DETAIL v FORM – DRAWING SHORT HAIR

June 6th, 2015

Liz emailed me to ask:

How far do I take the “detail” of short hair, when the horse’s coat is so very smooth? I feel I’m losing the “sense” of shape if no detail. in the very smooth areas. So detail or not?

It depends on what you think the major features are – the main message you want to convey. In this case it’s probably the smooth and glossy appearance, so I’d concentrate on that, and then add just enough texture to maintain the feeling of hair.

Coincidentally, my friend Sheona (who is currently taking my Drawspace Advanced course) submitted a drawing that might help you.

"Racing Ready" by Sheona Hamilton-Grant

“Racing Ready” by Sheona Hamilton-Grant

The horse is definitely glossy but not so smooth that it looks unnatural. In this case, it was an exercise on recession, so you wouldn’t expect to see hair detail on the head and neck, but I think the mottled rump sends the “hair” signal that you then subconsciously apply to the rest of the horse.

Personally, I went through a “Detail is King” stage and I believe it is a necessary step before you learn which detail to enhance and which to merely suggest.

Duvet design

Here’s an old drawing of mine from around 1987:

Section of Duvet design by Mike Sibley

Section of Duvet design by Mike Sibley, 1987

It is deliberately high contrast with few areas of flat midtone shading because it was designed to be printed onto fabric, but if I’d intended it to be a print or sold as an original, I’d consider it to be over-detailed.

The dark eyes do attract attention but the horse’s mane is so sharp that it drags my eye back – it’s more primary than secondary in importance. The same applies to the base of the neck – it contains detail with a strength that defeats any attempt at creating recession. Softer detail in that area would have increased the perceived depth. It’s also of little or no importance to our understanding of the horse. The Shetland Pony contains less physical depth so I can probably get away with the globally-applied tight detail it contains.

Incidentally, this was part of a duvet design. The rest of the stable and other featured animals are on a series of separate drawings:

Complete Duvet design by Mike Sibley

Complete Duvet design by Mike Sibley

The kittens appear to be black and white, have glossy coats, and are obviously hairy. Again, if this was not intended for printing onto fabric, I would have softened the detail in the hair.

Finally…

Think of the message you want to send to viewers of your artwork; maybe look into your reference and extract the visuals clues that are working for you; then use what works and, to avoid visual confusion, discard the superfluous.

The “Universal” Chisel Pencil Point

December 3rd, 2014

Julian emailed to ask:

I’ve always been told to keep my pencil sharp but in your book in the ‘Charlotte-portrait’ chapter you mention in stage 4 using a ‘flat’ tip. I’m not quite sure what ‘flat’ means.

The universal chisel point

The universal chisel point


I always use a chisel point, which has many advantages.

To achieve that point, sharpen your lead as usual and then, holding it at your normal drawing angle, rub the point off on a piece of scrap paper. Now you’ll have a flat face surrounded by a sharp edge.

  • Use the edge whenever you usually use a point – except the edge lasts a lot longer. Unlike a sharp point that wears very quickly, a usable edge extends half way around the flat face. Turn the pencil as you draw to maintain that narrow width of line.
  • Use the flat face for shading. It cannot draw hard edged or thin lines so the coverage is smoother and more even. And there’s an added bonus…
  • Every time you use the flat face you automatically sharpen the edge.

I sharpen my pencils every morning and probably don’t have to do it again for the rest of the day. If you’re not using the flat face and need to sharpen the edge, restore it by quickly scrubbing the face on scrap paper again. It’s almost an ever-lasting “point”; there is no constant pencil sharpening to break your concentration; and there’s one more major benefit…

You can switch from a broad flat face to a sharp point with a half turn of your pencil. Imagine being able to draw sharp linear detail and then applying a layer of tone to create the three-dimensional shaping without having to change pencils or reform the point. It leads to very spontaneous and intuitive drawing.

I’m aware I need to build the layers thru several applications and blending. Any advice?

Use the flat face of your chisel point and I think your problems will disappear. You can seamlessly build up layers of tone and blend at any stage. I would add that I personally work from dark to light. Hard grades tend to quickly fill the tooth with clay so soft grades won’t always successfully layer on top – but a hard grade will layer over a soft one. So, to build up a darker area of skin tone I first lightly apply 2B to the darkest areas and then build up the whole area with HB or, more usually, 2H. The 2H will burnish the 2B; it breaks up the graphite grains, spreads them more evenly and polishes the result. Result: seamless and flawless skin tones.

