About My Artwork
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thewholehorizon's avatar
By thewholehorizon   |   Watch
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Published: January 8, 2013
I decided to start working on a sort of biography for my artwork. Seems dorky but I think it will be informative to those actually curious to know what goes on behind the scenes of my gallery. This journal entry will be updated over time to include more details, illustrations/examples, additional techniques or methods I pick up along the way, etc. and I'll even try to incorporate answers to questions I get asked on my page or individual submissions. I might even start breaking off into specific tutorials at some point! Anyway, I encourage you to comment as this is specifically for my visitors and fans!

Subjects: I predominantly draw celebrities as themselves or as film/tv characters, but I can work from photos of anyone as long as they're high resolution. I can't draw people posing live though, it always has to be from photographs.

Inspiration: I'm intensely addicted to movies and tv shows in general, and honestly it's most often what I'm watching at a given time that will inspire me to draw one of the characters. I usually always keep something running on my tv in the background for the duration of my drawing process, sometimes I'll even set a movie on loop. Once I get the idea to draw someone, I hit Google Images and search for a large variety of images to save and then sift and eliminate until I've decided on one that I feel will translate well into a portrait. Sometimes during a search, however, a completely unrelated image will be in the results that strikes me and instead I end up drawing someone I didn't originally intend. It's actually pretty rare that I come up with someone to draw by a random thought.

Media/Tools: Most often I use Charcoal Pencils HB-6B and Graphite Pencils 5H-6B. To blend, I use White Charcoal Pencils, assorted size Tortillons, Sponges, and sometimes even my fingers. To add highlights or help define hair I use White Gel Pens, and to intensify dark areas I sometimes use Black Sharpie Pen. To erase, I most often use a Kneaded Eraser, but for trouble areas I might use Razor Blades to scrape of some of the medium from the paper-- Strathmore Drawing Paper, Strathmore Sketching Paper, and more recently Bristol Paper.

Composition: My pieces are generally oriented Portrait rather than Landscape (for obvious reasons) and are usually cropped to include most of the head/hair and only some of the upper torso. Angles include Full Face, 3/4, and 2/3. I hate Profile and you will never see me use it. Ever. Dimensions are usually 4x6", 5x7", 6x8" or 8x10". I usually pick poses with minimal facial expression/emotion (unconsciously) but you might occasionally find a smile here or there. I'm not interested in backgrounds, though I do sometimes add shading around a subject if I feel it's appropriate for the lighting scheme.

Style: I most often use high contrast in values, and I vary between minimalism and realism. I love details and nuances, but I limit or exaggerate them at times and keep plenty of pencil strokes visible so as to give the picture distinction that it is a drawing and not a photo. As amazed as I am by artists whose portraits are nearly indistinguishable from photos, that isn't my desired effect.

Process: Every picture has a slightly different story to its making, but the course is still fairly consistent.

First is simply finding the image I want to draw, which is most often courtesy of Google image search. It's not often I experience love at first sight with any particular result (although sometimes this miracle does occur) so normally I'll download several candidates of the subject I have in mind and then start eliminating from the pool until I'm left with what I feel will work the best as a portrait. Just because a photo of someone looks great doesn't mean that it will translate to grayscale well or sit nicely when cropped, so I test these steps out on the possible choices. There have even been occasions where I sort of "frankenstein" an image of someone, taking bits of them from different photos and mashing them together. Needless to say, this preliminary process alone can take a LOT of time, possibly even a few hours (which it has.)

When I'm satisfied with what's on the screen, I still have to prepare it for transfer to my drawing pad. This process, as well as a little bit of what I mentioned above, is detailed in my Image Transfer Tutorial (Portrait Drawings) complete with screenshots and photos.

I always start with the eyes using a hard Graphite or Charcoal Pencil (or both). Sometimes I'll use White Gel Pen to add highlights to the irises or to brighten lower lids or to accentuate lashes.  Tortillons are good for smooth shading to the eyeballs--since they're spheres inside of lids, it's good to give them depth instead of leaving them entirely white. I also use them to blend the shading around the lids. Eyes are the absolute most important part of any portrait (in my opinion) and if they don't look spectacular, it doesn't matter how perfect everything else turns out--the picture will be a flop. There have indeed been times where I just couldn't get them right and scrapped the whole project just to spare myself that inevitability. Thankfully, the only reason this ever really happens is because I tried to settle on a blurry reference knowing full well it probably wasn't going to turn out, so nothing to cry about.

