Exploring other ways to draw a portrait with pencil
I tried to change my usual method to draw my self-portrait with pencil, and learned quite a few things along the way
Did I stick to my new drawing routine? Spoiler: meh…
Last time we discussed it in the blog, I told you that I was doing great with my new drawing routine: I was drawing a little something something everyday first thing in the morning, before I tackle anything on my to-do list. Wether it was taking 5 or 45 minutes was not relevant, the point was to draw everyday. I insisted on the fact that I needed everything to be permanently set up so all I had to do was just grab the pencil and draw, in a very spontaneous way. And I wondered if my current method (looking at my reference picture as an abstract pile of very basic geometric shapes) had any part in the success of this routine.
So how did it go? Did I stick to my newfound routine? Not so much. I had to tweak it a little bit to make it work.
I had a bad cold (a.k.a. the “dog ate my homework” excuse)
I had a very bad cold and I stopped drawing for 2 weeks, almost 3. Well, that’s what I was telling myself. Which I am skeptical about now in hindsight, because I did not give up on my yoga routine, my gym routine nor my meditation routine during that time. So…
The dreaded blank page
My previous personal project was finished, so I had to begin another one from scratch. I have to admit: beginning a new personal project is such a daunting task that I was not anywhere near the spontaneous-5-minute-drawing mindset. This method works very well when I know where I am heading with a project, when I have a clear vision in my mind, eyes on the prize and all that jazz. It is not at all the way I begin a project, though. How did I manage to make it work? I changed my planning and gave it a whole morning. I needed it to go past the ideation phase, to give it the few hours I needed to draw the first rough sketch. Once this was done, I could revert back to the casual 5-minute-drawing way. Note to self: schedule a half-day of focused work at the beginning of any project, be it personal or business.
Let’s change everything else
Since I had questions about the influence of my current drawing method on my routine, I decided to change the way I usually draw. In that case, change meant:
study 3D models of the head
draw with a grid
draw the face with shades of grey
use colour in the last step
The result is not that different from my usual style: it’s still a self-portrait with a breton shirt after all! By the way it’s from Sezane, it’s organic cotton and I love that this brand is making steps towards a more sustainable line. The creative process for the drawing, though, was fairly different and I learned a lot along the way.
For this drawing, you don’t need a lot, just:
a pencil (I use 2B)
white paper (I draw on 250 gsm/90lb grained A4 paper).
Once again, I wanted to draw a self-portrait from a photo. Let’s say that I am a bit too shy to ask anyone to model for me, so it is easier to be my own model . But getting a reference picture of myself definitely requires some more organization. You may already have a photo you want to draw from, or you may know a nice person who is willing to take that photo for you.
That is the simple way. Which is not mine, of course! I did not want to take a selfie, so I switched, once again, my camera to video mode, put it on a table, focused and went to the other side of the table. I struck different poses, then went back to the camera to stop the video. Back at my computer, I chose my favourite pose and extracted a picture from the video. It’s a bit like taking a thousand pictures to be sure there is one you like!
#1 Learn how to draw a head in volume
I am not used to this, but I wanted to learn. I tried to follow one of these methods where you are given a 3D model of the head. I usually stay away from them, because I feel like it favours “idealistic” drawings of “perfect” people who don’t exist. I much prefer to draw real people, with real flaws and all, because it’s what makes them interesting and beautiful in my view. But I wanted to learn, and I reasoned that I could always tweak the proportions to resemble my real model.
#2 Draw with a grid
This was totally unusual for me too. Instead of instinctively choosing basic geometric shapes to draw, I laid down a grid and squared my reference picture. It’s a very ancient method (see below). At first, I found it very boring, uninspiring and repetitive. Then I began to like it. I almost kept the squares as a background, maybe something to try next time…
Here are some examples of squared works of art :
#3 Draw the stripes of the breton shirt
Back in my comfort zone here! I love drawing bretons. I just drew the outline of the stripes, the colouring I keep for later so I don’t risk to smudge it by mistake.
#4 Drawing the details, hair and face
I usually go for a much lighter indication of the hair and facial features, because I was initially inspired by Ingres. This time around, I went for a much more detailed approach – maybe because of what I experimented with in the grey portrait. The blending of the face is more apparent in this other version of the drawing.
#5 Last digital touch
I added the last touch to this portrait by scanning the work and adding a few digital touches:
erase the grid
add a suggested window in the back – I wanted to give the impression of summer light
play with colours and contrasts
Which one is your favourite version?
Your turn! How will you change your creative process today?
If you want a step-by-step guide to how I draw a self-portrait, with even more detail, check out this course, a simple guide to creating an elegant portrait or self-portrait, which will be ready to frame or gift in only 7 days.
If you liked this post, you may also like these other posts about portraits: