of these things would be more interesting than writing about how every day is always better than the last.
Something to think about as you start planning your 2017 resolutions…
Of course, these paintings are built on a prerequisite foundation of drawing, but they also introduce a whole new skill set that I would love to cultivate.
The drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso and David Hockney feature in the book, alongside tips on doodling, drawing from observation and experimenting with different types of lines and marks.
Should I wait for the first of each month to start a new challenge, and enjoy my few days of relaxing (if available), or should I just use my extra time towards future challenges and start immediately?
Even with the narrow tonal range, my self-portrait still maintains a believable roundness and depth.
With a hardboard cover and premium recycled cartridge paper, Artway’s sketchbook is durable, attractive and great quality.
Instead, I got caught up making micro-changes to the parts of the portrait I’ve already worked on (the eyes, nose, forehead, etc.). It seems I can make small improvements forever.
Available in a set of 12, these soft graphite black pencils are ideal for drawing, particularly if you like sketching in soft, dark lines. Ultra-stylish and topped with a replaceable eraser, they are satisfying to draw with and you don’t have to press very hard on the page. Art students love them.
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This month, as I learn to draw faces, I’m experiencing a new phenomenon… For the past few days, I’ve found myself scrutinizing and deconstructing other people’s faces on the train, at work, on the street, at Whole Foods, etc. Wherever there is a face, I can’t help but try to analyze it, and imagine how I’d draw it.
A halfway house between drawing and painting, working with pastels creates a pleasing effect – and you don’t need a ton of equipment. These professional standard pastels come in an easy-to-carry orange Tate box so they’re ideal if you’re on the move.
So far, so good. Tomorrow, I’ll start blocking in the features.
After 7.5 hours of work (2.5 hours over the past three days), I’m finally hopefully that this portrait will resemble Derren Brown.
Today, I flew from San Francisco to Florida to meet up with my family for a few days. I’ll be here until January 4th.
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Nine days ago, I began my 30-day quest to learn how to draw photorealistic portraits. Since then, I’ve watched the entire 10 hours of the Vitruvian Studio drawing course, as well as spent 14.5 hours working on my first portrait.
In fact, this psychological problem of misinterpreting faces is so common, there are entire drawing systems (like drawing upside down, drawing the negative space around the face, etc.) designed to combat these problems.
Less purposefully, I chose a photo where the midtone of my face was darker than the paper.
The human eye is really bad at assessing tonal values in isolation — which is why your brain thinks squares A and B below are very different colors, when, in fact, they are the same.
In the coming months, I plan to start sketching a portrait on canvas, and then experimenting with paint.
Now (and I hope this eventually wears off), when I see a new face, my first instinct is to estimate the ratio between the height and width of the head. Other times, I just look to see what shapes the eye sockets are. Or how prominent the brow ridge is. Or if the nose and brows equally break the face in thirds.
Charcoal pencils are brilliant for sketching. They can be smudged and blended and they create less mess than traditional sticks of charcoal.
I continue with my black pencil, darkening the other eyebrow and the hair.
Since the demo portrait in course is based on a long-haired female model, I had to do a bit more freestyling at this point. I think it works.
Today, I spent 2.5 hours starting the course and beginning my first portrait.
However, the eye was too small to help effectively establish the key. So, I keyed the drawing more aggressively, starting with the shadow on the nose and the highlights on the forehead and cheek.
I’ve had strong artistic tendencies since I was a kid, but I’ve never invested much in my fine art skills. Instead, I’ve channeled my artistic impulses mainly through music, film, and computer-aided design.
Today, I spent 30 minutes sketching the head shape and feature guides.
I’ve been holding off on the blending because my blending stump is unusably dirty.
In this case, the best I can do is show a photo that demonstrates the level of drawing I’m aiming to reach…
Additionally, while doing this, to check the accuracy of my key, I started developing the eye.
With the neck and shoulders in place, it again didn’t look right. So, I checked more angles and made adjustments as necessary (mostly to broaden the jaw)
“A sketch can be a point of reference for further work or simply a way of practising drawing and observational skills,” she says. “It’s important that the sketching materials you use are ones that you’re happy and confident with. Until recently I sketched in black biro as I loved the very simple line it produced. I’ve now moved on to a black brush pen which has given my sketches a different feel.
In order to accurately see tonal shapes, and avoid psychological errors, I’ve found one method to be surprisingly successful: squinting.
In my life, I’ve created a fair bit of (what I’ll call) art. However, I’ve done so, not by relying on well-developed fine art skills, but instead, by cheating my way through the artistic process.
