Old Masters Academy

Pencil Portrait Drawing Tips on the Line Drawing

In this article I will discuss the importance of a line drawing in producing a pencil portrait drawing. I will also discuss the details of rendering such a drawing. We start with a gridded reference image that has the same dimensions as the drawing we will produce. By the way, a gridded image which has the size of your actual drawing, will usually be too large for most printers to handle in one piece. So, print out the image piece-wise on regular 8.5 by 11 inch paper.

The first step is to draw the same grid on your drawing paper that you drew on your reference image. Use an HB or F pencil with a sharp point and draw very lightly. Remember that this grid eventually will have to be erased.

Once we have drawn the grid we are ready to start putting in the contours of the subject.

The advantages of using a grid are many. Here are a few:

* You can draw the content of one square at a time.

* All proportions and placements are easily discerned.

* Negative spaces become more evident.

* Rendering the correct perspective is greatly simplified.

Here are some guidelines on drawing the outlines (line drawing) of the subject in the photograph:

* For now, only draw lines, i.e., do not do any shading yet.

* Draw lightly and loosely. Use maybe a 2B or 3B sharp pencil. Sharpen your pencils frequently.

* Although you should concentrate on one square, you should not loose sight of the overall structure of the drawing. For example, make sure that the subject matter smoothly transitions from one square to the next. Stand back once and awhile and inspect your progressing drawing from an overall perspective. While concentrating on a particular square, also use your peripheral vision to keep an eye on the neighborhood.

* At this stage, accuracy is of the essence. All drawing at this point is judging lengths and angles within a single square. Use short soft lines which, if needed, you can easily erase.

* Put a sheet of bond paper under your drawing hand so you avoid smudging of the already finished portion of your drawing or of the grid.

* Also draw in the contours of the shadows and other worthy details you notice on your subject. At this stage your task is to produce a detailed map of your subject. We are actually in the process of readying the drawing for the next phase, i.e., shading.

* Try to see in terms of shapes or masses and draw the contours of these shapes and masses. Drawing is doing two things simultaneously (actually, more than two). On the one hand, you need to concentrate on that one current line you are drawing (its length and angle) but simultaneously you should always be aware that this line is part of a shape.

* Make use of the concept of negative space. Also, once and awhile, turn your reference image as well as your drawing upside down or sideways. This often gives you a better perspective on lengths and angles.

* In fact, at this stage, try not to be aware that you are drawing a definite subject. Look at each shape as just a blob without meaning but with definite dimensions and a definite orientation. This will help you with seeing and reducing the involuntary introduction of preconceived notions about noses and such.

* Look at your reference image frequently and carefully.

* Make some choices. What is important? What can you leave out? Drawing is often an exercise in elimination of unnecessary detail.

In this fashion, continue working out one square after another until you have a line drawing of your entire subject. By now, you should already see a fairly good likeness of your subject. Review in detail the entire drawing and make corrections wherever necessary. This is also the time to erase most of the grid. When you are satisfied, you can lightly spray the drawing with workable fixative, just enough so it does not smudge but you can still erase things if you have to.

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