As many of you may already know, I organize costumed figure drawing sessions in my current town of Newmarket, Ontario. One of my side projects over the past few months has been creating portraits of our models to promote each session. For this blog post, I’d like to share my drawing process on our most recent promo portrait- the one of Euphoria Blackwood.
Let’s begin with the under-drawing:
At this stage, I’ve received several selfies from the model in partial costume. I will not be sharing them for privacy reasons, but suffice to say- they have provided me with the suggestion of a pose, the make of the sword, and the model’s proportions and facial features as reference material. I am about to combine these elements with a bit of artistic license to create something that looks very different.
Some reasons why I will not (and do not advise) tracing directly over photographs when drawing characters, but rather doing an under-drawing, and working off of that instead:
1- A camera lens will always distort proportions. A selfie taken by hand will always have especially distorted proportions.
2- Tracing from photos indiscriminately, even when done with a good eye for anatomy, will always make your figures look stiffer. Rounder, more dynamic lines (of the kind you find in quick gesture drawings) make characters look more alive, even if they are not 100% anatomically correct. In fact, breaking from anatomic correctness is sometimes necessary to make an action pose look more “real” to prospective viewers!
Now on to my thought process for the under-drawing itself. Here are some things I am choosing to place as reference points for the drawing that I am about to do over top of it:
1-Proportional reference. I want to know the size of the head in relation to the torso. The torso in relation to the hips. The relative size of the shoulders and arms. How the head is turned (a subtly menacing down-turn in this case), and where the features rest on the face in relation to one another.
2-Composition. For me, this means where everything is going to be placed in this drawing to make it look aesthetically pleasing to the viewer, and draw attention to the important bits (face and hands, in this case). Are the elements in balance? On a whim, I add the suggestion of a little dragon border here to balance out the blockiness of the text.
Now I am ready to begin making this tangle of lines into something resembling a human.
Oof. Looks like a lot happened there, right? Don’t panic. I am about to explain this part too, piece by piece.
To start with, I have left the under-drawing visible here in a shade of red. I want you to be able to see how that first series of lines inspired the more certain, detail-oriented lines over top of them.
I am about to draw a very different costume from the one the model has sent to me, based on a later conversation between us. What you aren’t seeing in the way I draw the clothing is that prior to adding folds, zippers, and other minor details, I make a point of drawing out the shape of the arms and torso more precisely, and figuring out which surfaces are facing what. Folds come into existence where two parts of the body naturally overlap. I am thinking of how the underlying bones have to be positioned to make that pose, and once I know that, the rest is like a montage of muscle and skin gradually assembling itself inside my head, until I reach the leather jacket on top. You can’t see this happening on the page because practice with structural drawings of the human body has trained me to see and apply it without going through every step of drawing bone, muscle and so on. My knowledge is very, very far from perfect (this is why I still use plenty of references in character drawings from imagination- I need to regularly remind myself of how the human body moves). But it is just enough to know what arms and shoulders must do in order to hold a sword. Same goes for the hands. I am thinking of what precisely the knuckles and finger joints need to do to actually grasp that hilt. Even if that’s not obvious yet, It’s something I will need to know once I start shading.
Full disclosure about the face and hair- I open the file containing the model’s initial selfie again, and keep it open alongside my drawing as I’m working, glancing over occasionally to make sure there’s a resemblance. Sure, that’s not exactly her initial expression. And her hair isn’t exactly flowing gloriously in the imaginary wind of what I presume to be a bedroom. But what’s the point of being an artist if you can’t confabulate a bit to make things look more cool? I draw with the intention of creating something that makes the model think “Damn, that makes me look like a badass.” With hair, I especially like to add little flyaways to make it messier, and hence more “real” without actually being very real at all.
Once it comes to the little demon, I realize I have in mind the draconic corner flourishes of medieval texts. I look up a few of these on google images and Pinterest, trying to assemble a general idea of their appearance in my head without actually going through the motions of drawing a series of concepts in my sketchbook. Yes, this is laziness, but let’s be honest- we all have limited time. And I have just enough time to analyze the elements that make them what they are. This goes on for about fifteen minutes, until I feel ready to attempt a drawing that borrows from these stylistic elements, without copying any one style or image. The results of my google search remain open in the corner of my desktop as I draw. I occasionally glance through them when I’m uncertain about something, like the shape of a wing.
Now I am ready to shade.
There’s quite a lot that’s gone into this next part. More, admittedly, than I can explain in detail given the limitations of this post. But I will do my best to cover the broad strokes.
I’ve probably spent more time training myself to shade based on pure intuition than any other element of this process. This means I don’t bother to look up a lighting reference. I do, however, look up a few images of leather jackets to remember what the texture looks like, since I know it responds in an interesting way when reflecting light.
Mentally, I position the light source somewhere in her top right (the viewer’s left). This is quite different from the initial selfie, but I want the model’s face to be more visible, and for the way the light falls on her jacket to appear more dramatic and intentional. I have in mind something midway between well-fitted clothing and armour.
Now it’s important to note here that this drawing is entirely black and white and the shading is done in an ink-based crosshatching style. I’m making a point of saying this because it presents a special set of challenges different from a full-colour or painted piece. To start with, I need to be very careful about value. The depth of the black and the size of the pen stroke will determine whether this all-black jacket looks like a coherent piece of clothing, or an inky blob.
I think about which parts will need to have the deepest black, and fill them in first. This gives me a point of reference for how light and dark everything else will need to be. I then make a point of thinking about major highlights and areas of reflected light. The limitations of the medium prevent me from outlining them. Instead- I have to make a mental note of their position and draw around them. Anxiety-inducing? Sure. But I like to think the final result will be worth the trouble. It’s a style of art I really love.
Another important aspect of crosshatching is drawing lines that follow the direction a surface is facing. For example, there is a side of the arm facing inwards towards the body, and a side facing the viewer. I need my linework to reflect that difference. However, I also know that humans arms are not rectangular blocks, so this needs to be represented in a series of concentric motions of the pen. For the darker areas, I then add the next layer of pen strokes. These ones face stubbornly in the opposite direction. They trick the eye into thinking “this area is in deeper shadow”.
Some of the lines appear more “random” in their positioning than others. This is to account for the inherent messiness of real-life textures. There is no good way of figuring out how to position these “random” lines in a drawing, except through experimentation (and potentially, years of practice). Some artists will describe these parts of a drawing as “happy accidents”. The secret is that they are never truly random or accidents. They are elements of the drawing guided by intuition, rather than conscious thought. Good Intuition about drawing takes time to develop over long periods of experience and failed attempts, much like intuition about people’s intentions. We may not realize it’s happening, but every human interaction over the course of our lifetimes contributes to forming that intuition about people we encounter for the first time. Drawing is the same.
And that concludes the process!
To see further developments from our costumed figure drawing classes and enter into our growing artist community, feel free to join our official Facebook group here . Advance tickets for our session with Euphoria Blackwood on July 30th are available here.
You can also leave comments if you have any questions, or toss something towards my Kofi if you’d like to offer a special thanks <3