2B and 2H flat-face shading

2B and 2H flat-face shading


The completed drawing of Charlotte

The completed drawing of Charlotte

Photographing Artwork

July 31st, 2014

Terri wrote to ask:

I was just wondering, do you take pictures of your drawings with your camera? If so, could you please tell me the settings you have set on? Some of the drawings I do are too big for me to run thru my scanner and I’d like to take photos of them to post on my website. The photos of my drawings I have on there already don’t look very good – so I need to find a way to make them better.

I photographed my drawings for many years before I purchased my first scanner, and there are inherent problems with photography. I’ll probably go into this in more depth than you were expecting but I’m trying to fit it all into one post :)

First, I always had the best results from photographing my drawings in natural daylight. If you place your drawing so it’s facing the sun you’ll avoid the light being darker at one side than other. Preferably choose an overcast day so the light is softened and diffused.

Second, graphite is made up flat plates so it’s reflective. The easiest way to minimise that sheen is to use a polarized filter. Fit it to your lens, look through the viewfinder (SLR camera’s only), and rotate it until you reach the optimum position where the glare disappears.

THE 18% GREY PROBLEM

The main problem encountered when photographing artwork with an SLR camera – digital or film – is that the camera’s internal meter (and that of most handheld light meters) is set to read white as an 18% grey – it aims for an average overall value. You can combat this in two ways.

If you know how to set the white balance on your camera, zoom in until the viewfinder is filled with white and set the balance. A better solution is to buy a GREY CARD, also known as a ‘Neutral Test Card’. Mine are 8″ x 10″ and were made by Kodak in the US.

These cards are the exactly 18% grey that cameras convert white to.

These cards are the exact 18% grey that cameras convert white to.

  1. Pin up your artwork – preferably outside in natural light.
  2. Place your camera on a tripod – do not attempt to hand-hold unless you have a very steady hand or the light is bright enough to guarantee a fast shutter speed.
  3. Position your camera so the lens (and body) are exactly square with the drawing. If the drawing is hanging on the wall, try zooming in and out (or move the tripod) until the image just fills the viewfinder with a small border around it. Now check that all four sides of the drawing are perfectly parallel with the edges of the viewfinder.
  4. With the camera on “auto”, hold your Grey Card immediately in front of your drawing (zoom in if necessary to fill the viewfinder with card) and note the camera’s readings.
  5. Put your camera on ‘manual’ and set it to those readings.
  6. If you have a remote control for your camera, use it to take the photograph. If not, use the timer, if it has one. This minimises any shake as you press the shutter.

Some cameras can take multiple bracketed photos too. If yours will, use it so you have the photograph as set up and a few more with exposures to either side of that setting.

This method worked well for me for years, and it certainly helped me with my book because I used it extensively when taking the photographs for it (with an Olympus digital camera in that case – nothing fancy).

Of course you could correct the 18% grey problem in Photoshop but the best results are obtained from solving it during the photography itself.

THE PROBLEM OF FILE TYPE

Most digital cameras will save your pictures in JPEG format, which is a “lossy” format. The compression applied causes the image to lose detail and clarity every time the image is saved. There are a few ways to avoid this loss in quality:

  • Perform as many edits as possible in one session so you’re not repeatedly saving it as a JPEG.
  • Convert your JPEG to your editor’s native format – PSD in Photoshop. Or convert it to the universally useful TIFF format, which is free of compression.
  • Leave the images in the native lossless format throughout the editing process.
  • Save your images in the native format to an archives folder, because you never know if you’ll need to edit it again for another purpose in the future.
  • On completion of editing convert your image back to JPEG before putting it on your website.
REDUCING THE FILE SIZE FOR WEB USE

I was once asked by someone else:

In explicit detail, please guide me in the process of reducing the file size so I can manage it!!

In this case it was a scan from a Cruse scanner but the same applies to all image files. This one was in TIF format, and in RGB colour (Red/Green/Blue) or possibly in CYMK (Cyan/Yellow/Magenta/Black), and high resolution (probably 300 pixels per inch or greater).

Pixels are the squares that your image is made up of – they are too small to see with the naked eye so they visually blend together. Each pixel will have colour and value information stored for it.

Images as shown on websites are low resolution – typically 72 pixels per inch (ppi), which is the monitor resolution. Because the monitor resolution is 72 (or 96) ppi an image will not be any clearer if you post it at a higher resolution – but it will take a lot longer to load – and be commercially useful to any fraudulent printer!

