Gradient Bars

•April 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment


Before doing any drawing it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with your drawing tools and practice some techniques. The mechanical pencil is great for drawing because it remains sharp, more or less. It will develop a small flat area which is good for shading. When you need it to be sharp, you can simply turn the pencil slightly and draw with the edge of that flat spot. It will be very sharp.

It takes a while to become comfortable with the mechanical pencil. A good exercise to do is to draw ‘gradient bars’.  Start by drawing a very faint rectangle about 1” x 2”. Using very small strokes with a slightly circular movement start at one end of the rectangle and shade from dark to light. Use very pale shading to start, go over and over it to get it darker. Try to hold the pencil very loosely, put very little pressure on the paper. After a while this will become more intuitive as you get the feel of it. Try this exercise with all the different leads you have i.e. 2B, HB, etc.


Drawing Skulls and Bone

•April 25, 2012 • 25 Comments

Drawing a skull or any complex item requires some time in setting up. It is important to measure while you sketch the outline of the skull so as to get the proportions correct. I don’t worry about things like eye sockets, little holes, etc. until later.

With this drawing of a deer skull, we will be adding a smooth tone to the blocked out line drawing before any details or shading begins. This gives a mid-value base to start from which can be added to with pencil or taken away from with a kneaded eraser.

When the blocked out skull is ready, take your 4B graphite stick and gently, evenly apply tone to the surface of the paper, keeping inside the boundaries of your drawing. Try to find a flat spot on your stick which will leave a wide trail of graphite. I find small, circular strokes work well, applying very little pressure. Then, with some tissue or paper towel, gently rub the graphite to produce an even tone.

At this point you can erase any graphite which got rubbed outside the lines of your blocking. Then you can add detail and shading with your HB and 2B pencils and remove tone with your kneaded eraser to create highlights.

Blocking Out a Drawing of a Small Complex Object

•April 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Drawing objects such as dragonflies or little beach crabs requires precise preparations. This should take some time. Careful blocking prevents all kinds of trouble down the road. There is nothing worse than drawing for hours, only to find your wings aren’t symmetrical, or your crab legs are too long or too short. What I am saying is it’s better to spend two hours blocking something out correctly than to have to erase five hours of drawing.

Firstly, decide how large you want your drawing to be. Let’s say you want to fill a piece of paper which is 10” x 10”. Measure the length and width of your object – I will use a dragonfly as an example. A dragonfly measuring 2” x 1.75” could be drawn four times its size to fit comfortably on the paper. That would make the drawing of the dragonfly 8” x 7”.  Start measuring, and multiplying those measurements by four, where the wings are on the body, the widths of each wing, the length of body segments, etc.With your HB pencil, make marks on the paper to note the enlarged length and width of the dragonfly.

A – length,  B – width,  C – bottom of head, D – top of wings, E – bottom of top wings,  F – bottom of abdomen,  G – Bottom of wings

Now you can lightly draw in the outline of your subject, taking care to continue measuring it’s various parts for accuracy. Make sure to look at your subject as you are drawing it. I can’t stress this enough! Not only should you examine the parts of the subject, but really look at how they relate to each other and the spaces between the parts. Once you have finished blocking you can begin your drawing confident that it is proportionally correct and you can then concentrate on the fun part of drawing.

Drawing An Egg

•April 12, 2010 • 1 Comment

Drawing An Egg

Drawing an egg is a three part exercise.

Before we begin however, I think it would be helpful to not call it an egg; rather we will call it ‘the object’. This may help our brains to really see the object rather than to assume a pre-conceived notion of what an ‘egg’ should look like, which is how our brains work. Our brains store up representations of things in order to help us identify them quickly. This does not help us to draw realistically, therefore we must approach every new object as if it is the first time we are seeing it.

The first part in drawing this object is measuring and blocking precisely. Use your ruler to measure the object lengthwise and where it is the widest. It may also be helpful to measure where, along the length of the object, the widest part occurs. Using these measurements, make light marks on your paper with an HB lead, to denote the boundaries of the object. You could also draw two lines which cross in the centre of where your object will be on the paper to create a four part grid.


Next, draw a light outline of the object, using the markers A, B and C as guides. This should be quite faint; it is only for reference and will probably be erased later or drawn over.

Part two of drawing this object is to look at it and examine where and what the variations in tone are. You will notice it does not simply start out light at the top and then darken at the bottom.  Also look closely at the texture of the object. It is not smooth; there are bumps and irregularities on its surface.

The third part, the most fun and the hardest part, is actually drawing the object. Using a .5mm HB mechanical pencil, start shading. I like to work left to right because I am right-handed and do not want to drag my hand through graphite on my paper and smudge it. I use the smallest of strokes in a somewhat circular pattern. Start out lightly and work in the darker values by going over and over what you have done.  Remember to look at what you are drawing! Look at it as much as you can, as often as you can. If you aren’t looking at what you are drawing frequently you can get off track and have to erase and do over. Part three could take up to five hours or more. This is a very Zen exercise.

After you feel it is done, look again. Now you can use the word ‘egg’ again. Does your drawing look like your egg? Is the shape right? Does it have bumps and irregularities? At this point I like to put the drawing aside and check it again the next day with fresh eyes. After a long session of drawing, one’s judgment can become a bit wonky! When the drawing is how you want it and if you want to keep it, you can spray it with some fixative to prevent smudges.

drawing tools

•February 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Recently I have been asked about the tools I use for drawing.

One of the first tools I use, and a very important one, is a good steel ruler. It is absolutely necessary for blocking out the composition, getting proportions right ,measuring and squaring edges. This is something that can take hours and it has to be done perfectly! You don’t want to have to start over after drawing for days before you realize ‘hmmm, the wing on that dragonfly just doesn’t look like it’s the same size as the one on the other side’. That sucks big-time, believe me!

Ususally, I use a variety of mechanical pencils, HB and 2B both .5mm and 4B which is a 2mm and needs to be sharpened with a special sharpener. I prefer sharp pencils to blunt ones, more even coverage and darker darks as the sharp end of a pencil will go deeper into the tooth of the paper than a blunt end will. After a bit of practice you can shade very lightly and smoothly with sharp pencils if you are careful and it looks better than with a blunt pencil as well.  I sometimes use a graphite stick, 4B, and rarely, a rolled paper stump or some kleenex type tissue for blending. I always have a kneaded eraser in my left hand (pencil in my right) and use it almost as much as I use my pencils, it is invaluable!

For really black blacks, charcoal is nice but messy. Extreme care must be taken and I never use charcoal until the very end when I can spray it with a fixative, alot of fixative! Before it is sprayed the excess must be removed, a very nerve wracking ordeal! I usually take my drawing outside and gently tip it and not shake it but wiggle it a bit. It needs cleaning up after but if it hasn’t been touched the dust will come of nicely with a kneaded eraser, blotting, not rubbing!

Sometimes, very rarely, I will use a bit of very high quality white pastel to highlight. The problem with pastel though is that it’s difficult to ‘fix’. The spray usually makes it disappear and it needs to be reapplied after the work has been sprayed.

In the photo above is a very soft Japanese wash brush which I use to remove any eraser bits, very carefully as not to pull any graphite around the drawing. I had to learn not to blow on my drawings as inevitably I would end up spitting a little bit!

As for paper, I try to find heavy paper that is smooth but not shiny. I go through the drawers at Opus and feel the sheets with my fingers (don’t know if they would approve of that! Try to be sure your hands are clean before trying it for yourself if you are so compelled). I like it to be just off white as I find pure white too clinical and cold.

I am adding to this blog as I remember stuff so check back every now and then if you are interested!