Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Introduction to Graphite Pencils

Pencils?! How boring...right? Wrong!

Pencils and crayons seem to be the two items you can't get through childhood without.  And pencils are ever present through the education system.  But as an art tool, they are often relegated to a preliminary status.  You draw what you need, erase the lines, and complete the image in another fashion.

Well, today we're going to look at how to shade with pencils.  I was partly inspired by a book I had never seen before, Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman.  (I have to say, I don't remember a lot of the "kids" books from my own childhood.  My mother jokes that I've been 30 since kindergarten.  Kids books never interested me then but they do now....!) 

The illustrations look like they're pencil drawings, fully rendered, then colored in later on.  The pencil shading is an integral part of the image and that's what I want to talk about today.

First, let's talk about different types of pencils.  Yes, there are pencils other than your standard #2!!  For a very thorough overview of pencils, see the Wikipedia article here.

Mechanical pencils: 

These are a regular part of my arsenal.  I use a regular old Bic but you can get mechanical pencil kits with interchangeable leads in varying hardnesses.  I like these for everyday sketching and for travel. The lead width is pretty consistent and a nice hardness.  The only real drawback is that I tend to press a little hard and etch into my paper.

Artist's drawing pencils:

These are also a regular part of my creative process.  As you can see, these pencils are short for lots of use!

I use Derwent pencils primarily.  There are other great brands out there, but I've been using these for nearly 20 years and love them.  The are easy to sharpen and the wood is a high enough quality that it doesn't split when sharpened.  Always buy the best supplies you can!

Pencils come in different grades, from a 9H to a 9B.  The numbers indicate level of hardness, with higher numbers indicating a higher degree.  Letters indicate softness or hardness.  A 9H is a very hard pencil and a 9B is a very soft pencil.

But that chart has an F on it?! That isn't an H or a B! F is the approximate middle hardness, neither hard nor soft.  I tend to work in the middle of the range.  I have a few very soft pencils for very dark colors (6B-9B) and a few very hard pencils for light, precise lines (6H-9H), but most of the pencils I use fall in the 3B-3H levels.  You can buy these pencils individually or in sets.

Water soluble artist's pencils:

These follow the same rules as the artist's pencils but they are water soluble.  These pencils can be used like ordinary pencils but you can also brush over them with water to create washes.

And that device under the two pencils is a pencil extender.  Get one!  Stubby little pencils become useable again with this thingie.

Sharpeners and Erasers:   

A good sharpener and eraser is just as important as a good pencil.  I have a three-sided pencil sharpener.  One side sharpens the whole point, one side sharpens just the very tip, and one side sharpens larger pencils.  Some people also use a pen knife or sandpaper to shape their pencils.  As for erasers, I love my kneaded eraser (far right of image).  It's soft, doesn't crumble, erases well, and is great for detail work.  The art gum eraser (center) is an eraser I like to have but rarely use.  It crumbles a lot and doesn't do great on detail work.  But it erases very completely and works well for larger areas.  The vinyl eraser (left) is a lot like the art gum eraser but holds its shape a little better.

Don't use the standard pink eraser.  It's messy and barely erases.


The papers you use are important too.  For sketching, I use a Strathmore sketchbook.  I like a little texture (or tooth, as its called).  Some people prefer smooth papers or rough papers.  Try several out and see which markings you prefer.  For pencil drawings that I plan to leave as-is, I like a hot press watercolor paper.  It's a semi-smooth texture that erases nicely and holds the marks well.

So that's just about everything I know about pencils!  The lesson for Monday will be a doll shaded using pencils.  I want to discuss types of shading (side of the pencil, hatching, etc) and then how to color your pencil drawing, should you choose to go that route.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lesson to be posted Tomorrow!

