Tutorial: Powdered Graphite Posted on 14 Aug 2013
I hate doing large areas of uniform pencil shading - it's not why I signed up to be an artist, and my fragile little wrists just aren't built for it. I'd been wanting to try out powdered graphite for a while, but since the local art supply store here in rural Maine only stocks wagon axles and tobacco, I never quite got around to acquiring any.
Enter the fantastic Kelley, who normally takes a cruel joy in showing me up with awesome art over at her website but, in a moment of pity, was kind enough to mail me a huge bag of the stuff just in time for a recent bout of pencil-based projects. I thought I'd document the process I used for the pencil/powdered graphite underdrawing for Full Blooded - an 11x14 piece with a lot of solid blacks that probably would have destroyed my hands if I'd had to pencil them all in normally.
General advice: this stuff is messy, travels far, and sticks to everything. Put your work surface on top of a drawing board, some newspaper, etc, and use a sheet of scrap paper under your drawing hand to keep your greasy hands off your nice drawing (and vice versa). You'll want to work top to bottom, left to right (if you're right-handed) to avoid accidentally over-blending your finished work.
1) Sketch in the outlines. You'll lose a lot of these in the shading process, so don't put too much time and energy into them - just give yourself a general guide to work with. I'm using a lightbox, and have my original sketch taped to the back of my working surface to limit the amount of invention I need to do. Mask off any areas (borders, important details) that need to be absolutely white. Sprinkle a tiny amount of graphite (really tiny - like less than 1/8 teaspoon) over your dark areas.
2) Use the edge of an index card to gently push the graphite around the paper for even coverage. Note that your "brushstrokes" will show, so you'll want to be consistent in the direction and angle you push the graphite. Here, I'm working in vertical lines.
3) Tap off the excess graphite, and use a large soft brush to brush away any residual powder. At this point, you can use a tissue or paper towel to rub the graphite into the paper and soften the directional strokes left by the index card. Note that your color is going to be a little bit blotchy at this stage - you just want to make sure that there are no extreme dark or light areas.
4) Use a soft pencil (a 5B shown here) to shade in the darkest tones of your sketch. I know, you thought you wouldn't have to do any pencil shading with this method. Bummer. Fortunately, you can do a pretty rough job here - the layer of graphite already on the paper makes the surface a little bit slippery, and rough pencil strokes won't cling to the paper the way they would if you applied them to a clean sheet. Just darken things up a little, keeping the direction of your lines more or less consistent.
5) Use a tissue to soften the pencil shading and blend it around the paper.
6) With a kneaded eraser, start to pick out the light areas of your drawing. If you pick up too much graphite and get a harsh white area you didn't want, you can blend in the surrounding graphite with a tissue.
7) Go back in with the pencil of your choice (I used the 5B again, along with an HB mechanical pencil for the sharp details) and start drawing in the shapes and edges of the final image.
8) Continue around the image in the same way - pulling out the lights with a kneaded eraser, and deepening the dark tones with pencil. As you can see, although I only applied the graphite powder to the upper third of the image, over the course of working on the drawing a thin layer of graphite has migrated all the way down the page, leaving an even, light overall tone to work from.
This all probably looks like just as much work as doing it all in pencil, but you'll have to take my word for it that it's quite a bit easier, less time consuming, and the results are generally better looking. I also like the softer effect that the powdered graphite gives, and how forgiving and reworkable it is compared to heavy pencil shading, which tends to gouge and flatten the surface of the paper.
Powdered graphite also served as the base for the upper half of Gaslight Dogs - and once again was a huge labor/time saver; this is probably going to become a permanent fixture in my process.
SmArt School Project 2: Gaslight Dogs Posted on 06 Aug 2013
I've just wrapped up the second & final image for SmArt School's 2013 Art Director Challenge - another book cover, this time for Karin Lowachee's artic steampunk fantasy Gaslight Dogs, another Orbit Books title.
Following the decent results I'd had with the Full Blooded cover, I ditched my usual toned paper and tackled the initial drawing with pencil and powdered graphite on white Bristol board. While this is admittedly a bit more work than starting with toned paper, I'm beginning to realize that having the pencil art on white paper is a huge plus when it comes to coloring a piece digitally - especially if the end result needs to be highly saturated. On the plus side, I'm getting a little faster at this; the piece above is 11x14" and I was able to hammer it out in the same amount of time it normally takes me to do an 8x10. Powdered graphite (tutorial coming soon, I promise) was once again a huge help in getting this done.
(Above: my thumbnail concepts.)
Art Director Challenge/Short Fiction Posted on 28 Jun 2013
No pictures for you today - posting will be a bit sparse this month, since in addition to my usual art regimen, I'm going to be taking SmArt School's Art Director Challenge course. I've been coveting these mentorship programs for a while now as a compromise between my raging desire to attend IMC and my pathological reluctance to leave my house; when I saw that both Marc Scheff (AD/all-around awesome artist) and Lauren Panepinto (Orbit Books) were heading a course, I knew I had to be part of it. Work starts on July 1st - there's still space in what looks like it's going to be a very awesome course with a very small class size- I'd encourage anyone who's interested to check it out.
In the meantime, I'll leave you with an excerpt from a rad piece of short fiction by Mark A. Sargent, based in part on my recent piece Whispers:
"They’d all heard the stories about the Bramblewood. They were the stories told by their mothers to keep children from wandering too far in. Stories told by older siblings just to scare them. Stories told by friends as they dared each other to venture just a little farther from town. The Bramblewood was haunted, they said. Or cursed. Or sometimes both, depending on who was doing the telling..."
Exposé 11 Master Award Posted on 21 Jun 2013
I'm thrilled to announce that my piece Summer Wine has won me a coveted Master Award in Exposé 11.
Exposé is an illustration annual put out by Ballistic Publishing, showcasing a huge range of amazing digital artists for eleven years running. This year, I was lucky enough to take the Master's Award for the Comic/Manga category - I'm psyched to have my art featured in the newest volume, and am insanely honored to know that my work stood out to the judges among so many other fantastic pieces.
On a more serious note, It's also given me the chance to taunt my resident MS/PhD with a gleeful "Oh, you have a master's in Spatial Informatics? How nice. Mine is in digital art." They hate that.
New Work: Whispers Posted on 04 Jun 2013
Much as I prefer making the initial drawing for a piece on toned paper, I do get nostalgic for plain ol' white paper and, since I still have tons of nice quality Bristol lying around from when I used it exclusively, I thought I'd try doing something with a straightforward pencil on paper underdrawing.
My feelings are mixed. The good: the white paper "takes" digital color better - the colors are more vibrant (which shouldn't surprise me because they haven't been muddled with gray paper tones) and the result has a watercolor effect that I really like.
The bad: building up large areas of tone in pencil takes for.ever. This is a small piece (8x10"), but after I finished pencilling it, I had to take a break and subject my drawing hand to bracing and ice packs for a few days. Admittedly the ergonomics of my workspace aren't beyond reproach, but I'm thinking that the convenience of the ready-made midtones that colored paper provides will probably save me some serious repetitive stress injuries in the long run.
Most likely my issues with coloring toned paper drawings digitally come from 1) the slight Kraft-paper texture of the Strathmore stuff I'm using, which looks much rougher and fibrous when scanned, and 2) using gray instead of a more saturated color (tan, pink, etc), which automatically dulls down whatever colors are applied over it. I'll have to begin the hunt for some warmer, more uniform tinted drawing paper - if anyone has any favorites, I'd welcome suggestions.
Meanwhile - enjoy the full view of the finished piece in the gallery.