While technology-aided art still should probably count as art (in some capacity), this month, I’m committed to creating using only the tools shown below: 9 black pencils, 1 white pencil, a few different erasers, and a gray piece of paper (which I’ll explain another time).
Tomorrow, I’ll make some minor tweaks, sign it, and hang it on the wall.
While the Derren Brown portrait (with its ultra-contrasty tonal range) may be a more dynamic portrait, my self portrait seems closer to photorealism, which is the main improvement I was aiming for.
Thus, this time around, with my self-portrait, I’m aiming to more closely match tones, while also paying attention to the smaller areas of light fall-off. With this attention, my hope is to create a more realistic rendering of my face.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this month, British illusionist Derren Brown originally inspired me to start drawing portraits. In fact, to acknowledge this inspiration, Derren was the subject of my first portrait.
In January, 2016, I was just starting to develop the itch to draw/paint portraits. In an attempt to make something that was commercially viable (to cover the cost of materials), I decided to paint a portrait of Donald Trump.
For the past couple days, I’ve been itching to start my self-portrait. So, today, I did just that.
With the features and shadows blocked in, I detailed the features, starting with the eyes.
Nevertheless, I will persist, since, even with the sizing mistake (and the associated challenges), I’m quite happy with the portrait so far.
Getting to this point took me 2.5 hours, which was split between watching the video course and drawing my Derren portrait.
Observation about today’s session: Based on the output from today, it may seem like today’s drawing was the most technically challenging. But, in fact, I found just the opposite.
Clearly, there are major differences in realism between my starting drawing and this example portrait. So, if I can match the level of this example (which will be, of course, a subjective, but hopefully honest judgement), I will consider this challenge a success.
You can decide if this is cheating or not, but either way, this month is going to be different. This month, I am actually going to invest in my fine art skills. This month, I’m going to take a pencil and paper, and nothing else, and make it happen.
On December 1, 2016, I asked myself the question: With only one month of practice, can I learn how to draw realistic portraits with only pencil and paper?
During the month of December, I documented my entire learning process in a series of 31 daily blog posts, which are compiled here into a single narrative. In this article, you can relive my month of insights, frustrations, learning hacks, and triumphs, as I strive towards monthly mastery.
Although today’s darkening session improved things, the portrait still seems a bit odd and unbalanced because of the nakedness of the mouth and cheek. I’ll start tackling those areas tomorrow.
Last month, I memorized a shuffled deck of cards in under two minutes, which required obsessive, consistent practice. If I were to stop practicing, over time I would lose this skill.
Finally, I detail the ear, which is one of my favorite parts of the whole process. (Ears are just weird looking and fun to draw)
24 days ago, to kick off December’s challenge, I tried to draw a self-portrait.
Today, after another 2.5 hours of work, I finally completed my Derren Brown portrait.
In other words, if I can remember the process, which, in my opinion, only depends on two very straightforward insights, I will always be able to draw at the level I can now.
If you’ve always associated charcoal with black and grey though, think again. Derwent’s tin of 24 tinted charcoal pencils sounds like something out of a beauty range, with colours like Heather Mist, Ocean Deep and Sunset Pink, as well as the more traditional light, medium and dark charcoals.
In fact, challenges are probably a good thing (I hope). Ideally, they push me to become a better artist.
I added in the center line of the lips and the shadow on the nose.
With these techniques newly-learned, I began to add tonal values to my Derren Brown portrait.
“I’d advise trying different tools and materials to find what suits you best. And don’t be afraid of using colour – watercolours and pastels are great for sketching. When it comes to paper you can use anything, either a proper sketchbook or scraps of paper. I sometimes sketch on the back of shopping lists if I see something inspiring and I’ve left my materials at home.”
This post is sponsored by my education company Openmind. Openmind connects you with world-class mentors to help accelerate your learning and success. Learn more here.
Take a look at the self-portrait side-by-side with the Derren Brown portrait. My head is noticeably smaller.
After investing in a new sketching kit you’ll need a pencil case to keep your pencils in. This 100% cotton zip-up case from the London Transport Museum can be personalised with your name in the iconic Johnston typeface designed for the London Underground more than 100 years ago.
Today, I spent an hour developing out the rest of my self-portrait.
Our artist tester liked the fact that the sketchbook is ring-bound so it opens smoothly. The creamy white pages can be removed in a trice and the cover is thick enough to protect her precious work.
With the exception of the oddly tiny ear, everything else seems to line up well. The head shape, face shape, and hair shape seem accurate. The level of the features and the center line seem accurate. The wing of the nose is a bit too far to the right, but I really just threw that in for fun.
