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Question & answer resource for artists.
Answers are from the site author unless otherwise noted.

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Drawing Page

Golden Mean
Contour Drawing
Negative Space
Smudging
Fixing Charcoal
Making Pastels
Finding Models
Drawing Hands
Drawing Eyes
Human Proportions
Wrinkles in Portraits
Cross-hatching
Contour Shading
A Trois Crayons
Blending Pastels
Making Charcoal and Ink
Silverpoint Supplies
Copies of Drawings
Camera Lucida



How can I make my own pastels?

Crude Pastel Recipe:
Boil 1/4 cup rolled oats in quart of water for five minutes. Filter oat the oats and use the oat water to make a play dough like dough (malleable but not sticky) out of good quality childrens' powdered tempera and talc only baby powder. A good starting point for the dough would be half a cup of talc, two tablespoons of pigment and a teaspoon of the oat water. If you are using real pigments the talc/color mix should maybe start at half-and-half. You can add varying degrees of white tempera to get lighter tints. Roll dough into pencil thick snakes on sheet of newsprint and cut into finger length segments. Permit to dry. If the oat *glue* solution is too weak the dry pastels will crumble in your fingers. If it is to strong you will have difficulty building up the drawing since the pastel should powder and adhere to the rough surface of the pastel paper.

An alternative to the oat water is either say half a bottle of childrens' mucilage glue or two tablespoons of rice flour dissolved in a quart of very hot water. The mucilage is that amber colored syrupy school glue that comes in those funny bottles with the rubber tops which must be pierced with a scissors before the glue is used--. If the mucilage gives pastels that are too brittle and splinter or don't draw properly one or two tablespoons of honey may be added to the glue and water solution.

Crude Pastel Paper or Board
Mix up white powdered tempera paint with unflavored gelatin before it has a chance to cool and gel. Add the finest sand available and prime support. Fine sand paper painted white may also be used.

Real Pastel Recipe
De solve one ounce of crystal gum taragacnth or gum Arabic in three or four quarts of distilled water (dissolve gum crystals in a cup of warm water and then mix into the rest of the water). This solution will mold if stored without some kind of fungicide such as clove oil or Listerene(tm) mouth wash. Use this solution to make a paste out of one part pigment and one part fine chalk or kaolin clay. To make a range of tints take a portion of the previous fifty-fifty dough and mix it half and half with pure chalk dough... Repeat this process with a portion of this new lighter dough... Repeat until you have the lightest dough you desire. Roll into sticks as above.

Pastel Fixative
Skimmed milk sprayed on in light layers with a plant mistor but without permitting the paper to become significantly damp. One yolk of egg (remove yolk sac) or a teaspon of unflavored gelatin dissolved in a quart of water may also be used but is slightly more inclined to cause shiny patches.


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All my eyes on a face look to astonished is it just the way I look at things or is it the way I am drawing?

If your error is the one I see most commonly with students it is the following: You are showing whites above and bellow the iris.

The upper eyelid rests on or below the top of the pupil and the lower eyelid rests just above the bottom of the iris so the pupil iris should be a circle with its top and bottom cut across by the eyelids unless the subject is astonished or terrified. I draw the eye opening and then place parentheses like curves on to create the discontinuous disc of the iris... the iris then has striations leading into toward the pupil and commonly also is darker at its outer edge then across the rest of its form.

The pupil is then drawn in as the bottom say 4/5s of a smaller circle and usually a so-called trap light of gleam is added to the upper left to indicate the wetness of the eye even if such a high light isn't actually present in the scene... it is a standard convention that also indicated roundness rather than flatness for the eyeball.

Furthermore, the eyeball does not fill the space of the eye opening but is a sphere that falls short of the corners... Usually the outer corners are obscured by the eyelashes set at an oblique angle due to the curvature of the eyeball upon which the eyelid rests. The inner corner of the eye however shows distinctly that the corners are occupied by soft tissue rather than the eyeball itself... this corner is filled with the little pink ball of the tear duct (I sometimes represent this with just a circular mark of highlight... and there is a band of pink tissue that wraps around the eyeball itself immediately to the side of the tear duct. The white of the eye should be filled with a light film of gray for drawing or pink or flesh color to indicate both the ton resulting from the minute blood vessels of the eyes and the fact that it is mostly in the shade of the brow, upper lid and lashes. Seldom is the *white* the lightest areas on the face or even of the eyes... pure white should be reserved for flashes of gleam and the visible edge of the lower eyelid indicating its thickness. Most importantly for the white is that it be shade towards the corners of the eye to indicate the roundness of its surface... even in direct light the surfaces of the eye viewed obliquely by the artist will be less bright than the surfaces viewed orthogonaly.