The first thing you should do is lower the physical size. Your current scanned image will probably be the actual size of the original – let’s say 20″ x 16″.

20 x 16 @ 300ppi = 6000 x 4800 pixels
20 x 16 @ 300ppi = 50.8 x 40.6 cm
20 x 16 @ 300ppi = 20″ x 16″

This is much larger than you require to fit on a monitor or web page. Methods vary, but all software will allow you to reduce the actual size. If you reduce it by 75% it will now measure 5″ x 4″, and the file size will have decreased accordingly. 20″x16″ at 300ppi = 28.8 million pixels. 5″x4″ at 300ppi = 1.8 million pixels.

Now your file is only storing information for those 1.8 million pixels, not 28.8 million.

Now reduce the resolution from 300 pixels per inch (ppi) to 72.
5″x4″ @ 300ppi = 1.8 million pixels
5″x4″ @ 72ppi = 104 thousand pixels

The storage space required for your image has now been reduced from that required to hold 28.8 million pieces of information to just 104 thousand pieces. That’s a file size reduction of 27,692%. If your original file size was 100MB, it will now only be 361KB.

At any stage you can also do the following… Your drawing is essentially in a black and white medium. Scanners pick up more information in colour, which is why your scan is in RGB. But that requires 24 bits of information per pixel. Black and white (or “Greyscale”) requires only 8 bits per pixel. By changing your image from RGB to Greyscale you further reduce the file size by 66%. That lowers your 361KB to 123KB.

NB: Greyscale is NOT the same as desaturating the image, which maintains the 24-bit data. In Photoshop go to image > mode > greyscale.

Now save your TIF, or PSD, as a JPG, which will compress the data. Depending on your software, you may be asked to set the compression. This might be 50% or “medium” etc. I choose “medium” in Photoshop for web use. Choosing a medium setting may give you a final file size of about 35KB – which is an 823,000% reduction of your original file.

Or, to put it another way, it will download in your website in about 4 milliseconds instead of 4 minutes! :)

WATERMARKING

Finally, if you think there’s any possibility of fraudulent copying of your image, especially for commercial gain, watermark it! In Photoshop:

1 – Open a new file (CTRL+N), set it to 72ppi.

2 – Type the text you want for your watermark. If it’s white text, it helps to fill the background layer with a colour. To get the “copyright” symbol hold down your ALT key and (you MUST use the numpad) type 0169.

3 – Add any bevels or other fancy doo-dahs you might want.

4 – If you haven’t got the Layers palette open go to Window in the top menu and choose “Show Layers”. Just below the tabs in the Layers palette you’ll see a box labelled “opacity”. It will be set to 100%. Click the little arrow to the right of “100%” and play around with the slider. I find a setting of about 45% works well. That will show a semi-transparent watermark that allows the image to be viewed through it.

5 – Save the image as “Watermark” or whatever you prefer.

Whenever you need to watermark an image, open both the image to be watermarked and the “watermark” file. Make sure you have the Layers palette open and that you can see both images in your workspace. Click on the watermark image to make it the active image (if it isn’t already). Go to the Layers palette, click on the watermark text and drag it onto the image that you want to watermark. Press V on your keyboard to select the Move tool and you can move the watermark wherever you want it to appear. Then save the newly watermarked image.

Here’s an alternative – the method I use:

Repeat steps 1 and 2 above.
3 – Add an outer bevel – try a size of about 3-5. Add a 1px stroke too if it aids legibility.

4 – In the Layers palette double-click the text layer (or use the top menu – Layers > Layer style > Blending options).

5 – Under “Advanced blending” find “Fill opacity”. Set Fill opacity to 0%. That will remove all the colour from the text so now all you see is the bevel and/or stroke.

6 – Save the image as “Watermark” or whatever you prefer.

That’s how I created the MSFA watermarks on my own site:

Watermarked image

Watermarked image

The intention is to make copying and removal of the watermark as difficult as possible.

I hope that helps :)

USA – CANADA Workshops

June 17th, 2014
Last-minute bookings still being accepted….

All the workshop supplies have been shipped to the venues and we fly to the US next Monday BUT I sent extra supplies, so we can still accommodate you.

