Drawing Friends, Another Yearly Comparison

I still feel that overall I am improving as an artist, which is nice to realize after two years of becoming re-involved in this hobby. As I’ve mentioned before, I took a (mostly) ten year break, so it makes me happy that I’m still at it and still learning. It’s not a rapid improvement and I don’t really experience any huge revelations. But I am seeing a gradual, incremental change in my portraits. I can feel a real difference in comfort and confidence certainly from where I was two years ago, but also even from just a year ago. In February, I actually completely redid something from a year prior for comparison and the difference was fairly significant. That was a sketched scene from the Dark Tower series by Stephen King; I was a bit surprised at how my technique and approach had changed.

Although I didn’t really want to redraw something identical again, after my last post, I became interested in seeing more of this progress. On that previous post about experiences with artistic envy, there were some great comments from Steve Kidd and Mario Perron about focusing on comparing with yourself (and what you’ve learned) over time rather than other artists. They really got my wheels turning, considering what I could do now to mark my progress. My natural first thought was that I could draw my kids, wife, or other family members. It’s always a good idea, and maybe one of my next few will go the family route, but I wanted something I hadn’t done quite so much of. I considered redoing more Dark Tower artwork (the villains), or possibly re-exploring some video game materials.

Then I thought of the “hometown series” I did a bit more than a year ago. In this collection of portraits, I tried to capture the likenesses of some long-time friends. I only recently started using color at the time and I can see now how rough these were. I had not yet figured out the ins-and-outs of heavy layering and burnishing (sometimes called “colored pencil painting“), so the colors were very light and scribbled-looking in the first three. Another criticism I have is that the graphite outlines were far too thick and unconfidently wobbly. The subjects mostly look like themselves, but otherwise it’s sort of hard to look back at this without thinking about how I could improve them. Interestingly, the final portrait in the four-part series was one of my earliest attempts at heavier blending, and I can see a transition in style here.

The portraits from my 2018 “hometown friends series.” In chronological order from top left to bottom right: March 2 2018 Football Huddle, March 4 2018 Distinguished Gentlemen, March 9 2018 Poor Planning/Ghostbusters, and (after a doing a few other pieces) March 25 2018 The Unfinished One. These sketches show the change in blending for the fourth one.

A common subject in this series is the guy who was the best man at my wedding. This is all going to be sort of awkwardly worded, since I don’t use names of family or friends on this site…anyway, I’ve been friends with this guy for two decades now. My family and I even took a trip with him and his wife to Eureka Springs last year, so even though we don’t live in the same city anymore, we do still see them from time to time. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity! I could draw this old friend again and see if I’ve improved, but also include his wife, who I’d never drawn. I’m also now tentatively planning updated portraits of the other friends from the hometown series, so this thought process has led to even more “future sketch” plans. It’s always good to have ideas in your pocket.

Back to this particular sketch – as usual, I’ll start with the finished version, discuss the process, and then show a progression .gif. Here’s the portrait:

I really like where this portrait ended up. First off, this does look like the two of them. My buddy is not especially difficult to draw, but I’d never done a portrait of his wife before, so I wasn’t sure how it would go. For a first time draw, I think it’s reasonably accurate. Compared to the previous drawings of him from a year ago, the detail and colors I think are much improved. I can also see how the practice of having drawn the guy’s face four times now has really helped.

I actually don’t have too many areas of critique here. Normally I have at least three or four things that I would change if I did the portrait over again. But here, my primary complaint is the clothing, particularly for him. I have figured out decent colors and methods to depict light and dark areas when it comes to skin and hair shades, but I haven’t yet figured out the best way to deal with deep shadows in some clothing. I’m not certain, but I think the problem might be my heavy reliance on white pencils to blend. It works great for skin, and is usually pretty good with hair too. But with clothing, particularly blues and greens, blending dark grays with white doesn’t produce the deeper colors I need. I really need to remember next time to try a colorless wax blender instead. This thought has crossed my mind previously, but I always forget when I’m in the middle of the coloring frenzy.

My standard progression .gif is below. In this one, I captured one of my favorite awkward transition stages; it’s about halfway through the animation. Basically, skin color is filled in, but I’ve only got the pupils filled in. The dark gray/black shade, without the colored iris, is super creepy and makes people look like zombies. It cracks me up to see these bizarre transitional states!

Next on deck will probably be another sort of progress check by revisiting an old subject. I’ve outlined some ideas here already, which are all definitely appealing. This “comparing my current status to older stuff” is a fun thing to explore, so we’ll see what I end up focusing on.


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  • A good comparison, I still like the old style as well – there’s something lively about the visible line work.

    Re-doing an old picture without referencing the original sounds a good exercise. I feel that it’s something I’ve done but I can’t remember what one it is now. Will have to look at my own gallery haha 😂

    Good stuff, keep it up 🙂👍

    • Thank you Steve, it’s so interesting to hear someone else’s opinion on something like that. From my perspective, seeing those older drawings with more prominent outlines just reminds me of the hesitation and uncertainty I sometimes felt trying to capture the right look. I tend to associate lighter lines with feeling more confident from all this practice. But trying to look at it through a different lens, that older stuff definitely had it’s own look.

      I’d certainly love to see if you have done something similar! Since I feel pretty familiar with your artwork at this point, it would be fascinating to see how your approaches might change. This all makes me want to go browse older posts for some of these sites I’ve been looking at often over the past 2-3 years

      • I remembered what it was now, I’d drawn a Christmas ornament three times over three Christmases but made a point of not looking at the previous drawing for reference, or even to see what pen or pencil I’d used.

        Whilst there were small noticeable differences the main thing that caught my eye was that I’d picked a piece of paper twice as large for the later one. This would’ve been as I was trying to force myself to get away from the smaller drawings that beginners do. However the actual figure on the paper ended up exactly the same size, almost to the millimetre!!

      • Oh man, that sounds cool! Do you happen to have a link (if it’s been posted to your website)? That would be very interesting to see how your technique and view of it had changed.

        That’s a good note about paper size too – it’s actually something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Specifically, if it’s time for me to move up to larger paper. I’ve been using mostly 9 X 12, but find myself feeling cramped pretty often lately. What size do you usually use for the most part?

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