We're all sick with an icky summer cold. Blech! So I'll be posting the lesson tomorrow.  Sharpen your pencils... that's the lesson theme.  Pencils!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fashion Friday - Gina

I was playing around with the dolls & hairstyles for the Friday dolls, and by random happenstance I came up with a doll that looked a lot (to me anyway) like Gina Torres of Firefly and Serenity fame.  Now, I'm not a huge Firefly/Serenity fan.  I like Joss Whedon, particularly Buffy and Angel, but Firefly just didn't do it for me.  Hopefully his Avengers tv show if good....   I like Gina Torres quite a bit, and usually think of her as the big bad from Angel instead of Firefly, but I think that's just me!

Anyway, I thought this doll looked a lot like that actress, so I gave her some Firefly/Serenity inspired clothes.  They aren't exact copies or anything.  And this isn't really a fan art doll, either, so I wasn't really going for accurate.  I like it a lot, though, and I hope you do, too!

Download Fashion Friday - Gina pdf here

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Basics of Anatomy

I've always drawn.  Always.  I started developing an interest in fashion and fashion design as a kid, and developed that into a love of drawing people.  As a teenager, I worked as a babysitter partly to buy the Tom Tierney paper dolls I loved so much and partly to buy art instruction books.

Fifteen plus years later and these are the same books I refer to today!

Today I'm going to share some scans from my favorite reference books and point you towards some great resources online as well.

Anatomy for the Artist: A Very Brief History 
One of the earliest works of art we humans created were images of ourselves and the animals around us.  So-called Venus figures pop up all over Europe and depict a robust, motherly figure.  Ancient civilizations around the globe represented the human figure as well.  Greek sculpture became a model of ideal anatomy around the world, from Europe to India (by way of Alexander).  I highly recommend going to your nearest museum and looking at ancient sculpture, preferably with a sketch book in tow.

By the time of the Renaissance, the human form was back in vogue and anatomy as we know it was beginning to develop.  As artists, we owe a particular debt to Leonardo and Michelangelo.  I have a copy of Leonardo's anatomical studies and it's fascinating, but not really practical for the purposes of creating paper dolls.

On the other hand, one of my favorite references is George Bridgeman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life.  It's the first anatomy book I ever bought, when I was all of 15 years old! It's served me well since....

Reference Images and Book Recommendations
As a general rule, the human body is measure using the head as a unit.  Different artists prefer different proportions.  Michelangelo used an 8 heads tall figure for an adult figure.  George Bridgeman suggests 7 and 1/2 heads.  Fashion illustrators use 9 heads as a standard.  The general rule of thumb seems to be 7 and 1/2 heads.  That's what I typically use.  I want to focus on female anatomy simply because I tend to draw female paper dolls.  Male anatomy maintains approximately the same proportions.

This is a scan from Bridgeman's book.  You can seem some of my annotations if you look closely enough!  When I was teaching myself anatomy as a teenager, this is the book I used.  Bridgeman uses a 7 1/2 tall figure with each portion of the figure represented as a fraction of that amount.  The neck, for instance, is 1/2 of a head tall (as are the feet).  The navel/belly button typically falls at the 3 head mark, etc. As I took figure drawing in college, I still couldn't shake the ideas I learned here.  It's the standard I use to this day.

This (not so great) scan is from 9Heads, by Nancy Riegelman.  This book focuses on fashion design and illustration and uses 9 heads as the ideal height.  Legs are elongated, arms are shortened, and the overall form is slim.  I also highly recommend this book for its detail in constructing a figure and for the immense fashion detail resources contained in it.  If you ever wondered what jodhpurs were or how to illustrate a pin tuck, this is the book for you.

(Warning: illustrated nudity below, just so everyone knows!)

Another wonderful image I found was at the Atelier de Poupee, a site devoted to ball jointed doll construction.

The image above comes from Stephen Rogers Peck's book, Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist, and may be going on my Amazon wishlist!  This image shows the various stages of human (female) development and is a terrific resource.

Online Resources

I've said this before, but I think deviantArt is a great resource for all things artistic!  Having said that, you have to know how to weed out the quality work from the lesser work.  It's important for all artists of all levels to have a forum, and deviantArt provides that.  For learning purposes, though, here's what I recommend.


