In December I was given some pastels and at first I was not sure what to do with them. After a few tries, I realised how nice it is to work in a medium that gives your the freedom to change your drawing again and again. Unlike watercolours and ink, nothing is final in pastels and the pigments easily move across your page.
Some of you have been asking about my approach to portraits in pastels, so here is a little step by step tutorial on how to create a portrait.
This is my end result… the lovely Benedict Cumberbatch, star of the BBC show Sherlock.
Step1. Find reference with good contrast.
Go online and decide on a face that grabs you. You’re going to spend 4 hours looking at it so make sure you feel inspired. Benedict’s face will never bore me and one day I will make him mine. Don’t forget: there needs to be a strong difference between light and dark in your reference to make the drawing (process) more interesting.
Step 2. Establish light and dark.
First of all, think about where the light comes from in the scene. Using just two pastel crayons, start blocking out the darkest and lightest shapes of the face. You will see this gives your drawing a sense of three dimensionality. I decide on the forehead as my first point of reference and I lay this shape down on the empty sheet of paper. Scary! From there on I measure the distances of the new shapes against the length and width of the forehead. Remember: no details, just blocking in shapes! Just use scratchy lines at this stage of the drawing, blending happens as you go along. Also, nothing is final at this stage. The pastel can be moved around the paper easily with your finger.
What makes Benedict… Benedict? His lips stand out: the upper lip has some serious pointy shapes and the lower lip catches the light as it’s protruding a bit. Really engage your eyes and try to find the planes that make up his facial features. The cheeks, the chin and even the lips can be broken down in these flat, angular shapes. Trust me, Andrew Loomis is better at explaining this.
At this stage, I also adjust the colours. The browns I used for the shadows on the left side are too warm, so I’m adding a cooler grey / blue tint on top and blend with my fingers. Make sure you have a cloth to hand to keep fingertips clean. Then, add some mid tones to soften out the light and dark planes. Use an eraser to rub out mistakes.
Step 4. Bedding it in
The neck and shoulders are very important indeed. We don’t want a floating head in space. Block these shapes in, measuring the distances and relationship between the facial features. Take a step back and be critical of your work. Does the figure fit on the page? Are the proportions correct? Is the forehead to small? In this case, yes… it is too short. And I didn’t even notice it. You see, drawing is a never ending story of learning and practice. Now also add the light and dark contrast to the hair without adding detail.
Use pastel pencils for the smaller accents of the face. There is a white line where the upper lip catches the light. Add detail to the eye and nose, all the while thinking about light and dark to promote the 3D element. The sun comes from his left so, the highlights must appear on the right side of his face. The pastel pencil doesn’t need blending so much, just use thin swift lines to block in shapes.
Take a step away again. Have a drink. I notice that the eyes on the shadowy side of his face should be a lot darker. What amount of detail will the eye need when it’s in the shadow? It’s trial and error. I don’t have to be afraid to go over it all with a black piece of charcoal as it easily rubs out again. I blend and blend until I have the right darkness.
Step 7. Finalise your drawing
Voila… I’m going to call this done soon. As a final touch, I add the littlest of detail such as the little crinkle in his brow by building it up with a white, black and red / brown pastel pencil. It’s up to you as an artist how much detail you put it. I’m not going to add Benedict’s wrinkles. Stuff like that just doesn’t matter, we have megaturbo pixel cameras to take 100% accurate images of people!
Golden tip: Don’t you ever use hairspray to fix the drawing. Official pastel fixation spray is also a nightmare. I have ruined quite a few pictures trying these out. Leave it as it is, scan it and take it to Photoshop to push the contrast and repair mistakes.
Please share your work with me by adding links below or message me directly!