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How to draw pencil portraits from memory and imagination?

Drawing portraits from memory and imagination is a process that involves various steps such as studying and analyzing the human facial anatomy, creating a methodology, and line drawing, followed by shading. Line drawing is 2D art, which gets transformed into 3D by the shading process.

Step 1: Art Supplies

You will need art supplies mentioned in Blog – WHAT ALL ART SUPPLIES DO I NEED?

Step 2: Identify A Reference Picture

Identify high-quality, clear sharp portrait photographs, which should have a good combination of light and shadow. Convert the colored photo into black and white using professional image editing software.

Step 3: Analyse The Reference Picture

Observe the subject from a drawing perspective and break it down into smaller parts such as eyes, nose, lips jaw profile, etc., their proportions, angles, and relative distance from each other. Try to create a methodology that can help you to create the portrait, without using reference pictures. To start with you can use the methodology depicted in the pictures at the end of this blog.   

Step 4: Draw

For drawing, break down the smaller parts into simple geometrical shapes such as circles, ellipses, triangles, lines, etc, which helps in defining navigational points and proportions. Always sketch gently and lightly on the drawing sheet. The lines in a drawing are temporary containers and guidelines for shading to take place.

In the case of a front pose of the face, ensure that the left side of the face is the exact reverse image of the right side of the face. Keep on evaluating and improvising your drawing till you are satisfied. Improvisation (i.e. draw, evaluate and redraw) is an important step and should not be ignored.

When the drawing is final, reduce the darkness of lines by erasing it a bit, just leaving a light impression of lines. Don’t touch the sheet with your bare hands, as it will stain it with skin dust and oil.

Step 5: Analyse The Light & Shadow

Objects in the real world are formed with light and shadow, and not by lines, which are necessary for shading to take place. Identify the direction of the source of light and understand the shadow and its gradation. Some professional image editing software has a posterization facility i.e. conversion of a continuous gradation of tone to several regions of fewer tones, with clear-cut demarcation. To start with you can posterization the digital photo, up to 5 or 6 levels, which will help you to further analyze and understand the light and shadow. Also identify the darkest, lightest, and in-between values in the subject and practice the same on a rough paper and shading strip.

Step 6: Shade

You can either use the lead of different grades or use pressure with the same lead pencil to create light and dark values. Use the layering technique to darken the area further. Use the same pattern of strokes to shade. Start shading the subject from lighter to the darkest value. In order to avoid smudging, a right-handed artist should start the artwork from the top left corner and finish it at the bottom right corner of the drawing sheet. In successive iterations, to avoid smudging, an artist can fine-tune the artwork by resting the hand on a wooden stick or an acrylic bridge, which is slightly elevated from the sides.

Use stump, tortillon, cotton buds, or dry face tissue paper to blend the pencil strokes on the paper.

When you are through with shading, use an eraser to create highlight the areas to depict reflection. Take feedback from your friends and improvise further. Keep on evaluating and improvising your drawing till you are satisfied. Pick erased dust with a putty eraser, which is also known as knead eraser. Try to increase the contrast a little, which will enhance the portrait to a great extent.

Step 7: Finishing Touch

Write your name and current date at the bottom right corner or any other suitable place. Give it a meaningful and interesting title. Clean the sketch with a soft brush and ensure there is no eraser dust.

Step 8: Preserve

Put the mask on and spray 3 to 4 layers of fixative, which create a thin protective layer on the sketch. Laminate the portrait, get it framed, commission it on your wall and enjoy. Avoid using a glass frame, as it will make your artwork heavy and will reflect light, which is very annoying. 

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