Beauty illustration – Perfecting the smokey eye

Last week I completed my graphite illustration of Matilda.  You can read about it here.  This week it’s time to put my Photoshop skills to the test and see if I can perfect that old classic – the smokey eye.


It’s pretty rare for me personally to go to the trouble of putting ANY makeup on these days, let alone taking half an hour to master a smokey eye look.  Now days it’s no makeup or my Homer Simpson makeup gun is set to whore.  Seriously I am that clueless about makeup!


Fortunately, Emmi and the girls at Maya Organic Beauty Therapy know what they are doing and wrote me a step by step guide smokey eye tutorial.  With my guide in hand it was time to tackle Photoshop.

Into the Wormhole

Now I am only slightly more adept at Photoshop than I am at makeup application.  I have had Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom tablet and pen for about seven years but everything I’ve learnt has been through trial and error.  My skills are pretty basic but, to be honest, I have no desire to become a digital artist anyway.

I do occasionally watch a YouTube Photoshop tutorial but I either get bamboozled by the tech speak or, having the attention span of a gnat, tune out after about five minutes.  I have recently discovered Draw with Jazza who keeps it simple and to around 20 minutes per tutorial (I am yet to get past the 10 minute mark but that’s my issue not his! – New Years Resolution = learn to focus).

Photoshop is a wormhole.   I step in at 9am and then few moments later I am disturbed by a dull headache from being hunched over staring at a computer screen (without my glasses on), only to discover that it’s now 4pm!.  I sit back and look at what I’ve achieved and then….


….and here we are back where I started at 9am but for the addition of some blue eyes.


The ability to remove all trace of what you’ve done is kind of what’s good and bad about Photoshop.  It is brilliant that if you mess something up, it’s not quite right or for whatever reason you don’t like it… voila…  you can just hit delete and in seconds remove all trace that it was ever there.  You can’t really do that with traditional art works.  Yeah you can erase it or paint over it but you can only do this so many times.  At some point you have to call time, there has to be an end, a finish point.  The paper won’t take any more erasing or any more layering of pencil.  Any more paint and things will just turn muddy brown.  There is a point where it is as good as its going to get and you have to stop.   With Photoshop…


And so panned out my first three days of trying to ‘makeup ‘ Matilda.  I’d work all day long only to get to 4pm to discover that I didn’t like it any more and in a moment of frustration delete everything.

Finally I gave myself an ultimatum.  This was it.  Last day.  Wherever I get to today that is it.  Let go of my perfectionist tendencies and call it finished.

web-final.jpgStep by Step

When I was a child I always wanted to be a graphic artist (and a vet, and a pilot, and an architect, and… you get the picture) but my parents “encouraged” me to study sciences, go university and get a “real” job.  I ended up as a police officer?!?.  I am not quite sure that was what my parents had planned!

Anyway I digress… I wanted to be a graphic artist.  I love designing layouts.  I can’t explain it but something fascinates me about layouts. I am a layout nerd.  Hence I came up with several different, increasingly complex versions for my final step by step tutorial.  And when I say complex I mean complex, there were arrows, connecting lines, different fonts, close-ups, colours, shapes …

In the end the most simple version seemed to be the most effective.





Graphite Pencil and digital art illustration of MatildaI also have to say in retrospect, while it was not my intention, this has ended up a very similar layout to Kimberley McCone’s beauty illustration I mentioned in last week’s blog post.  I guess it must have stuck in my head.  So I herby gratefully and respectfully acknowledge the inspiration Kimberley’s works has given me and the amazing-ness of her talent!

This project was really just for my practice anyway and I have no intention of using it in any commercial sense.  (But hey if any makeup artists out there do want a collaboration, you know where to find me!)

Photo Credits 1/

New Year: New Goals -Time to get some perspective!

Last year I achieved some pretty serious personal goals and a couple of artistic ones.  I started my blog, embarked on a couple of collaborations ,which will hopefully come to fruition later this year, and generally committed a lot more time to my art.

This year (apart from cracking the elusive 1000 followers on Instagram).  I want to do more collaborations and commissions.  I suppose it is a bit about moving my art from “hobby” status in to something more like a “job”.

