Initial Sketch Outline Discussion

It feels like it’s been a while since my last post, but when I looked back, it’s actually only been a couple of weeks. Time during a pandemic sure bends in mysterious ways. Anyhow, in the last two weeks or so since my last post, I’ve actually been pretty busy with Amdall Gallery related stuff. The biggest thing has been trying to get some content onto the new YouTube channel; if any readers like what I share here, perhaps that will translate well to video too. I have always been surprised this blog gained any traction at all, hopefully the new channel will also surprise me over time. I envision them to be part of the same overall presentation of art, rather than separate projects, so I plan to have a lot of cross over. I guess we’ll see how it all goes!

On the channel, I’v now got nine videos up, two of which I talked about in the last post. I’m going to try to discuss them all here in detail at some point, but here is the current list:

In this post, I specifically wanted to share a video that includes some discussion and demonstration of the initial outline phase of the drawing. This is something that the artist behind the Drawing Through blog previously mentioned would be interesting to see, so I figured it might be fun to make that the subject of a video. I actually shared two versions of this; one includes some discussion of techniques I’ve found useful, such as marking grid lines and measuring facial feature distances. I’ll embed both videos below; first the one with discussion, followed by the higher speed version that has no talking:

I haven’t really used the grid measuring technique in a couple years, but I did find it incredibly useful when I first started getting back into the drawing hobby. Basically, you print a copy of your reference and mark off a grid on the paper. Then you figure out how much bigger you want the actual drawing, like 1.5X or 2X, then very lightly mark off that measurement on your canvass/drawing paper. Although it’s extremely time consuming, it does help with proportions until you become more comfortable and confident.

The second technique I discussed in the video is one I still love. It still involves choosing a scale (like 1.5X or 2X), but this time you’re just measuring distance between facial features. Take your ruler and hold it up against whatever source your using, whether that’s a laptop, tablet, a photograph, or a piece of paper. Measure the distance between major points, like top of the head to the chin, hairline to nose tip, ear to ear, shoulder to shoulder, pupil to pupil, etc. You may need a calculator, but just multiply your measurement by the scale you’ve chosen, then mark it off on your canvass with the help of your trusty ruler. In the video, I point out an example of marks I did for that drawing.

As I mention from time to time, and said in the video, I am an amateur with no formal training, so these are things I just adopted and tweaked over time. There are probably much better methods for figuring out proportions, not to mention better ways to learn how to move beyond those crutches. For simple perspectives and angles, these techniques aren’t even really necessary. I still think most real portrait detail is going to come through from the shadows and colors you use; in fact, I find I often lose detail from my outline completely after I’ve blended. So, it might seem counter intuitive, but I feel like the initial sketch outline is not worth stressing about too much. It’s more important to focus on how you lay down color and blending directionality/magnitude.

Now let’s talk about this portrait a bit before wrapping up. This one was an old man drawing which turned out a bit sadder looking than I initially intended. Here’s the final version:

Derived from a photograph by Donald Teel (@epartner) on Unsplash.

What I ended up with here was a mixed result. I like how most of the facial features turned out. The nose, eyes, and other upper portions of the face were pretty solid I think. I really disliked the beard and mouth area though, and spent much of the stages towards the end of the drawing trying to fix what I felt like I messed up. I was particularly bothered by the colors, thickness, and direction of the beard hair. I wanted it to be sort of whitish gray, but went way too dark. The beard hair direction still seems so unnatural to me.

I also wasn’t really going for this sad look I ended up with, the drawing just sort of went in that direction, especially after I started coloring the eyebrows. I actually considered cutting off the video at about the halfway point, since that was probably my favorite version of the portrait. I kept it going, but I’m still not sure that was the right decision. Either way, I did at least accomplish the goal of discussing initial sketches and facial outlines.

Hopefully this was useful to a few people out there! As I mentioned at the top, I’ve got a ton of material in queue right now. Several posts related to new YouTube videos, I finished the portrait giveaway winner’s prize, and still have some Witcher artwork sitting around. So, hopefully more on the way soon (as quickly as I can get it typed up).


  • I made an updated outline/planning/measuring video that I think is a bit better than this one. The new video is here:

  • Still use the grid method often, can’t see a need to ever drop that having seen extremely professional artists continuing to use it. Funny to think that something I’d tried as a four-year old would be picked up again at ten times that age 😀

    • That’s pretty encouraging, man! I’ve continued to wonder about other people using grids and little proportion strategies. I really have to lean on measuring tricks when it’s something important, like a request or gift. Granted, most of my stuff is nonsense that just goes in a portfolio. But you want to get those requests/gifts right, you know? A drawing of The Witcher doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but I want to give a portrait for my mom for example the best effort possible.

      • Absolutely, if it’s anything other than a quick sketch then I usually do something to check the proportions and stuff.

        One thing I have learnt is that you don’t need to grid the whole paper, just the bits of detail and maybe some larger blocks for general spacing.

      • That’s smart, definitely no need to waste time marking grids for areas that are empty! I like to think of myself as a fan of “lazy grids” – not perfectly measured or even complete, but at least good enough to not have wildly terrible proportions. Even just measuring and marking distances, I think the ruler is my friend. Now, why don’t I ever use it to help with straight lines?!

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