I realise I am way behind and Paris fashion week is underway. It does seem a little un- “fashion forward” to be talking about London nearly two weeks after it finished!. My excuse is that I have been on holidays for a week with limited internet access. Before I started my holiday I did spot a photograph on The impression (I highly recommend this website if you like to spend/waste hours looking at all the runway collections) of Kenyan model, Nicole Atieno, backstage at the Eudon Choi fashion show. I thought it would be a nice image to continue practicing with the combination of gouache and graphite that I have been using a bit lately (New York fashion illustration). Plus I really liked the squiggly wiggly eye liner on the models – it made me think of a heart beat! Anyway more on the drawing process below.
Photos: The Impression
I often feel like I get caught between the desire to make something look as realistic as possible and creating something a bit more interesting and unique. It is a conflict I don’t feel like I have quite resolved yet and I am never 100 percent confident which direction I want to go in. I guess that comes with time as an artist develops their own distinctive “style” (at least let’s hope so). At the moment I am trying to combine a bit of both.
So as usual I started with the eyes and worked my way down and out. I tried hard to capture as much detail in her features as possible. I admire the skill that goes in to creating hyper/photo realistic graphite pencil drawings and am always keen to get a better understanding of the techniques used to achieve those results. Blending is a technique I see many artists use to achieve realistic skin tones. Blending is basically merging different shaded areas together to create a smoother surface. Some people love it, some people think it’s a bit of no-no.
I have tended to steer clear of blending for two reasons. Number one, I don’t like that “air brushed” look that sometimes comes with blending. I like to see a bit of the texture of both the paper and the pencil in my drawings To me this gives the piece a more tactile, handcrafted, quality rather than that “is it a photo? is it a drawing?” feeling. But that’s just my personal preference. Number two, when I have tried to blend I end up loosing my highlights and lowlights and just creating a bland mid tone grey mess. There is definitely a skill to blending and when done correctly it can look fabulous. (Check out JD Hillberry’s work. I was so impressed I have just purchased his book “Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil” and hopefully will get some tips to improve the realism of my portraits.)
The decision to try some blending in this draw actually came halfway through. I finished the face and then started on the neck and shoulder. It was taking hours and getting quite tedious! I wasn’t particularly happy with the finished result so in frustration I thought blending might be the answer (and speed things up!)
You can use lots of things to blend (again check out JD Hillberry). Often it is done with a tortillon. I didn’t have one handy so I just used a cotton wool buds (this is a legit technique but I fear not a particularly good one in retrospect as it leaves a bit of fluff on the paper). I tried to blend from light areas to dark areas to avoid smudging graphite in to the highlighted areas and essentially turning them grey.
The first image (far left) is the original. The middle is a bit of blending. And far right I really went for it. I have only blending the neck and shoulder not the face. I’m not sure that you can really tell in these photographs but the last one definitely has a smoother finish.
When I saw the photos it became really clear that I need to go back in to those darkest areas to bring the contrast back up. You can really see how much of the shadow under her chin I have lost between the first and last image. A bit of 6B pencil in the darker areas built the contrast up again.
After painting in the striped dress with gouache I still wanted a pop more color and added the yellow background. Maybe in retrospect it would have been nice to use a color that featured more heavily in the Eudon Choi collection like emerald-green or a burnt orange but the again something about a yellow sun and blue and white stripes does make me think of the French Riviera and after all the collection was inspired by Irish architect Eileen Gray’s villa, E1027, on the south coast of France.
A bit of a final clean up of the white areas in Photoshop and London fashion week is done!
Arches Drawing Paper 185gsm smooth A3
Tombow mono drawing pencils (6B, 2B, HB, 2H and 4H)
Daler Rowney designers gouache (Cobalt Blue, Powder Blue, Lemon Yellow, Indian yellow)