I can't say enough great things about SenshiStock.  Her photos are lovely, thoughtful, and provide a very broad variety of (clothed) poses.  It's an ideal place to study the human form online, especially for folks who aren't interested in nudity for whatever reason.  I backed her Kickstarter project & I'll have a nice, long-winded review of that when it arrives this fall.

Line-art and Character Sheets

This is an entire category on deviantArt.  Have you ever wanted to make a paper doll of a teenager with a fox tale?  Look here for inspiration.  The images people share are remarkable and incredibly helpful.  Just don't plagiarize!  Sharing and taking are two different things :)  

The image above is one that I found while browsing this category.  The artist, Kate Fox, has a number of lovely line-art reference sheets.  I recommend checking these out as well.

Anatomy Isn't Everything

One of the greatest influences on my art is my high school art teacher.  She would frequently tell me that you can't break the rules if you don't know the rules.  I want to share the rules of drawing a human figure -- feel free to break them! I know I do!  If you look at my paper dolls, some of them are 7 1/2 heads tall, some are 5, some are 9, etc.  Work in a style that YOU like.  But learn the rules first.

And take a figure drawing class.  It's a lot of fun and will teach you things you never knew that you never knew :)

Here are just a couple of images from a figure study class I took in college.  (Again, illustrated nudity!!)

Nude Study in Pencil, 2003

Nude Study in Charcoal, 2004

Don't judge my figure studies too harshly! I did these a long time ago :)

So I hope my overview of human anatomy was helpful.  These are the resources I use and I hope you will, too.  Look for a new doll on Friday!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fashion Friday - Jessica

This may be my favorite Friday doll ever!

A little backstory... So I was born in 1980.  I'm ok admitting that :)  I remember some of the '80s, but not much.  I was a kid! I don't remember much before 1985!  I do, however, remember Jem and the Holograms.  The show was ok, but I loved the dolls.  I had almost the entire line.

Anyway, this doll is an homage to Jem and the '80s.  I wouldn't say it's specifically a Jem doll (thought that's kind of on my list of things to do...) but very much inspired by Jem.

And yes, I know Jem was Jerrica.  I chose the name Jessica because it was the most popular name in the US for girls during the entire decade.  It's also one of my cousin's names, so that helps.

Enjoy the doll and I'll have a good old fashioned, pencil to paper anatomy lesson on Monday.  Look for it!

Download Fashion Friday - Jessica pdf here (it's a big file this week....)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Brief Updates during Vacation

My husband is on vacation this week so we've been having a blast with the kids.  I won't have a doll up tomorrow or a lesson on Monday -- it's a vacation! I'm not working on stuff.... :) Ok, we all know I'm working on stuff, but it isn't ready yet.

First, I made my first sale on Etsy!   If you haven't seen it yet, there are customizable paper dolls at my Etsy shop, PaperJanes.  There's a sample doll below (feel free to print it out!).  I'm pretty happy about it and (finally) plan on updating the shop.

Secondly, I'm experimenting with CafePress.  I sold prints, etc, of my fine art there ages ago and thought it was time to check out what I could do with paper dolls.

CafePress has an official Star Trek fan art portal and I submitted the Star Trek paper dolls.  I'm selling them through a dedicated CafePress shop, Stellar Paper Dolls.  There are framed and unframed prints available.  Don't worry -- the 10 page PDF is still available here to print out for FREE at home.  The prints from CafePress are great and I know I would have loved one as a birthday present!

Third, I'm still working on the Spring Semester 2013 Paper Doll School yearbook paper doll.  I'll let everyone know when it's ready to go.

