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: Vogue.com
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.
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!
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