Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How I Work: The Stages of a Custom Pencil Portrait by Kelli Swan

When a client orders a montage pencil portrait (one with several images put together, in a layered approach), I ask that he/she supply as many quality photos of different angles as possible. This allows me to create the best possible portrait. Once I have the photos, I begin with sketches of the subject(s). The process includes exploring a number of layouts and approaches to the portrait in order to best convey the feeling of the subject(s) involved. Final rendering time is the longest phase and can require many hours to complete. Care must be taken to quit early so as not to overwork the drawing!

Beginning the montage portrait - exploring different layouts:

Sampling of pet portrait layouts - by Kelli Swan
The sketches shown here are examples of what a portrait customer receives prior to my beginning a montage drawing. When a special piece of artwork is requested from me, I use the photos supplied and come up with 2-3 layouts that I think will work well as a pencil drawing. These layouts are then sent as email attachments, allowing the client to select his/her favorite. I then begin the final rendering work.

Creating the final pencil portrait:

Stages of a custom pet portrait in pencil by Kelli Swan
The samples here illustrate the typical progress of my custom pet portraits. I start with the line sketch that my customer has chosen and then transfer that to the final drawing paper - high quality, acid-free, Strathmore 500 paper. I then work for the most part from upper left to lower right, rending the lighter/background images first. After the entire drawing is mostly complete, I set it aside for a day or two so that my eyes and mind have a break before applying the finishing touches.

Many people ask “How do you keep from smudging the pencil?” I have learned over the years that great care needs to be taken to protect the drawing from smudges. This includes covering the piece anytime I am not actively working on it. I also wash my hands and arms frequently, to remove surface skin oils so that they don’t taint the paper. In addition, I keep an acid free sheet of paper covering any area of the drawing I am not working, and especially under my right (rendering) arm. Acid/oils from the skin can ruin a drawing in no time at all!

I find the biggest challenge in working on black and white drawings is in deciding when they are done - and not over-working them. When contrast and detail are your only options for creating punch (as opposed to having colors to do this work), it can be tempting to add and add to a drawing. Beyond a certain point however, adding can create a big mess of dark mud! Best to quit a little early, or walk away for awhile to decide if the piece truly needs more.

To view this content at my website or to learn more about my custom portraits, please visit www.pencilplace.com.