That's it for updates at the moment.  I'm working on the PaperJanes, another Star Trek doll set, an OPDAG submission, as well as a couple of other top secret projects.  I'm even thinking about making a Jem and the Holograms doll!!  As always, I'd love suggestions for lessons or doll themes.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fashion Friday (Thursday Edition) - Betsy

So happy 4th to my American readers!  I'm posting the Friday doll today.  Betsy is vintage Americana: faded colors & what's more American than jeans?!

My family has been in the US forever & there are several individuals throughout my family tree who fought in the American Revolution.  I guess it makes me a little more aware of what the day stands for than it did when I was a kid.

Anyway, here's Betsy.  Enjoy!
paperdoll school fashion friday paper doll directions sheet

paperdoll school fashion friday betsy fourth of july vintage patriotic americana paper doll

Monday, July 1, 2013

Painting a Doll in Acrylics

I think I mentioned in the last lesson that it's been a very long time since I used acrylics.  And it shows!  I'm used to painting in watercolors lately, and it took a little time to remember how different acrylics were!   I'm not an expert with acrylics -- this is just the method I used.  There are much, much better acrylic painters out there!

Also, I had a studio assistant today.  My oldest son wanted to watch me paint.  It was a bit of a distraction and my painting didn't come out quite the way I wanted, but it's important to me to encourage my kids to love art.

Materials list:
- Heavy paper (I'm using watercolor paper)
- A doll sketched lightly on the paper
- Pencil, eraser
- Acrylic paints
- Palette
- Lots of water & brushes

Here's the sketch I started painting.  Conveniently, I had the page from the patterns lesson drawn out but not painted!

These are the palettes I've been working with.  The round palette is where I mixed my colors, while the palette on the right is for the straight-from-the-tube color.  I've said before that you should mix more paint than you think you'll use, and this is especially true with acrylics. They dry fast (unless you use a slow-drying medium) and once the color is dry, it's gone.  Acrylics require some planning.

I found the easiest thing to do was to work with one color to completion.  I started with the skintone.  If I have one complaint about the Reeves paints I've been using it's this: the burnt sienna has a terrible consistency.  It could just be the tube I have, but it's awful.  Very thick and very grainy.  I mention that because it's a staple in my palette, specifically for creating skin tones.

It's possible to work wet-in-wet with acrylics if you use a slow-drying medium or can work remarkable fast.  I chose not to go this route.  My shading here is minimal.  I used my previous skin tone and darkened it with more burnt sienna.  I knew that I wouldn't use that color again, so I just added the color directly to the previous pot of color.

Given the speed with which acrylics dry, I decided that the best method would be to take the color all the way to the end.  I further darkened my skintone pot of color and outlined the skin toned areas. Typically, I don't work like this.  I block in all of the colors and build from there.  With acrylics, it was more important to get the colors exactly the way I wanted, so some sections are more finished than others.

I'm continuing to add colors one at a time here.  The reds and blues are essential straight from the tube, so I'm less concerned about taking these sections all the way to outlines.

Continuing to add color.  Try to work left to right so that you don't smear your paint! (If you're right handed, of course.)

More color.  Shading didn't come out the way I wanted....

The final painting.

A few observations:
- Acrylics are great for painting light over dark
- The next time I use acrylics, I'll try some different mediums.  I found shading very difficult.  Acrylics can be thinned with water but it's just not as effective as using a specially designed medium.
- Have separate brushes!  I was a bit hesitant in my painting because I was trying not to ruin my watercolor brushes.
- Plan ahead!  Acrylics dry quickly.  Be prepared and work fast.

I would like to experiment with a more oil-like painting experience with oils.  I think that's really where they'll shine.

I'll be posting a doll on Friday, but I won't have a lesson for a couple of weeks.  July is super busy for me -- my husband is taking a vacation (yay!!) as well as two birthdays & a party (where I'm making the cakes).  It'll be fun but hectic.

I'm also going to try to tie up some loose ends. I want to complete the paperdoll yearbook for January through June and get that posted.  If anyone has suggestions for lessons starting in August, I'd love to hear them.

Look for the fashion doll post on Friday!