how do I improve my pencil/ink drawing, as an intermediate artist?
August 28, 2009 4:06 PM   Subscribe

How can I improve my pencil drawings from an intermediate/advanced level?

Most of the resources I've found on pencil/ink drawing focus on drawing from life, which I can do fairly accurately, or introductory technique, such as cross-hatching, perspective, and basic form and lighting. I'm looking more for something that covers advanced technique. To give an example of some of the problems I'd like guidance with:

– Difficult textures/surfaces. I was drawing a scene that included a glossy photo, and I was stumped as to how to render it accurately.

– Covering large areas with a consistent tone (using graphite). I either end up with fluctuating darkness levels or there are visible lines between rows of my scribbling.

– Planning large areas of tone so that the contrast between them is appropriate. I'll render part of a face and then find that I have to make the surrounding area darker than seems appropriate because of how darkly I drew the lips, for example. This is more of an issue when I'm drawing from my head.

– Contour hatching is something I've never gotten the hang of.

Lessons are pretty much out of the picture, but I'd appreciate anything else. Thanks!

(A bonus related question: I was given Anatomy for the Artist as a gift a while ago, and I don't really know how to use it. Will it serve me best to copy from it, or just use it as a reference to check against my own figure drawings?)
posted by invitapriore to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
– Planning large areas of tone so that the contrast between them is appropriate.

Try first smudging the graphite over a large area, then draw in the darks, and use the eraser to do the lights.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:19 PM on August 28, 2009


I have found the book Rendering in Pen and Ink to be quite practical in the specifics of shading and texture. You might want to look into it. While written ages ago and primarily focusing on metal nib pens and ink, it is really quite explicit and accessible about things to practice and techniques for all sorts of drawing.

Good luck. I really do love this book.
posted by steadyflux at 4:28 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do you have some samples online that you can show? Usually that works best for getting help on drawing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:47 PM on August 28, 2009


– Difficult textures/surfaces.
You'll need to look at examples. Everyone will do something different. If you're trying to accurately render something true to life, look at Trompe-l'œil and their techniques. But don't forget that you're always trying to communicate something in your drawing, and sometimes realism isn't the best for that. There are lots of techniques and you need to develop an eye for choosing what serves you best at what time.

– Covering large areas with a consistent tone

Use a softer lead for large areas, and smudge it. You're going to get varying tones unless you're insane about it, so plan it accordingly. Start very light and go darker, only re-applying in places you need it. Keep the composition of the image in mind -- generally you want the large flat areas to have some interest, so perhaps a gradient would be better, and that's something you can more easily control, too. Use as light a touch as you can to avoid lines, (the softer lead will help of course) and in certain cases, embrace the lines as a way to inject texture and directional emphasis. Never fill in willy-nilly, always try to be conscious of the gesture and texture of your fill, and how it serves the drawing overall.

– Contour hatching

Is only for the obsessive compulsive, or the very, very talented. :)

As for copying vs. using your book as a comparison source, do it in combination. There is absolutely no shame in copying for practice. It depends on what you need to do. Look at the book as a tool. You might be more comfortable copying from it at first, and when you have an idea for your own work, using it as a guideline in places you feel uncomfortable going alone.

Regardless, you should pop off to your local library and give all their instructional art books a good look-through. Even if the techniques described therein strike you as beginner level, you'll pick up ideas from the examples, and a better idea of what can be accomplished by a more practiced hand. Lots of instructional books have conflicting information when it comes to drawing, so learn to pick and choose what works best for you. Besides, just like practicing the scales every day when you learn piano, you can't do anything but benefit from brushing up on the basics of drawing.
posted by Mizu at 4:53 PM on August 28, 2009


Seconding Rendering in Pen and Ink. Consider posting your question to ConceptArt.org. With reference books, read the text and copy the images. After that, you can use the images for reference.

Draw, draw, draw. Good luck!
posted by yaymukund at 4:56 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


From my P.O.V., drawing without a model is only possible if you study the rudimentary 3D forms of the body so that you can draw them in any position that you can imagine. Allow yourself you simplify the shapes until you can draw them convincingly. Then, build more subtle interactions onto that frame. I've seen lots of people try to clean-up animation drawings by putting all their effort into details of line quality without first devising a convincing construction of the character. The result is never very useful.

My current favourite author is Gottfried Bammes (not the very best of his books but still pretty useful).

It's all an ongoing process. When you're drawing from life, don't just copy. Study things like how a weight shift effects the angle of the hips differently when the feet are placed close together, as compared to far apart. Put a couple of pieces of dowel inside a sock and study how bending and twisting them effects the folds.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:09 PM on August 28, 2009


Linear weight is key with good contour hatching, and sculptural direction.

For smooth tones in graphite, I would choose a woodless hb since it has an even blend of clay and graphite, and use a tortillon to blend--100 per cent rag paper, nice and thick, a paper beneath it, and a good birch drawing board. Even pressure.

It's difficult to advise on textural styles without examples of the effect.
posted by effluvia at 6:48 PM on August 28, 2009


Can you get together with a group of friends in front of a still life? All the mutual feedback really helps.

Repeatedly drawing the same object-- like a teacup or a tennis ball-- in different media with different techniques will help you discover what "clicks" for you.

