I thought it might be time for a more technical post and an insight in to my creative process. This time it's a look at the basic steps I take when drawing coloured pencil portraits.
The first step of any portrait is to have a good look at the photographs I've been sent- drawing from life is a bit different but most of the portraits I do are from photos. I usually ask for at least two or three pictures, but often I have more to work with. I like getting a little snapshot in to the animal's daily life. I also find it helpful to talk to each client about the pet. Knowing a bit about the character of the pet helps me to choose the right picture, the best angle and the perfect expression. Sometimes I will need to do a few rough sketches to work out the composition; other times I will have already been sent the ideal picture to work from.
Once I've worked out which photos to use and any adjustments to make, the next step is to very lightly draw an outline. I try to keep the drawing as simple as possible at this stage. Focusing on the most basic shapes and lines forces me to look more closely at the important features.
With the outline in place I can then start to add a little more depth and detail. At this stage I can mark in the important areas of light and shadow as well as finer details like the eyes or any markings. I still keep the marks as light as I can so that the colour is what really builds the texture.
Every picture gets a base colour next. Usually this will be a warm yellow, beige or brown tone but sometimes it might be a grey or blue, depending on the species and colouring. Then I will select a mid-tone to start building up the shape, shading and key features more. This helps to create a bit of depth and makes sure the original pencil lines get covered up, which keeps the portrait feeling softer and more natural.
The next part takes varying amounts of time for each different animal. I like to build up the picture in layers; working with one colour at a time, across the whole portrait. I know many artists prefer to work their way across the picture from one side to the other, or to focus on particular areas like the face first. I don't really know why I like to work in one colour at a time- maybe it helps me if I can just focus on one task at a time.
The eyes are one of (if not the most) important parts of any portrait. For this reason, a lot of artists will start a portrait with the eyes to help the get the rest of the portrait just right. Others will leave them until last to really finish off their portrait. Personally, I find I usually work somewhere in between the two. I will draw the eyes in and block in the main colours so I can make sure they sit right as the portrait develops. Then I like to add the detail towards the end to really bring the portrait to life. Although there are times when there isn't much to block in and then I leave the eyes until near the end.
Throughout the process I constantly have the photos I'm using in front of me. It's very important to keep looking at the subject. If I need to, I'll also have any notes about the pet next to me. For me, a good portrait is not just a perfect copy of a photograph. I have great respect for anyone who manages to draw in a photo-realistic style, but personally I like my pieces to look like a drawing. I want to capture a good overall representation of each animal and their unique mood and character.