Secretly I have always had this unfulfilled desire to be a commercial artist.  To have people contact me with fabulous projects that just cater perfectly to my style of illustrating.  Calls from Gucci or Alexander McQueen to head to Europe and illustrate their latest runway collection from my front row seat next to one of those Kardashian people.  Or perhaps Vogue magazine want me to illustrate the top five breakout models of the 21st Century.  Hey, Beyoncé wants a family portrait?  Sure just let me check my calendar (or should that be get your people to contact me people Bey).

I know, I live in a fantasy world.  I suspect the reality of commercial illustration is a hell of a lot different to a fully paid trip to Milan, where I bash out a couple of illustrations, have cocktails with Karl and Anna and then head home, first class of course.  No doubt it’s a hard slog, some crappy, boring, ordinary jobs and not a lot of money!

I have, in the past, been requested to do a couple of small projects and I find the reality of having to draw something that somebody else wants you to draw a little frustrating!  I wanna draw what I wanna draw not what you want me to draw! (No, I don’t want to draw your baby!… unless of course it’s dressed in Dolce and Gabbana … then maybe I’ll think about it.  Oh Blue Ivy, Rumi and Sir can wear whatever they want Bey)  Truth be told I would probably be a pretty sucky commercial artist but I can still dream from time to time!

So I figured if Gucci ain’t coming to me I’m going to Gucci.  Well kind of…  I’m making my own “dream” projects.

“Yeah I’ll be king when dogs get wings
Can I help it if I still dream time to time”

– It’s Good to Be King – Tom Petty

The Beauty Pitch

I have been a bit keen to try my hand at some makeup illustrations.   You know a bit like MAC makeup have but something slightly more sophisticated or “arty” than just a one-dimensional template.

I think lots of creatives get inspired by other creatives but it is important to give credit where credit is due!.  For this project I am totally inspired by the work of New Zealand artist, Kimberley McCone, (top left and Sandra Suy (bottom left   (I think the images on the right are also Sandra Suy’s but they are not referenced on Pinterest).

So I pitched my concept to my lovely beautician, Emmi, who owns and runs Maya Organic Beauty Therapy.  She was totally onboard, although I sensed a bit of trepidation at the thought of posing makeup free.  Fortunately one of her staff, Matilda, happily volunteered (or had her arm twisted… I’m not entirely sure what went down!).  When I received Matilda’s makeup free selfie I was absolutely gobsmacked at what a natural beauty this girl is!  And I feel a bit sheepish adding makeup to her already gorgeous face!

Catching the light

I have to confess that this is my second attempt at drawing Matilda.  The first one I messed up and managed to make Matilda look a bit… strange!  It seems so obvious now where I went wrong but at the time I couldn’t figure out what the problem was and persevered with it far longer than I should have.  Clearly her left eye is like a centimeter higher than her right and a bit smaller, giving her a very “wonky” eyed look!


Once I’d accepted that I would have start all over again I was determined to fix those eyes up.  I felt like it was more than just the height difference that had messed me up.

Matilda had taken a selfie with her mobile phone for me to use as a reference photograph and I had a feeling that maybe this was the source of my problems.  I did a bit of research to try to figure out what was going wrong and hopefully rectify things.

First off ‘the closer a camera is to your face, the larger your nose looks, the smaller your ears look and the more slope is applied to your forehead’  Secondly, if the camera is close to your face (i.e. arms length) and you look directly down the lens you may end up looking cross-eyed!

Finally, catch lights are the reflection of the light source on the surface of the eyes.  Catch lights can be different shapes, sizes and brightness depending on the light source itself.  There can be one in each eye or multiples, but they should be the same in each eye.  The most natural look is a round catch light.

The conventional position of catch lights is at 10 or 2 o’clock.  Allegedly the earliest portrait painters found that the most pleasing balance resulted when either of those positions was used.  Catch lights below 9 or 3 o’clock can look unnatural.  No catch lights at all will make the portrait a bit dead eyed.

Since the eyes had caused me so much trouble the first time round I went for the most conventional and allegedly aesthetically pleasing look; one round catch light in each eye at 2 o’clock.