WISCONSIN
Eau Claire – EC Centre’s Sun Room
only 2 seats available
June 27-29

TOTONTO
Mississauga – Novotel’s Amsterdam A room
July 4-6

FLORIDA
Clearwater – Pinellas Park Art Center
July 11-13

We’ll accept bookings right up to the first day of each workshop. The workshops are friendly and informal and designed for artists of all abilities and ages (we’ve had artists attend from age 12 to 92!). From novice to advanced, all you need is a desire to take your drawing to a new level of realism.

Paper, pencils and all other necessary supplies are included, and you’ll have ready-prepared guideline drawings, so you can concentrate on the techniques and not have to draw by eye. I strongly recommend you bring a table-top drawing board with you. This can be a manufactured board or as simple as a sheet of MDF or Masonite. Our paper size will be 12″ × 18″, so it need not be large.

For full details visit: Workshop Central

hickory1-300

My wife Jenny and I are looking forward to working with you.

WHAT SHOULD I DRAW TO PRACTICE?

October 24th, 2013

As you may know, I’ve been teaching drawing at Drawspace.com for a few years, and one of my students has just asked:

“Mike, I think I would benefit from more practice of drawing things outside the realms of the course for further practice of actually looking at things. Have you got any ideas, please, as to what I could practice to try to improve my understanding?”

That’s an excellent idea! I firmly believe that you cannot successfully draw what you do not understand, so all opportunities to sketch from life, or even from photographs, are always worthwhile.

We graphite artists only have a pointed stylus to work with – no 1″ wide brushes for broad sweeps of colour – so we tend to be detail-orientated. In order for that to work well, we need a mental store of images we can draw on. Fortunately the more you draw, the more you cannot help looking closely at everything around you, and so your store grows ever larger. And we don’t have colour at our disposal – we only have texture and contrast to work with – so again we tend to study the detail in everything. As a by-product, we begin to see the world in a wonderful way that escapes almost everyone else.

When the average person sees a brown horse in a green field, they scan quickly across it and notice “horse” and “field”. But, as we don’t have colour and brown and green are tonally similar, we begin to try to work how we could make one stand out from the other. And we pick up information about the details of both at the same time, including the way, for example, we could use the light shining on its back to separate it from the darker grass behind.

Go and get a coffee…. this could be a long read :)

As I was saying… the more we draw, the more we store, appreciate and understand. So draw whatever you can, whenever you can.

Begin with things that are both simple and of interest to you. If you like plants, draw a leaf or two, but not the whole plant. You’ll learn more from one leaf than you will by repeating it over and over as you reproduce the plant, because you’ll be looking at a broad overview instead of concentrating on the understanding of one small part. If you like dogs, draw its collar – preferably not on the dog. And while you’re drawing it, look at the way the light helps us to understand its three-dimensional form.

I suspect you can draw a good resemblance of something but have problems making it look three-dimensional? That’s very common. The answers are there right in front of you once you tune yourself into looking at it in the way an artist does. Photos are excellent “frozen moments in time” in that respect too. Let’s take that collar as an example. Place it on a table and draw it, concentrating on its outline. Now you have a line drawing, hopefully fairly accurate, but line does not exist in Nature so we have to describe its edges in ways that Nature uses.

Begin to shade it and use that to describe its three-dimensional form – one small area at time, so you have time to work out and understand what that little area requires. You can see the collar and understand its shape, and see that it is not a part of the table, yet it has no line around it. The reason you can see it is due to light and shade. The way it catches the light, the areas that are hidden from the light, and the way it casts its own shadow on the table. Use those changes in tonal value to describe the edges instead of line – because that’s how we see them. And if you need to exaggerate to make it clear, do that. We’re artists, not photographers; we don’t copy, we interpret – we bend the world to suit our aims 😉

If you do that, you’ll quickly begin to understand how to construct three-dimensional believable objects in your drawing. And you’ll be storing all that knowledge so you can draw on it the next time you encounter a similar situation.

Just draw. If it interest you, that helps, but it doesn’t matter if it’s your coffee cup, the neighbour’s washing on the line, leaves from your garden, your phone, a crumpled sheet of paper… anything and everything is suitable. But, for now, steer clear of the cat on the mat… or anything else that is complex or heavily textured.

One final thought…

If you have a small camera, or a camera in your phone, carry it around with you and photograph whatever interests or pleases you. You can study it at length later, and that too will add to your store of mental images and textures. What you photograph is up to you, but I have packets full of photos of lovely old bricks and rocks, trees and weeds, old boats and tractors, rock pools and seaweed, tree bark, old weathered wood, and many many more.