Now the eyelids: this is a thickness of skin that falls over the eyeball and surrounding soft tissue in the eye socket. The opening has a ledge top and bottom indicating thickness although the upper is usually obscured by lashes... the upper, however, does usually indicate the slight bulge of the cornea over the iris and also casts the shadow that shows that the iris is set back from this clear surface of the eyeball. The apex of the curve of the upper eyelid usually falls above the inner edge of the iris where as the greatest dip of the lower falls toward the outer edge of the iris, this means the eye opening is far from symmetrical on either the vertical or horizontal axis. Further more the eye opening follows around the tear duct bulge on the inner edge and is thus far from having a pointy corner but rather a curved pocket set low for this budge.

The biggest error I see with lashes is setting them regularly and as a standard length rather than as irregular clumps that shorten towards the inner corner of the eye. They are curved hairs which viewed head on are clumps but on either side of the vertical axis terminate towards the corner from there origin.

Eyebrows. Get the curve of soft flesh attached to the underside of the brow before getting to the crease where the eyelid begins to lay snugly on the surface of the eyeball. The brow hair is long sparse and vertical at the middle of the face and at just in from the inner corner of the eye switches to a more densely pact configuration of diagonally running hairs meeting from top to bottom running to the outside of the face as kind of a single herringbone row.

The key to representing the eyes obliquely as in the case of say a three-quarter profile is that the sphere of the eye begins to occlude the eye opening as it turns away from you, the circles of the pupil and iris foreshorten into ellipses, and most importantly maybe, you can measure the relate apparent widths of the two eye structures , the one facing more towards you and the one facing more away.

Remember too that the eye width is a wonder full measure for determining the placement of other facial treatments... the following are norms that individuals fall on either side of:


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What is the golden measure?

--The Golden measure or Golden Mean can essentially be described as the division of a line where the smaller segment of the line is to the larger segment as the larger is to the whole. Used to create a rectangle, the short side is approximately 5/8's (.625) as long as the length of the longer side.

--The actual ratio can be rounded as 1:1.618. Many parts of the body are related by this proportion and it is pleasing to the eye.

Since this proportion can be roughly approximated as 1/3 (.666), the Golden Measure may also be the basis of the so-called "rule-of-thirds" which holds that the points of greatest interest and balance in a composition are at the intersections of divisions by thirds.

--The following diagrams show some of the methods for finding the true Golden Section, Golden Rectangle, and Golden Section for the Golden Rectangle for a given line.


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How can I help prevent my drawings from smudging?



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I really want to draw people but I can't get a handle on the proportions... what would help?

  • Look at the "negative space"... we have mental images of the things we can name (such as eyes) that can inadvertently influence our attempt to capture what we actually see, so try to draw the things we don't have metal models of... the shapes of the whites of the eye not the iris and pupil, the shape of the eyelids around the eye not the eye itself, the shape of the wall seen behind the cheek not the cheek itself... you will be amazed at how accurately the forms you draw around will be depicted if you work to them this way.
  • Beware of the "skew"! We can recognize people we've never met from a photograph of them viewed from only a single angle. This is because our mind is powerfully able to fabricate models of faces viewed head-on from images of faces originally seen at o blique angles. If we are trying to draw a sitter with their head at an angle to us and maybe tipped on an incline as people most often hold themselves, this head-on model can try to emerge in our drawing as our mind attempts to "normalize" the image. Mar k for yourself the placements and inclines of the vertical and horizontal medians of your sitter face.
  • Measure, measure, measure... how long is the nose relative to the eye? The sitter is looking to one side, how wide is the far cheek relative the near cheek?
  • Look for the shift in planes on the face... where does the forehead cut back to the temple? where does the front of the cheek cut to the side of the cheek? Even drawing a sitter head on you want to indicate the difference between the plane of the che ek that you see head-on and the side of the cheek which is actually set at an oblique angle to you. Observe how the edges where these planes meet are indicated, an abrupt shift in value? a soft transition? a shift in temperature only?
  • Block in the major structures before moving on to the details. You could probably recognize your mother half way down the street before any of the details of her features came into focus. You are responding to the proportion and shape of the light an d dark patterning created by light striking the structure of the face. You can achieve this view of light and dark patterning artificially by looking at your sitter with your eyes squinted up, this suppresses the details that can distract from accurate p erception of structure. Put the right features on the wrong skull and you have lesser likeness then you would with the wrong features on the right skull.
  • Practice, practice, practice... loosen up... don't worry if your drawings are ugly or don't look-right, just keep trying, I'm sure your thousandth effort will be somewhat better than your third.


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    What is contour drawing?



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    What is the drawing of "negative space"?

    -- This should probably be more properly called the drawing of "negative shapes".

    -- Imagine you have a photo of an object or sitter placed before a background and you were to cut that object or sitter out of the image carefully following its edges... the negative space is the set of shapes that would be left of the background when th e object or sitter was removed from the scene.