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It turns out drawing is very similar. From the outside, it seems much more complex than it actually is. However, once you learn the two or three basic principles, drawing (at least, at my level) becomes nearly as straight forward as doing your laundry.
For some (perhaps, legal) reason, most apartments in San Francisco don’t have overhead lights in their main living areas. Usually, apartments only have overhead lights in the bathroom and (sometimes) the kitchen, which is the case for my apartment.
And while this seems like a major leap from my drawing studies, I now have the artistic confidence to attempt a painting like this, without any (or very little) additional instruction.
Packaged in a robust tin, these graphite pencils are easy to sharpen. They are available to buy individually but we enjoyed having a full set to choose from.
After spending nearly a month learning to draw portraits, I’m more convinced than ever that anyone can draw. Even if you don’t have any artistic talent.
This month, to learn how to draw portraits, I’ll be following the Portrait Drawing video course from Vitruvian Studio.
Today, I continued working on my self-portrait. Although it’s coming together nicely, I made a mistake upfront that’s definitely costing me now.
The head was now looking pretty good, but the neck and shoulders needed a few adjustments. I retriangulated, and adjusted the collar upwards.
Once you’re equipped with these two techniques, you’ll be ready to follow the “Portrait Drawing Cheat Sheet” and draw your first portrait.
This is mostly because I’m very bullish on this entire project.
In the coming days, I will write a few detailed posts about what I’ve learned, how I plan to move forward, etc., but for now, I’ll just share the final photos of my progress.
Blackwing pencils are so popular that when they were discontinued in the 1990s pencil fans paid as much as $40 per pencil to get their hands on unused stock. The pencils were reintroduced in 2010 and they’ve gone from strength to strength.
I started by arbitrarily drawing two lines on the page to indicate the level of the top of the head and the level of the bottom of the head.
Just looking at the sketch, the head shapes seems a little narrow for Matt Damon. But, overlaid on the photo, it seems to match up.
With the features in place, I next blocked in shapes for the shadows and highlights.
So, I sighted the correct angles, and adjusted the construction lines accordingly.
The trick, then, is to create a mechanism to force deliberate and consistent practice month after month. This is the hard part about learning these new skills, not the time required.
1. Start with the most extreme values and then meet in the middle
Available in a variety of sizes, from A2 to A5, the sketchbook comes in landscape and portrait versions and wholesale packs are available for anyone to buy.
Tomorrow, I’m going to go through my previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and write up a “Portrait Drawing Cheat Sheet”. Then, I’m going to break down the cheat sheet into isolated, practicable skills and drills, work on those individual skills for 1–2 weeks, and then start working on my self-portrait to finish off the month.
Before I drew my self-portrait, I drew a portrait of Derren Brown.
Thus, once I finished drawing, I came back to my dark apartment to snap a photo.
Yesterday, I started following along with the Vitruvian Studio portrait course, and began drawing a portrait of Derren Brown.
I continued in this way, until I outlined the entire shape of the head.
Next, I start on the prominent eye. This is where the real defacing starts, as it’s going to be a while until it doesn’t look like I’m wearing makeup.
Whatever your sketching style – loose and free or painstaking and meticulous – the Pentel Arts Brush Pen is easy to use and creates fine or thick lines with a single stroke.
Nevertheless, even with these critiques in isolation, the portrait as a whole comes together nicely and captures a strong likeness. Thus, I’ve left it as is, since I care more about an overall likeness (versus a non-cohesive collection of individually accurate features).
Especially before I smoothed out my face, it looked as if I had just been cleaning chimneys.
With my self-portrait, I strayed from both of these advantages. For one, on purpose. For the other, less so.
The Big Draw Festival encourages people of all ages to roll up their sleeves and practise their artistic skills. The 2018 festival takes place across the country throughout October, with events ranging from drawing workshops to art exhibitions, all aimed at promoting drawing as a tool for “learning, expression and invention”.
I continued with the upper part of the beard, and finished up for the day.
Yesterday, I declared that today I would start working on the mouth and cheek areas of my self-portrait. And yet, somehow, the day is over, and the mouth and cheek areas are still naked.
In the course, the teacher mentioned that it’s good to start with a small area that exhibits the full range of tones.
With the general tones in place, I’ll have enough momentum to push the portrait towards completion.
Today, like yesterday, I continued adding tonal values to the portrait. I spent a little less than two hours, and am getting really excited about the results.
In 20 years, even if I don’t practice from now until then, as long as I can remember triangulation and outside-in shading, I will be able to fully replicate my results from this month.
The first module of the course focuses on mapping out the portrait, which includes determining the shape of the head and locating the features.
So, thank you people of San Francisco for not getting totally creeped out. I promise I’ll stop soon.