I fill in some of the eyebrows but usually revisit them later for fine-tuning. Next I'll usually move down to the nose and mouth, and then start working back up the perimeter of the face. Likely I'll wait to fill in the shading until later, when I have more filled in to compare the values to.

Next is a toss-up between the hair and the upper torso. With males, I'm not nearly as practiced with short hair so I'll usually save it for last. With long hair though, I usually pick a side (more commonly the left since I'm right handed) and work top to bottom. Rather than building up light to dark, I actually prefer to start with the darkest shadows in a softer Charcoal pencil first. These helps me visualize different sections of the hair which I then start tackling one by one, easing up on pressure and switching to harder grade pencils as I go. Depending on the style of the hair and its complexity of lighting, it may be sufficient to leave as is or to use my Kneaded Eraser to bring back highlights, but I might also opt to use my White Gel Pen to help with defining strands. Of course the width of any of my tools is far wider than actual strands of hair, so this is the part that allows me to break away from photorealism and get creative without affecting the recognizability of the subject.

Creating and blending skin tones is mostly tortillon work. I love using the tortillons all over the place though, and they're especially good for reversing the detail work on hair to differentiate lighting to different sections or add shadows where it's layers or create gradients for curves and curls. For a rolled up piece of paper (which is what a tortillon is, literally nothing more) it is a truly remarkable instrument and I would be lost without it. I cringe thinking back on my old days of finger-smudging...although admittedly it still has its uses at times.

As for clothing, it's a different strategy every single time for me. Well, not including the Harry Potter series I did since they were wearing virtually the same outfit each time. Once upon a time I would do no more than to shade a little bit of edges hear the top then just fade out to avoid the work, but I'm becoming braver these days and attempting to do more and do better. It's its own challenge, determining the level of detail I want to try to keep without making it look awkward or distract the eye from the face which is what the portrait is really about. I used to feel the same about hair before it became almost my favorite part, so lets hope I continue to work through this fear as well!

For ages, I never signed any of my work. I couldn't visualize it as being PART of the drawing, and I didn't want to feel like I was ruining a piece by slapping a signature on it. Even as recently as last year, some of my pieces I only slapped a digital signature on top of a scan before submitting it, but I've gained a lot more confidence now in using the real deal each time. Frequently it's been in White Gel Pen either on a dark area of the clothing along a collar or shoulder, or among a lower section of hair following the curve. I've also started putting it further into the frame since it kept getting cut off by my mattes since I shamefully refuse to consider in my cropping process at the beginning of my drawings.

It's not uncommon for me to find spots to fix even after I've signed, but when I think I'm happy with everything I scan it in with my HP Photosmart at 300dpi. Next I import it to Photoshop to crop it, add a border, fix the dust/scratches that magically appeared in the scan for no apparent reason, and adjust the lighting to match closer to what it looks in real life. At some point during this process, especially if I zoom out, I might discover that overall shading feels unbalance or that something else just seems off, so I'll do some touch ups and scan again.

Lastly, it gets uploaded to this wonderful website for all to see and love (; as well as my own website which is cross-posted to my Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. Then it's off to pick the next picture to draw!

This Journal Skin was designed by Night-Beast
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daninikki's avatar
daninikkiHobbyist General Artist
Do you know where i could buy white gel pens alone without other colours?
thewholehorizon's avatar
thewholehorizonProfessional Traditional Artist
I get them at Michael's but I don't know what arts/crafts stores are in your area that you could try. If you can't find them locally, there's always Amazon.com that has a variety of white gel pens that are sold individually
daninikki's avatar
daninikkiHobbyist General Artist
thanks there is a michaels close to me..... i will be buying them soon
mangadragon98's avatar
mangadragon98Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Ooo :)

Looking forward to this :D
S-A--K-I's avatar
S-A--K-IProfessional Digital Artist
:) Good to know. Looking forward to more updates... :nod:
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