    -- Artists are interested in negative space for two reasons.



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    How do I fix my charcoal drawings?

    Charcoal fixative spray can be expensive, I mist my drawings with Aqua Net(tm) discount hairspray. The safest and most non-toxic method is misting the drawing with an atomizer filled with skim milk or an egg yolk stirred into a quart of water. One can also mist with a warm gelatin solution made from a teaspoon of unflavored edible gelatin in a quart of water.


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    How do I deal with hands in my portraits? They never look right.

    Observe, observe, observe. Determine the overall shape the fingers fit into (the mitten) and then cut-out their individual contours within that by finding the shapes between the fingers. Look for the curves and tapers and bulges...don't "rubber glove" them. Remember that the curves are constructed out of straight segments with rounded padding over that structure. Try drawing less rather than more than you see. Squint to filter out detail. Practice drawing just the silhouette of the hands. Look at those hands and look at how hands are painted in portraits by your favorite artists. Practice.


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    How can I get models to practice figure and portrait drawing/painting?

    -- Take life classes at local colleges and ask the models if they do private sessions.

    -- It is easier to convince people you know to rather than model nude to instead pose in leotards, body suits, or "bicycle pants" and sleavless T-shirt.

    -- Use magazines and catalogs.

    -- Look at talk shows on TV with the sound turned-off and try to make quick portrait sketches.

    -- Look for photography books that focus on people (this is okay if you are sketching for yourself but becomes a problem if you show the work).


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    How do I deal with wrinkles in portraits?



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    What are "cross-hatching" and "contour shading"?

    -- Hatching was developed as a means of representing intermediate shades in drawing mediums that permit only black or white marks, pure etching for instance. Shading transitions are represented by moving from dense packings of large individual marks to sparse packing of small marks... viewed from a distance this gives the illusion of graded shading.

    -- When density is built up by sets of lines placed over each other at angles it is called cross hatching.

    -- When hatching or cross-hatching follows the surface of the volume they shading (e.g. curve around a spherical volume) it is called contour shading.

    -- When densities of dots rather than lines are used to indicate shading it is called stippling rather than hatching.

    -- There are conventional shading patterns that were developed by engravers in the last century such as dot-and-lozenge, these can be seen in the portraits of dead presidents on U.S. paper money. An example of conventional shading adapted to computer work is a portrait I did using the simple MacPaint program.


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    What is drawing a trois crayons?

    Drawing in charcoal, white chalk, and Sanguine or other red chalk. Often drawings a trois crayon are done on a cool gray paper. Aside from being quite beautiful in its own right, especially for portraits, the technique demands a certain discipline of the artist while still exploiting the potential of color. The reds should be restrained and not overdone for best effect and the cool grays of charcoal or the support can sometimes seem almost like blues if the warm of the red is used effectively.

    I recommend a similar manner of painting in limited color for my students in watercolor and oil since it forces one to really think, however, with oils I recommend the additional use of yellow ocher and in watercolor white is usually omitted.


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    How many methods are there for blending pastels?

    -- Pastels can be blended by finger, paper stump, facial tissue, Q-tip cotton swab, stale bread, rubber eraser, and/or styrofoam packing "peanuts".

    -- Both chalk and oil pastels can be blended by a brush wet in either turpentine or mineral spirits but these require plenty of ventilation for safe use and are a fire hazard. This has been called "spirit medium" painting...

    -- Rubbing alcohol, which is also a fire hazard, can be substituted when using chalk pastels.

    -- If your paper is primed, oil pastels can be blended with sunflower or safflower oil or any other drying oil although these require some time to dry and are sometimes difficult to work over.


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    How can we make coloring materials and ink from soot and charcoal?



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    I have recently been looking for a source for silverpoint supplies. I have been from jewelers to craft stores looking...

    I don't have personal experience with silver point but I've read that you can by a mechanical pencil and load it with jewelers silver wire of appropriate gauge. Also that some people prefer to work on a slightly toothed gesso (see Painting Page) surface rather than paper.


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    How can I make multiple copies of my drawings to give to friends?



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    What is a Camera Lucida?

    A prism that projects a virtual image of a scene down on to the drawing surface. This image can then be traced. Try looking through an 8x10 sheet of regular glass suspended over a dark work surface at 45 degrees front to back with the lower side towards you... try strong illumination on your subject but shade the work surface... you should be able to see your scene reflected on the glass while at the same time see through it to the drawing surface on to which it can be traced. An other arrangement is a sheet of glass parallel to the drawing surface but raised above it by tall blocks to give clearance for tracing... a mirror is then suspended above it at angle such to reflect the scene on to it.


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    ©Daniel Wasserman



    L.C.D. (Least Common Denominator)
    "Make it simple and push the content..."