This week's tutorial is by Mike Ashworth, a talented tattoo artist and illustrator based in Texas. Enjoy!
Without light, we see nothing. Detail is not an artist's friend, but in fact a diversion. When we create an object in our artwork, details only help us capture specific characteristics.
When you draw an apple, if you lose some of the details, it still resembles an apple. When you draw a portrait and lose those details, the artwork no longer resembles that person and you have created something generic.
This is why artistic portraits can be such an obstacle, because details matter. Simplifying what you see is what makes portrait drawing a routine.
The easiest way to do that is to find the balance between light and dark and their relationships to each other. We no longer see "nose and mouth", but instead we see "shadow and reflection". I will show you my process of simplifying a portrait of Ellen Degeneres into steps of lights and darks.
Find a good reference photo! In realism, reference is everything. Pick a reference based on the colors you have, or plan to get the colors you need based on your reference. I currently have 60 Copic colors and every one of them were based on a reference.
Find a reference that has a lot of contrast. Contrasting photos not only look more appealing, but are also much easier to work from. When you find a good reference, make a color chart based on that reference.
Figure out what colors and tones of markers you will use for specific areas of your portrait: Start With a Sketch
Sketching takes practice, and lots of it. When sketching a portrait, don't get caught up on characteristics or facial features, but instead be conscious of shape as well as relationships between light and dark.
Squint your eyes while looking at your reference. As the tones start to blend together, all you are left with is dark and light shapes. Draw these shapes very, very lightly. Your sketch does not have to be perfect, but should resemble the person you are drawing.
You can always adjust your portrait as you go. Be more conscious of your dark tones than your light tones. You do not want to sketch in highlights because the lead will show through these areas when you start using the markers on top of them. Leave the lightest areas empty.
Always start with your lightest skin tones. You can always go darker, but you can't go lighter. Leave areas that are highlights or reflections in the skin blank. I start with E00 and cover most all of the portrait.
As you move your way up (darker) you will cover less and less of your portrait. Go back down (lighter) to blend things smoothly. I generally use E11-18 for this step, going darker and then blending lighter. For instance, I will use E11 then E13 and go back down to E11 to blend out E13. I then move up to E15 and then back down to E13 to blend out E15.
All photos, all people and all skin have a specific tone. Evaluate your portrait at this point and see if your tone matches the reference. Many people who are in the sun often have a much more pink/red tone to their skin than others who have a yellow/ochre skin tone. I used R20 to tone the skin around her cheeks and eyes in this portrait.
Start very light when toning. When you get the tone correct, you can start adding details like eyes and eyelashes, reflections and shadows, or wrinkles. When you add these details your portrait should really start taking shape.
Continue blending the details in to the skin tones using your reference. If you have done your skin tones correctly, the detail process should be easy because the blank areas should be surrounded by the skin tones in a specific shapes. Finishing Your Portrait
When coloring hair, it is easier to start with your darkest tones by using the shape of those tones and blending out to lighter tones. When coloring dark clothing, I move from dark to light. When coloring lighter clothing, like a white shirt, I move from light to dark - being aware of shadow and reflection.
Re-evaluate your portrait and make any final changes or details you may have missed.
Check out the speed drawing video to see the entire process from start to finish!