To me, drawing is a bit like doing your laundry. Before you do it for the first time, you feel it’s much more complicated than it actually is, and thus, you feel incapable of trying. Then, you’re shown that doing your laundry is only a matter of putting your clothes in the machine, pouring in some soap, and clicking a button. Much easier than you thought.
Tim Jenison, on the other hand, does have something worth sharing. Without any artistic training, he painted a nearly-exact replica of a Vermeer painting solely using optical techniques.
Thus, to set a baseline for this month’s challenge, I’ve drawn a before self-portrait with my current drawing skills. Although it’s not the absolute worst thing ever drawn, it sadly doesn’t look very much like me.
Measuring success for this challenge is certainly more subjective than last month (where I successfully memorized a deck of cards in less than 2 minutes).
With Derren, I wanted to ensure the portrait emanated three-dimensionality, so I pushed aggressively on the contrast of the portrait. I also didn’t care much for the micro-gradations of shadow/light, as I was more concerned with the correctness of the bigger shapes.
I made a bit of a mistake here. I drew the horizontal construction lines perpendicular to the center line (which seemed reasonable), but did not mimic the angle of the features in the actual drawing.
We put a selection of sketching materials to the test. Whether you’re a beginner keen to have a go or a gifted artist already, here are ten of the best.
Again, I think this is okay compositionally, but it’s still a bit of a problem — particularly, for two reasons.
My tonal approach is noticeably different than that used on the Derren Brown portrait.
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Interestingly, this completeness is a bit problematic: Because the sketch feels whole (and, from my perspective, represents an interesting, standalone piece of art), I struggle to continue working on it.
I picked up some new blending stumps today, and went to work smoothing the value changes over my face and neck. Here’s the result…
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Today, I spent another 2.5 hours watching the course and working on the portrait.
Purposefully, I chose to base my self-portrait on a photo with a tighter tonal range, since I wanted to challenge and push my abilities (Drawing a portrait with heavy contrast requires less subtly and is, in my opinion, easier).
However, I don’t think the same is true for my newly-found drawing skills. Mostly because… I didn’t learn anything new this month.
Here’s my attempt to locate the peak of his head, the lowest point of his chin (which is located on the chin’s left side), the leftmost point of his cheek, and the rightmost point of his ear.
I think this is going to be a theme for the entire Month to Master project: If my practice is deliberate and consistent, it’s going to take a lot less time than expected to master these seemingly expert-level skills.
In particular, I’m going try to reduce the amount of time necessary to complete a portrait like this. With some practice, I think I can reduce my time down from 14.5 hours to 4–5 hours.
When keying the drawing (and developing tonal values in general) it’s important that the shapes of the tonal areas are captured accurately.
Once the key is established, and the lightest and darkest values are in place, the intermediate values need to be introduced. Again, this can be done procedurally, by identifying and shading/highlighting the areas which are slightly lighter than the darkest darks and slightly darker than the lightest lights. Continuing recursively in this way, the tonal values eventually meet in the middle, and the drawing (or the relevant part of the drawing) is complete.
Beginners will appreciate her down-to-earth advice on starting and maintaining a sketchbook while more experienced readers will enjoy delving into famous artists’ sketchbooks.
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First, I drew in the vertical center line, which will help me laterally place the features.
Basically, you look at the area you want to draw, squint your eyes (so the image becomes blurred and your brain no longer sees a face), and identify the tonal shapes you see through your eyelashes. This works super well. (I didn’t invent this method, I’ve just validated that it works for me).
These days Derwent produces a vast range of pencils, including the new Lightfast range. Available in a wide range of colours, the 12 pencils in this set have a strong point, so they can be used for detailed drawing – but they’re easy to blend if you prefer a more freestyle approach.
Part of me lacks the motivation to continue drawing, as I feel like I’ve already accomplished my goal. The other (more overpowering) part of me realizes that I have another 21 days to improve even further, so that’s what I plan to do.
During high school, whenever I was tasked with making someone a gift, I usually opted to construct a custom Warhol-inspired portrait out of Legos.
It’s still hard to tell whether I’ll be successful, but we’ll find out soon…
Then, I marked eye level, to start gauging the features’ vertical placement.
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However, in my past three posts (I made a mistake, Intentionally defacing my self-portrait, and Fighting for photorealism), I’ve tried to interrupt this trend, and share some of the day-to-day challenges I face.
Rather than writing another M2M post today, I’ll encourage you to check out that post if you’re interested.
For now, before I get to the painting, I’ll start off by mastering the drawing part of program.
