There are many modes of drawing: linear, tonal, gestural, etc. In this commentary we will focus on carving out form with a sculptural sensibility.
This mode of sketching is very much like working with putty except that we are drawing on paper, of course, and using our fingers, a stump, tissue, and the kneaded eraser as our sculpture tools.
As always, begin with drawing the arabesque and establishing the essential sizes of the facial area.
Before blocking-in the key light/dark patterns you should squint and look at the subject or the photo. Squinting distills the lights and darks into simple patterns of one particular value because it obscures the minutia.
At this point, just concern yourself with the big masses, maybe even just two, a light one and a dark one. Do not yet attempt to break down the darks at this point.
Sketching in this way is also good training for painting because this is how you build up a painting particularly when using the One Stroke method of painting.
Sketching, painting, and sculpture are additive/subtractive activities. You first add something and then you take a bit away, all the while proceeding towards the finished drawing.
You also will use your kneaded eraser to carve out the lights. When doing this pay careful attention to the anatomical structures; every form indicates a muscle marker.
We all have our individual preferences about how we draw. At this time, you may prefer to improve the arabesque and work on the facial features. Other draftspersons will continue working value-wise without any line work. As you add experience and grow as an artist you will make your own choices. That is what art making is: selections – bad and good.
Now that we have the fundamentals down including the overall sizes, we can start resolving the darks and the lights. The goal is to go for the full stretch of values, i.e., from the darkest darks to the lightest light.
Starting and intermediate artists often fail to go for the full tonal interval. Quite often the rationale for this is the fear of ruining their drawing and also because they have read, or been told, not to overwork the drawing.
As a student you should take a drawing as far as you possibly can, even to the point of collapse. That way you will learn exactly how far you can go. If you always stop short you will never know what lies beyond.
Use your fingers, a tissue, and a stump to blend the tones. The best thing is to start dividing each big tonal mass into two separate smaller forms of different values wherever your observations tell you there is a difference in value to be made. Keep in mind the changing planes and the anatomy of the subjects features.
The hair is kept dark and simple with only a few strokes of the putty eraser to suggest the unkempt locks of hair. Do not overdo these lines or they will look blanched.
In closing, when making use of the painterly approach to sketching a pencil portrait always treat your tools as if they were brushes. Act as if as much as possible that you are sculpting instead of sketching. Always bear in mind the anatomy and the changing plane directions that you observe in your subject. Always work from the general to the specific or from the large to the small. As you get more skill, try to remember the things that work for you and include them in your style of sketching.
Do you want to learn the secrets of pencil portrait drawing? Download my brand new free pencil portrait drawing tutorial here: portrait drawing course.
Remi Engels is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter and expert sketching teacher. See his work at graphite pencil portraits by Remi.
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