Saturday, August 19, 2017

Artist Statement about black and white drawing

Artist Statement:

“I am fascinated by the simplicity of a pencil. It is one of the most basic of tools, and yet it can be used to create images of great complexity and depth. To take that which is simple and basic, and to create with it something moving and inspiring is a personally enriching experience. To me, this creative process is a reflection of life. We all possess very basic tools, and what can be created with these tools is incredibly complex, moving and full of potential.”

~ Kelli Swan

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Selecting the best pencils for a pencil drawing

The Best Pencils to Use for Drawing

Traditional vs Mechanical, Hard Lead vs Soft Lead

“What kind of pencils do you use?” I think this is one of the most common questions I have been asked over the years.

I often receive email messages posing this very question. Many emerging artists have tremendous talent. They know the time and energy that goes into a detailed drawing. They instinctively know it's not a great idea to spend tons of time on a project, only to find out the materials used were not ideal, and/or that they could have achieved a nicer outcome.

My answer to the question "best pencils" question surprises some. For the most part, I use ordinary pencils purchased from an office supply store. I like mechanical pencils, as the leads are quite thin and thus yield a sharp point without wasted time sharpening (and making a corresponding mess). The mechanical pencils are available in several thicknesses too. My favorites are the .5 mm and .7 mm thickness leads. Most mechanical pencils are sold filled with HB leads, though you can purchase other hardnesses separately, such as H, B and 2B. There are also .3 leads, though they are so thin that the lead is almost too fragile to use effectively. But they can come in handy for very fine detail work!

I do 90% of my drawing with the mechanical HB pencil lead. Then, I use traditional (lead encased in wood) artist pencils or leads in the B to 6B range to “punch out” the darkest areas of my drawing. See my Pencil Drawings Creation Process page for an illustration of these stages.

Another important aspect of pencil drawing is the type and quality of paper used. See my other article on selecting the best drawing paper!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Custom pencil portrait of family farm

This recent pencil portrait proved to be challenging indeed, as NO photos existed of the family farm shown. The client sent some sketches, and provided other details as best he could. Many THANKS to Ron Skoczen ( for coming up with 3D wireframes that I was able to use to jump-start the portrait!
Kelli’s portrait portfolio:

Monday, July 10, 2017

How to Reproduce Pencil Drawings (and other flat, 2D art)

Note: This blog post is a followup to the information posted on my website: Reproducing Drawings and Paintings []

Every year, I am asked the same question by emerging artists: “How can I reproduce my pencil drawings? I’ve tried scanning them and printing them out … and they end up looking terrible!” 

I try to respond to these desperate inquiries kindly, and convey as much information as I can. Unfortunately, many people expect the answer to be found in 2-3 easy steps, or on a 4 minute youtube video. It’s a little more complicated - that is if you want the reproductions to look professional!

Much of my previous article focused on the reproduction methods available: offset lithography and digital printing methods. However, before you can start printing reproductions of any kind, you need something to reproduce.

You will need a high resolution, digital image of your pencil drawing. And this digital image will need a good bit of image editing done to it before it is ready to reproduce.

Let’s start with the first part: obtaining the high resolution image. I highly recommend finding a shop that specializes in digital scans of artwork. Getting the appropriate lighting (with no shiny spots or “hot” spots) is work best done by a professional. You may love your smartphone camera, but save that for sharng photos with friends. It's not for getting an image to reproduce your artwork.

Note that a high res digital image, or “raw” scan, may look very flat and unappealing at first. This is normal. If the image is taken by a professional, it will contain all of the digital information needed to create great reproductions. It just needs one more step: the image editing (or pre-press work) for reproducing the art.

You must know something about Photoshop and preparing artwork for a printer to do this pre-press yourself. If you are not skilled in Photoshop, find a designer who understands printing to do this for you. Depending upon where you had the image scan done, they may offer this service as well.

Image editing involves altering the tonal range of the image so that it doesn’t look so flat. And contrary to what you might think - highlights are seldom 100% white, and even the darkest areas of the image are never 100% black. If you edit a pencil drawing with a full grayscale spectrum going all the way from pure white (paper) to pure black (ink/toner), I can almost guarantee you will not be pleased with the reproductions. A skilled designer will know the percentages to hit when setting up the grayscale for the reduction. Typically, the highlights in the drawing should be about 3% to 5% white, and the darkest shadows should be no more than 93% black.

Once you have a digital image that is ready to use, you can move on to making the reproductions. Following are a couple of options for making prints of pencil drawings:

Offset Lithography
This is a traditional printing process involving the use of plates and ink with printing presses. Lithography is a great option for quantity if you plan to print hundreds of copies of a print, and you also have the funds to cover up front printing costs. Your cost-per-piece will likely be the lowest with offset lithography. Many commercial printers now have “digital presses” as well, yielding volume savings at lower quantities.

Digital Printing
This term covers ink jet, giclee, and other direct printing methods available today. The big plus with digital printing is the ability to print low quantities – even one print at a time. At the lower end of digital printing, you can purchase an ink jet printer (hopefully with archival inks and paper) and print your own reproductions.

One way to purchase high quality digital prints without investing in (and maintaining) a nice ink jet printer is to use a print-on-demand service. Fine Art America and Zazzle are two of the most popular sites for this, and they offer store options if you want to sell your images online.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Latest pen & ink drawing: condominium building

I've been a bit remiss on updating this blog! Here's hoping I can get back on track.

Below is one of my recent black and white pen & ink portraits. This one was quite a challenge due to all of the windows and details involved. It was also a lot of fun!

My online portfolio of custom pen and ink drawings of homes maybe be found at