Should I just start the next challenge once I finish the previous one? I’m not sure. On one hand, this seems reasonable and time-efficient. On the other hand, there is something very tidy about starting on the first of each month.
The portrait just feels balanced at this point. As soon as I start adding tonal values, that balance will be disrupted, and won’t return until I’m nearly done with the whole portrait.
So far, the portrait doesn’t look like much, but I still learned a bunch today. I particularly like the triangulation technique, which makes drawing much more procedural and mathematical (a.k.a. easier for me).
This post is part of Max’s year-long accelerated learning project, Month to Master.Max Deutsch is an obsessive learner, product builder, guinea pig for Month to Master, and founder at Openmind.If you want to follow along with Max’s year-long accelerated learning project, make sure to follow this Medium account.
While the result is artistically interesting, much of the work was done by a projector. I created a paint-by-number blueprint (again in Photoshop), projected it onto the canvas, and traced it in pencil.
This portrait has two big advantages over my self-portrait: 1. The tonal range over the face is much greater, and 2. The midtone of the face matches the tone of the paper.
For my first portrait of the month, I’m quite happy with how it turned out.
The Tate’s Pastel Art Box Set is more pricey but it’s pleasing to the eye, suits beginners and experts alike and the colours are stunning.
I also drew in the level of the notch of the neck. The first time, I drew it too low, so I moved it up. I gauged this distances as a proposition of the head length.
Lastly, I blocked in the main structures of the ear and added an outline for the beard.
Derren is a British illusionist, who I’ve been following for a while now, and who, I recently learned, casually paints portraits on the side.
With each of the sketches, unlike with my Derren Brown portrait, I felt that I was able to see the angle on the subject and accurately replicate it on the page with limited effort.
To do this, I used a new technique I learned called triangulation. To triangulate a new point, I first sight (try to visualize) the angles to this new point from two existing points. Then, I draw lines from the existing points in the direction of the new point based on the sighted angles. Finally, I mark the new point where the lines intersect.
As a result, the rest of my apartment is lit via Ikea floor lamps, which, although they do a 90% good job, it turns out, at night, there’s just not enough light for detail-oriented drawing.
Side note: Here’s a video of Derren Brown, the subject of my portrait, when he used to have hair, experimenting with some of these alternative methods of painting. It’s a pretty cool trick.(If you’re going to watch, stick it out until the end).
After seeing these, I decided I too would like to be the kind of person that casually paints impressively good portraits on the side.
In other words, after practicing for about an hour per day for 26 days, I majorly improved my portrait drawing skills.
Today, I’m going to practice finding the correct proportions of the subject’s head using a few celebrities: Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, and Morgan Freeman.
Our artist tester was keen on “the good mix of essential colours” and the set’s compactness – ideal for artists on the move. It’s the size of an iPhone so it’s small enough to keep in your pocket.
Perhaps, I’m just stalling out of fear: Once the mouth and cheek are developed, I’ll have a much better idea if the portrait is any good.
I left all my drawing supplies behind, so I’m definitely not drawing any more this month.
During the sketching phase of my self-portrait, I didn’t need to see precise tone, so sketching at night was no problem.
While these pieces may look like they required some amount of artistic genius to pull off (do they?), that’s really not the case. Instead, these pieces just required some clever computational analysis, planning in Photoshop, and executional patience (while glueing and placing each Lego piece).
Today, I spent a couple hours working on the eyes and nose area of my self-portrait.
Finally, I completed the neck, decided not to address the clothes, signed it, and I was done.
Picking up where I left off, I continued to block in shapes for the features.
With the topmost and bottommost points identified, I then needed to identify the leftmost and rightmost points.
At first, the blackness of the hair is a bit jarring, but it accurately represents the “exposure” I’m going for (where the hair is emitting no light, and thus, shows up as pure black).
Before, I get to that, though, let me first share today’s progress.
Because I spent the past two days meticulously locating and blocking in the features, it was very easy to add the incremental detail. (Trying to draw big shapes is much harder than trying to draw little shapes. Little shapes are a lot easier to visually understand and replicate)
It almost feels unnatural to add tonal values to the sketch, as if I’m defacing something I worked hard to create.
A few days ago, I finished drawing my first portrait. Since then, I’ve reread my notes, reviewed some parts of the course, and wrote up my “Portrait Drawing Cheat Sheet”.
With these tonal contours in place, I darkened the shadow areas slightly, giving the portrait some roundness and three-dimensionality.
In fact, in order to draw a reasonable portrait, you only need to know the two following skills:
With the construction lines as references, I was then ready to start blocking in the facial features.
I think that’s a pretty cool thing, so look out for my Medium post in 20 years.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue following the course, and start drawing in the facial features.