Second times a charm … almost

Second time around went a bit better but I ended up doing a lot more shading and detail to the entire face than I had initially planned.   My original idea had been to keep it quite simple and just detail the eyes, mouth and perhaps a little bit of the nose but once I start I can’t stop.

I didn’t really know what to do with the hair.  I didn’t want to spend too much time on it as it as it isn’t the focus of this drawing (I’ll hit my hairdresser up when I want to do a hair portrait which will be like never).


I did this picture of Dutch model Daphne Groeneveld ages ago.  She had platinum blonde, almost white hair, styled in elaborate braids and dreadlocks.  On that occasion rather than try to draw the blonde hair, I focused on emphasising the low lights or shadows in the hair.  It gave it a more stylised effect rather than a realistic one but it was quite effective.  As Matilda has very blonde hair I thought I would try the same idea.

final-blog1.jpgIt’s all about Perspective

I am still not entirely cool with her eyes.  As my husband pointed out – ‘it’s all about perspective”.  If you compare the full face portrait with the close up, the cross-eyed look only really becomes apparent from a distance (i.e. in the full face portrait).  I guess I have learnt a valuable lesson about using selfies as a reference photograph and I will take a bit more care in the future.

Part 1 is complete and now to add the “makeup”.  My Photoshop skills are a bit limited (and my makeup application skills even more so!) so this will be a new challenge… stay tuned!


The Tools

Arches Drawing Paper 185gsm smooth A3

Tombow mono drawing pencils 

Staedtler Mars Lumograph black 6B 

Model muse – Alisha Nesvat – Marni Spring 2018

Alisha Nesvat you are my new muse!  This girl popped up all over the Spring runways.  I first noticed her in some photographs from backstage at Rodarte’s Spring 2018 Ready to Wear runway show during couture week  I did an illustration of her which you can see it on my old blog here or Instagram.  I just love her face: big bushy eyebrows and all those freckles!.  I also like to think she is super sweet as she thanks all the fashion designers on Instagram after every show (naawwwhhh).  Anyway this one is of Marni Spring Ready to Wear.  More on the process and work in progress photos below!

Photo credit:

Drawing process

Fashion week illustrations tend to be my way to practice something or try out a new technique.  I mentioned in my last post the work of JD Hillberry.  Anyway his book, “Drawing Realistic Textures in Pencil” arrived last week and I have been speed reading it for tips on drawing portraits.  There is a section (and you can also find this in one of his free tutorials) about graphite shine which is basically “when light strikes a drawing … it bounces back in many different directions”.  I’ve never really considered this to be a problem except for when I try to take photographs and you get that nasty reflective glare.  But as JD says, (I like to think he’s a ‘JD’ kind a guy or maybe he a “Hills”, or “Hilly”?) if you’re trying to create the darkest area you don’t want it to be reflecting light as that kind of defeats the purpose.  He suggests using charcoal for the darkest values in a drawing (hair, eyelashes, the pupil, the line between the lips) as it is non-reflective.  Hmmm.. makes sense… I’m intrigued… let’s give it a try.

Of course ANOTHER trip to the art shop was required!  “I’ll be five minutes gotta get one thing!”  I cried to my husband as I sent him off to the supermarket.  Twenty minutes, one eraser and four pencils later we reunited in the fruit and veg section.  “It could have been worse.. Derwent do a whole range of COLORED graphite pencils … and…”  He wasn’t listening any more.

Back home and I tested out these new treasures.  Ugghhh charcoal…. WTF?  To say I was unimpressed is an understatement.  Charcoal is scratchy, abrasive, messy shit and looks all kinds of wrong next to the soft greyness of graphite.  But JD reassuringly advise me “you can blend charcoal in to graphite and layer graphite over charcoal”. … and use liquid frisket (masking fluid) to protect your highlights!.  OMG this is actually a brilliant idea I had never thought of before.


Here are the six pencils (yes I discovered I had two carbon pencils already!) and a 6B graphite pencil.  You can really see the “graphite shine” the 6B produces (far left) compared to carbon and charcoal pencils.  The Woodless Charcoal Pencil (far right) was the more comfortable and familiar feeling one out of the six but in the interests of testing myself I went for the Derwent as it felt kinda middle ground not the easiest to use and not the trickiest.

