Why the Pencil?
My love of drawing goes back as far as I can remember. The urge to draw and the pleasure it brought to me came early and naturally.
It was always faces and figures that intrigued me the most, and while many young artists eventually would move from pencil and charcoal to oils or other methods of color, the black and white of the graphite pencil remained my favorite for portraits and figurative pieces. I tried other mediums and subject matter, but never felt the passion for them as I did the graphite portraits.
For me, there is something about the feel of the pencil on the paper and the movement of the graphite, creating values and forming contours, that is deeply satisfying. Black and white portraits seem timeless, like the old sepia tintypes that documented the interesting characters of the past. I also love how a black and white portrait can capture the essence of a personality, and seemingly go straight into the soul of the subject, without the distraction of color. (That's not to say that I don't occasionally add a touch of color to my drawings, or very much admire and appreciate full color portraits that other artists create!)
So after an extended period of experimenting with different subject matter and different color mediums, I returned to drawing and portraits, feeling like I had "come home." During that time of rediscovering drawing and faces, I also rediscovered my lifelong fondness for all things of the American West. The three things merged, and ever since I have been happily spending my time at a drawing board, drawing the cowboys, cowgirls, mountain men, Native Americans, and all people of the West.
"Pencil" drawing is a loose term when referring to the medium. “Graphite" is probably a more accurate term, because although a pencil is used, other tools are used as well to apply the graphite to the paper. In fact, for most of the shading and contouring, I use paper tortillons (also known as stumps) and small craft sponges, as well the occasional q-tip, or any other makeshift tool I feel can give me the desired effect. A kneaded eraser is in almost constant use for adding highlights, drawing and even....erasing!
To begin, I rub my pencils on a piece of sandpaper to make a fine graphite powder, then use the various tools to apply the graphite to the paper. The pencils themselves are used to add detail, definition and texture. Working in graphite can be a slow process, and since I tend to work slowly in general, it can take me anywhere from two weeks to over a month to complete a drawing, depending on the size, complexity and what else is going on in life.
Choosing the Subject
My process begins with a photo session and a willing model. Finding just the right models for subject matter is my biggest challenge. Since I do detailed portraits, it is very important to find a subject with the right 'look'. They need to have something about them that is appealing or interesting, that can capture my imagination and, ultimately, the viewer's.
When I am photographing the model, I am consciously composing potential drawings in every shot--trying to get specific looks and, even more importantly, setting a mood or emotion that I want to portray in a future drawing.
When the time comes to begin a new drawing, I go through my photos and see which ones convey the most mood or emotion, as well as seeing the potential of a strong composition and interesting elements. Sometimes it is a combination of photos that make the final drawing.
Once I narrow down my selections, I choose the subject and pose that reaches out to me as the one that can be used to best express the mood and emotion I want to convey. While there is always a temptation to depict the subject exactly as they appear in the photo, I have to keep in mind that it is the artistry and creativity that makes a successful work.
Some 'artistic license' will likely be needed to bring about the desired result. This may mean softening (or hardening) some features on the face, changing the composition, adding certain elements and eliminating others. Hopefully, it all will result in a work of art that conveys the spirit of the person even better than a photograph.
In my next post I will select my photo reference and begin my Work in Progress.