Complete Step By Step Portrait Drawing Lessons

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  • Drawing Basics: On Midtone Paper

    Let’s get right down to the business of drawing. I attend life drawing classes twice a week at Spring Street Studios, and for many years now, I’ve been drawing figures on Rives BFK Tan printmaking paper. This is an archival paper, but the reason I chose it from among the many archival papers available is its toning. I draw using white Prismacolor pencils for highlights and Staedtler graphite 2B’s for darks.

    The toning is important when doing a figure drawing because it establishes a mid-tone before I make any moves. In a life drawing workshop, the problem is always how to get a drawing done in the time you’ve got. Once the pose changes, it’s gone. A lot of my strategy for life drawing involves solving the problem – how do I cover more surface area in less time? I can’t use a thicker drawing implement like charcoal because I’m finicky about detail. The toning of my paper allows me to go for the fine structures when drawing anatomy in a 20-minute or 40-minute pose by leaving me free to focus only on highest highlights and darkest shadows.

    Figure drawing by Daniel Maidman, Ilya
    Ilya by Daniel Maidman,
    pencil on paper, 2010.

    A few examples of the results of my life drawing classes are below. What strategies do you use to match your style and the time you have when figure drawing in a limited-time situation?

    Much longer posts, more esoteric and with more bad words, can be found my website. And if you’re wondering, “Just who is this guy?” you’re welcome to look at my work as well and decide for yourself.


  • The Perfect Pencil

    Dan Gheno, a New York-based artist and teacher, introduced me to the Pitt oil-base sanguine pencil, and it is my favorite material to draw pencil sketches with. I like it because it has a nice warm tone reminiscent of the marks in some Renaissance and Classical drawings and because it is waxy enough to stay down on the paper and dry enough to yield to some erasing.

    It does not smudge like charcoal or even graphite, and I find that I don’t need to spray it with fixative when I’m done. Yet only the darkest and most rubbed in marks cannot be pulled up using a kneaded eraser. In short, it is forgiving yet stable and true. Good pencil? Forget it–sounds like a good spouse!

    Faber-Castell, the manufacturer of the Pitt oil-base sanguine pencil, also makes pastels in the same colors as the oil-base pencils. But those are chalkier. You can recognize the oil-base pencils because it says “oil-base” on the shaft and because it is marked with the color of the lead on the very end of the pencil only. On the pastel pencils the lead color is indicated on the end and it also continues a little way up the shaft. I’ve been in a hurry in an art-materials store and grabbed the wrong one, and although the pastel pencil is a fine product, I wanted my favorite as I sat down to draw that night. And my favorite is the Pitt oil-based sanguine.

    A confession: True or not, I think that the warm, traditional tone and clean marks (neither smudged nor compromised by unerasable mistakes) make my drawings look just a little bit better, and some days, I need that psychological lift. Big Smile

    Someone please tell me I’m not the only person who geeks out over a specific pencil…and if i’m not, what is your favorite?

    Pitt oil-based sanguine pencil for drawing