Eyes, nose, mouth (and ears)

I was going to follow JD’s eye drawing step by step but he goes about it in a different order to me.  I tend to work from darkest to lightest; generally – pupil, upper crease, iris, lower crease line, eyelid shadow, inner and outer eye corners, eye white. eyelashes.  It was just way too counterintuitive for me to a follow his sequence.   My focus was using charcoal anyway so I stuck to his advice for that rather than following the steps exactly.  I definitely wanted to use charcoal for the pupil and, as he suggests, the crease above the eye and eyelashes.  In retrospect I realise why charcoal goes down last.  It is messy stuff!.  Moving on to the nose and lips I did leave the charcoal to last.  I really do like the matt black look charcoal gives.  It is quite effective and sits much better next to the softness of graphite than I anticipated.


Adding color


The Marni collection featured beautiful bright pops of electric blue and emerald-green eyeshadow.   I am not particularly skilled in color pencil but I wanted to capture this and contrast it against the graphite pencil.  I am super pleased with how it turned out.  I struggled a bit to put the charcoal pencil eye crease over the top of the color pencil.  Trying to put charcoal eyelashes on top of waxy color pencil was even worse!  These are two mediums that fight each other.  It is also difficult to keep a sharp point with charcoal.   Consequently, I didn’t find it the best thing to use in fine, detailed, areas and went back to my usual process of using a 6B graphite pencil!


Finally the earring!  I love these Marni earrings… “old pearl-and-metal jewelry bent and twisted haphazardly, one part granny, one part Calder” (Sally Singer – Vogue).  Couldn’t have said it better Sally, especially now I know “Calder” is the dude who originally created the mobile!  See fashion is educational!  I am not particularly happy with how these earings came out.  Jewelry is definitely something I need to keep practicing.


I used a mix of charcoal and graphite shavings to complete the neck just blending them with a paintbrush.  I wanted it to look at bit out of focus and keep the attention on her face and the earring.   For the black blouse I used the soft Woodless charcoal pencil and blended it with a tissue.  Oh boy this was so, so, messy.  I had charcoal everywhere!   To make matters worse trying to do all the little corners around the earring turned in to a nightmare!.  The charcoal pencil lead kept snapping.  I went back to the a harder Derwent charcoal and that just chewed through my pencil sharpeners…. ahhhgg.   On to the Cretacolor charcoal pencil and again the lead just kept breaking.  And yes I know lady in the art shop.. ‘use a blade to sharpen them’.  I hate using a blade and why were pencil sharpeners invented if I have to use a blade?

I used a blade…  here is my pencil  The words dirty-mother-f……  etc etc may have been spoken (quite loudly) but lets move on.



Ok so I pretty much gave up after this. 😤

To sum up

Using charcoal was a frustrating experience.  I did a quick side by side comparison to see if there is a noticeable difference between charcoal and graphite pencil and whether it is worth the heartache.  To be honest, from this image below I don’t think so but in the flesh yes.  The charcoal pupil definitely has a more realistic feel to it.  I probably will use charcoal again for pupils, nostrils, the line between the lips and other super dark shadows.  It doesn’t actually fight with the grey of the graphite as much as I thought it would.


I will not use if for finer lines like eyelashes.  I don’t actually think its appropriate anyway as eyelashes aren’t necessarily “black black” nor do you get much graphite shine with a single line. I will be sticking to soft graphite pencils.

It is highly unlikely (like hell will freeze over etc etc) I will ever use charcoal again for large areas!  I love the matt-ness it gives but its way too messy and I simply don’t enjoy using it.  Perhaps if I had more patience I could have persevered and ended up with a nice finish. It is more than likely if I need to do a large black area I will use gouache!

I think my real lesson in the whole process is to be open to new ways of doing things but also trust in yourself and what you know already. Sometimes the best method is the one you already know! And despite my frustrations I still love you Alisha!




The details

Arches Drawing Paper 185gsm smooth A3

Tombow mono drawing pencils (6B, 2B, HB, 2H and 4H

Cretacolor Charcoal pencil 

Derwent Charcoal pencil

Woodless Charcoal pencil

Prismacolor premier color pencils