I once did an exercise painting the same object in every color in my watercolor set. It gave me a great sense of how different pigments flowed and interacted with the particular weight of paper. You might find it useful to do something similar with different types and weights of graphite.
posted by aquafortis at 7:37 PM on August 28, 2009


A great thing to do is get ahold of an instructional dvd. You can rent them at Smartflix.
This would be a good one.

in order to take your drawing to the next level... take instruction, go to life drawing a minimum of once a week and draw (from life) in a sketchbook every day.
posted by naplesyellow at 8:48 PM on August 28, 2009


Don't start smudging, it is just a cheap, amateurish shortcut that will make your drawings look like crap. Find me a drawing from a respected draughtsman of any period of art history that features HB pencil smudged over a piece of paper. It is the hallmark of the work of people that can't really draw.

How can I improve my pencil drawings from an intermediate/advanced level?

If you are serious about improving your drawings my advice to you is to take up silverpoint. When people think of beautiful drawings of a truly high calibre the image that pops into their heads (Da Vinci, Holbein, Durer, Raphael) certainly look like pencil, but the tonal control, delicacy and detail of these works is all down to silverpoint. It is a revelation, and actually quite hard to explain to someone who hasn't used it. Although the results look similar to the untrained eye, the difference between using silverpoint and pencil is as great as the difference between a pencil and a tin of spraypaint. Some of the problems you talk about - consistent areas of tone, better control over contrast - are a breeze with silverpoint, you really have to work to make a mark so it gives you complete control over the tone of your lines. If you can imagine holding your lightest pencil as loosely as possible, scuffing it as gently as you can over a piece of paper, the result will be something akin to pressing down and working over the same line several times with silverpoint. Silver can be sharpened with sandpaper and the quality of line achieveable is staggering. While it'd be impractical to hand out extensive advice here, there is enough to get you started on wikipedia and this page if you so wish. You can start very cheaply - prepare a piece of paper by painting on some ground up coloured chalk mixed with water, and draw with a sharpened piece of silver taped to the end of a pencil or paintbrush.

As far as your issue with the glossy photo goes - it is important to regularly draw from life, but what is more important is copying other artworks and regularly copying from photos, books and magazines, including challenging and difficult objects featuring glass, water and reflections. Turn them upside down or sideways and copy from there. You need to work to train your brain as fully as possible that this isn't a glossy photo, face, car, ball, glass of water, or silver teapot, it is an arrangement of lines and tones. Turning reference material upside down helps to force you to copy the somewhat alien scene in front of you rather than start on a footing of "okay, I recognize this as a glossy photograph, I think I know how to represent it." You need to confront your subject as naively as possible in terms of what it is, and draw what you see.

Everything else is practice. Draw regularly, start out with a big pad and a firm commitment to fill at least one page a day and build on that.
posted by fire&wings at 4:09 AM on August 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Copying from Anatomy is an absolutely amazing thing to do. Harder than you'd think, and incredibly instructive. There's a reason they used to make us copy the Old Masters.
posted by nax at 5:23 AM on August 29, 2009


Find me a drawing from a respected draughtsman of any period of art history that features HB pencil smudged over a piece of paper. It is the hallmark of the work of people that can't really draw.

WRONG.

The Art of Pencil Drawing by Ernest William Watson

See page 18. Smudge/Tortillon technique may not be to your particular liking, but your pronouncement is vastly overstated.
posted by Scoo at 7:22 AM on August 29, 2009


All I can saw is who the hell is Ernest William Watson? When I can ascertain his credentials I'll judge the worth of his out-of-print advice on smudging pencil, over the proven techniques of the masters of art history.
posted by fire&wings at 6:06 AM on August 30, 2009


I have found the book Rendering in Pen and Ink to be quite practical in the specifics of shading and texture. You might want to look into it. While written ages ago and primarily focusing on metal nib pens and ink, it is really quite explicit and accessible about things to practice and techniques for all sorts of drawing.

Good luck. I really do love this book.


Just saying this again, it's a really good book.
posted by The Whelk at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2009


Don't start smudging, it is just a cheap, amateurish shortcut that will make your drawings look like crap.

Yeah, don't do that.

Find me a drawing from a respected draughtsman of any period of art history that features HB pencil smudged over a piece of paper.

I get it, he's talking about drafting -- the question is about drawing. And why all the pen recommendations, people, he said pencil.

Get a soft pencil, a chamois cloth, and a sharp eraser.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:24 PM on August 30, 2009


Just to chime in on the "smudging" business...you might find it fun to try working in soft willow charcoal on and expensive sheet of paper like Fabriano. It comes in big sheets that have a more resilient "tooth", almost like a sandpaper. Using a paper stump will allow you to smudge without your oily fingers setting the charcoal permanently in the paper. Then you can adjust your values and pick out highlights with a kneaded eraser. The surface of high quality paper will stand up to this reworking better because it's made from rags instead of wood pulp, which is nice if you want to do a still life that you're going to put a lot of time into. Also, you can soften a kneaded eraser nicely by adding a bit of vaseline to it. When you've got it how you want it -spray it with fixative... et voila!
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:12 AM on September 2, 2009


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