Over the last few weeks I’ve been getting lots of requests for tips and advice. So I thought instead of answering each one I will give an overall guide to what I’ve learnt over the last year using graphite. And some of the things I’m going to say may sound very obvious but I’m trying to cater for artists of all levels so just ignore the bits you already know (I apologise for how long this is).
But before I go on I must point out though, that I am no expert and this is just what I’ve found works for me so may not work for everyone. And I have only really started getting used to using graphite pencils recently, as I had not drawn for 11 years until September 2012. And so I am still learning myself and have only found out what works for me from allot of practising and trial and error. Also I am not going to go into doing skin textures as I’m still learning what works and it’s far too complicated to describe on here.
Firstly you are only as good as your tools, you can have all the talent in the world but will not progress if you have the wrong equipment. As you might know nearly all portraits and allot of pencil artwork now is done in 'graphite pencils', so get a graphite pencil box with grades between 5h to 9b. And f you master graphite you can be amazing, unfortunately it takes time, practice and talent and being very stubborn.
Here’s a list of what I use:
1) Graphite standard pencils - (I use Derwent) 5h to 9b, But I mainly use 3H,F,HB,B,4B,9B. These are ideal for portraits, pets etc, due the softness and different grades you can achieve.
2) Mechanical Graphite pencils. Around 4 sizes in - 2X 0.3 (1 for HB 1 for 2B) - 2X 0.5 (1 for HB 1 for 2b). And if you can afford it 1X 0.7 hb - 1X 0.9 hb (i recommend staedtlar). You won't need lots like me but the more the better in my opinion.
Mechanical pencils are ideal for intricate lines and detail and I use them primarily for fanart like my spiderman,batman, drath vader etc.
3) Charcoal Pencils -This is something I’ve been using recently but it’s now become just as essential as my graphite pencils. I use them for mainly creating deep non reflective blacks which just is not possible with graphite as the darker you shade the more it shines.
The down side is that it’s extremely messy and there’s a steep learning curve on how to use it with graphite so be careful. So don't use charcoal until you have got to grips with using graphite.
1) Bristol board smooth paper – (I use Windsor & Newton) And I now only use it for fanart or anything with extreme detail like my ‘astronaught’ drawing., as it is ideal for holding detail . Unfortunately it does not work great with charcoal though.
2) Cartridge or Sketch Paper – I only started using this a few months ago and I now use it mainly for portraits. As it’s great for shading natural looking skin and holds charcoal brilliantly. The down side is that it cannot hold allot of intricate detail like Bristol board.
1) These are for blending. 3 sizes of Blending stumps, Tortillas and Standard cotton pads (I use every single one and all different sizes). I've found myself useing cotton pads allot for portraits.
2) Lots of erasers as good erasers are really essential for pulling out the whites. I have 'kneaded eraser' but find it can leave marks on the paper. But get an ‘electric’ eraser as they are incredible at pulling out whites like in hair.
3) Fixative spray. I know this is obvious, but fixative is crucial during and after the drawing process. Firstly if the drawing is large and complicated, you should spray section by section of your drawing so you don't smudge it. This allows you to then confidently go onto the next part and take your time. But also it darkens the graphite, and reduces the annoying distracting metallic sheen of the dark parts.
And if you’re using charcoal I would recommend spraying it as it can smudge. And don’t worry too much as you can easily draw on top of fixative at least once.
4) Lots of plain clean paper to cover the parts you have already done. Once again this sounds very obvious. But clean paper is very crucial, as you need to put it over the parts you have already drawn to stop it smudging. And I constantly change the paper as it gets dirty quick and could easily ruin your drawing.
Advice and overall techniques I’ve learnt
I’m going to say something first and that is you cannot miracously improve over night it takes lots of determination and most importantly ‘practice’. And you will do drawings that will have you in tears of frustration, which I have had plenty off. But even drawings that you perceive to be a disaster will teach you lots about what to do and not to do. In fact some of my best drawings (like my ‘Spiderman’ drawing) have come after I failed miserably and was almost in tears and wanting to give up.
Also do not be afraid to use different techniques as even though it may not be right for you can still take something away from it. And although it tough to do, I believe if something is not working no matter how comfortable it is for you, you’ve got to try something new (like my latest Beckham drawing)
In terms of portraits I learnt loads from watching YouTube vids and looking at other artists work and WIP to see how they done stuff to. And if you are not naturally good at portraits like me then just use the grid method when doing portraits to get the likness.
But what worked best for me was to learn gradually, as you can’t ‘run before you can walk’. And you will just fail and be disheartened and may just give up. So for any younger artists, firstly learn proportions perspective etc and how to do basic shading. Then once you have a good understanding of that, start to choose pieces that a more complicated and you can include everything you’ve learnt.
And don’t be afraid of failure as you can always start again. And keep on increasing the complexity of your drawings. And once you are comfortable with the shading you can then get to the point where you can start putting skin textures on the skin and intricate detailing. But this will not happen over night but very gradually so be patient.
I also choose particular photos not because I liked them but to test a particular skill. So for instance I chose 'marylin manroe' so that I could learn how to do blonde hair and have big contrasts between black and white. The al pacino for bold shadows, and Ian mckellen for skin textures, and recently ‘David Beckham’ for my new technique in drawing skin textures etc.
And it sounds obvious but ‘always ‘implement what you've learnt from your previous drawings and 'always try' to better your last drawing (you won't always succeed at first). And be very critical of your work, it’s going to hurt but that will allow you to push yourself further. But unfortunately the only real way to really improve is to ‘practice,practice,practice,prcticepractice,practice’ (you get the point XD).
I hope I have proved that with allot of practice and determination you can rapidly improve. But my progess is a bit out of the norm, as I did have an advantage because I did not draw for 11 years my skills were very rusty. And so when i started last year they returned quickly so my progression looks allot more impressive. And I am extremely obsessive and can zone out and have a one track mind when I have a goal i want to achieve. Which is probably because I have ‘Aspergers Syndrome’ which is a form of autism which means I can be very very focussed when I want to be. So don’t be disheartened if your progress is not as fast as mine.
Anyway good luck and feel free to ask me if you got a problem.