Long Term Goals and Sketch Impulsivity

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At the end of my last post, I mentioned off-hand a few ideas for what I might draw next. I talked about finishing a Dallas Cowboys drawing of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot (which I lost interest in when they were bounced from the playoffs by the Rams). I also tossed around the idea of another Dallas Mavericks sketch, since they just had a huge franchise-altering trade. Or some focused practice on scenery or mouths/teeth (both areas of weakness for me). Over the weekend, another idea hit me from out of nowhere – I should work on something featuring my sister and brother-in-law!

Interestingly enough, my artwork’s immediate direction is often impulsively determined like that. I get the urge to draw, something suddenly pops into my head, and I dive in. It’s very spur of the moment, which is strange…otherwise, my personality really doesn’t reflect that sort of spontaneity. I often neglect planned or topical/relevant pieces…the Dak Prescott/Ezekiel Elliot sketch is a great example. If that random internal spark to work on a sketch doesn’t happen, it’s probably going to collect dust. I do some vague long term planning, but it’s usually just broad aspirational topics (like “I should draw my mom again“).

I’ve actually wanted to work on a portrait of my sister and her husband for quite some time. I’ve drawn her a couple of times in larger family scenes; once was decent, but another wasn’t very good. And the one time I tried depicting my brother-in-law, it really didn’t look like him. So, it was a long term goal to get a more accurate portrait going featuring the two of them. I’m really not sure what made me suddenly decide to accomplish that goal, because I hadn’t considered it at all lately, but into my brain it popped. Who am I to ignore The Random Spark™ ?

My original thought was to draw something featuring my sister, brother-in-law, plus all of their animals (two cats and a dog). Considering I don’t really have an accurate, satisfactory sketch of the two people, I decided adding critters might be too ambitious this time. I also wanted a closer, zoomed-in view since that is more in my comfort zone, and that’s not really conducive to little animals. I figured if I could successfully capture them in my favorite head-and-shoulders style, then maybe I could try to be more adventurous with the pets another time.

Here’s how the final version turned out:


So, as I said, this was very much a comfort zone piece. Predictably, it turned out right along the same lines as similar drawings. This one has decent fidelity to the real subjects – not perfect, but people who know them should be able to tell it’s them. As I mentioned in the previous post, recent adaptations I’ve made to skin color blending (more pink and/or lighter browns) are working well. Relying less on grays to shade seems to be a good trend, and I’m pleased it came together here too.

There are some things that I wish I could have a do-over on though. Although I got it in the ballpark, something doesn’t seem quite right about the shape of my sister’s face. Especially towards her chin – I probably could have done better there. Also, I really need to try something new for clothing. Shading that light blue shirt with grays doesn’t look natural at all. I think there are lessons I could learn for clothing from my more recent skin pigment blending. Less gray, more matching (but darker) colors. Also, I didn’t quite get either of their sets of teeth right; not a surprise, since that’s an area I need to work on (as I’ve mentioned).

I added some rough generic restaurant background stuff…I considered trying to flesh that out more, but ultimately decided against it. I want to send them this drawing, and I’d hate to mess the entire thing up.

Here’s the usual progression .gif:

Amdall sister portrait progression

Well, that’s it for this one! I imagine I’ll have another relatively soon, because I’ve been drawing quite a bit lately. All of the ideas I mentioned at the top are on the table, and the most recent Amdall Gallery custom portrait giveaway is almost over (five days left I think). So that will be another fun new project.


  • Looking good Jon… I think you’re doing a great job here.

    Regarding the teeth, just a suggestion but in comparison to a reference photo are their teeth in the photo really whiter than everything else?

    I found an improvement in doing teeth when I compared the colour again. It’s a shame to say but teeth are more often yellow/brown/grey, quite shaded. Muting them and making less defined seemed to work well as well.

    I see lots of portraits on Instagram where each tooth is drawn out individually, pure white and well… looking very “toothy” and a bit scary.

    Your portraits are way better in that respect but if you feel the teeth are letting you down then maybe something to think about?

    • Hey there Steve – thanks man! I appreciate these suggestions and I agree with you. When I really try to impartially assess teeth color, it shouldn’t be bright white like that. While it’s true my sister’s teeth are quite bright, mouths do have some shadowy areas. But it’s a big area in which, honestly, I’m a little afraid to be bold. Once I get to the teeth and mouth, I’m usually pretty far into the drawing, I don’t want to mess it up. At some point, I’m going to need to just get my courage up and experiment.

      I really do think a “mouth study” would be good practice in that case – just trying a bunch of different mouths. That way I don’t have to worry about botching a larger portrait. Man, teeth are rough!

      • They are indeed.

        I used to struggle with the eyes so I started every portrait with the eyes and then if that didn’t work out I wasn’t so invested in it and thus less pressure.

        Nowadays I think it’s more the nose shadows that trouble me so I make sure I do that early on. Probably more through habit now I do tend to start with the eyes still. I think it’s going to be an ever moving target though.

        After 115 sittings for a portrait of Ambroise Vollard…
        “I am not altogether displeased with the shirt-front.” – (Paul Cezanne)

      • Ha! I like that quote, it really sounds familiar. “Well I’m done…I guess the left eyebrow is adequate…”

        I’ve really never mastered eyes; they’re in a “good enough” stage for me right now though, and I’ve got areas that need much more improvement (mouths and any non-human subject/object). I hear you on nose shadows too, they are so subtle. Just a couple slipped up spots and there might be real trouble!

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