Wednesday, January 28, 2009


As promised on this the birthday of the celebrated mid 20th Century painter, Jackson Pollack, I will attempt today to give a little tutorial on how I establish depth, as in the recently completed work of the egrets and the dark foliage. These in progress images are of a little study done especially for this posting. Some of the work is rough, to say the least, but I think the sequence will show a good example of what I will describe as my technical approach to giving dimension and depth to a two dimensional portrayal of trees.

First off, I will show the slightly chiseled tip of the HB lead, in its lead holder, that I will use first to establish a very rough 'texture' upon which the foliage will be built. As I have mentioned before, I work on Bristol Board with a slight texture or tooth to it, as you will no doubt see in the photos. I have found over the years, that the development of my style is based very strongly upon making use of that texture. The chiseled tip is formed by first putting just a bit of a sharp tip to the lead, using a small scrap of sand paper. After the tip has a bit of sharpness to it, I then turn the lead to a perpendicular angle to the sand paper and round it off just a touch. Then, I turn the lead on its side, about a 45 degree angle to the sand paper and on one side, not turning the lead as I would to form a sharp point, I rub the lead against the sand paper once again to form a long, blunt side to one side of the lead, thus forming a nice chiseled side to it, as well as maintaining a bit of a rounded point if the lead is turned to the opposite side . . . this enables me to do different things with the same lead depending upon which side I turn it to and which side faces the Bristol Board. Have I lost you yet? Stay with me!

In this first shot, I show the chiseled side of the HB lead.

In this next image, I am laying down a rough, very rough, basic under layer of HB lead to define the shape of the foreground trees. As you can see, I am using a combination of strokes, lines, angles, swirls, and circular motions, not really with any intention other than to fill the space with a light layer. The surface of the chiseled edge of the lead is being barely scuffed across the surface, basically just picking up the upper 'peaks' of the texture of the Bristol Board, leaving lots of the white of the paper showing through at this point. And in the following two shots, I show a closeup of the types of strokes used here, side to side basically moving with the grain of the Bristol Board, cross hatching over that and circular rotations over themselves.

In this next shot, the foreground trees have been defined as to basic shape and you can see that I have also started to establish some breaks, defining those breaks with an over layer again of the same HB lead, hatching and cross hatching over itself to darken those break points, which will define separations between branches that will appear closer and those that will recede. Things are still very rough at this stage, maybe two minutes into it all!

In this next image, I am continuing to refine and define, using the HB lead, but now I am not only rubbing the chiseled side across the surface, still with a very light touch so as to not set in a very strong dark right off the bat, but I am also turning the lead slightly as I move across the surface so the more rounded end of it hits the surface as well. In this manner I am slightly varying the intensity of the grey tones. You can see that I have begun to dart around the area, laying in little dark patches, hinting at the in and out of over layered branches. I have also started to intentionally darken the already defined separations that I set up in the previous image. But, none of the darks are at a level as yet, that I would consider to be the final intensity of black that I will want; there is still a lot of the underlying white showing through.

Now I have picked up my lead holder with 2H lead in it as well as a bit of a sharper, though still rounded, point to it. The 2H, being a harder lead than HB will hold that rounded tip longer and I will use it to lay in a mid tone grey value across the entire area to soften the white of the paper and to give a more even texture across the area. This helps to blend all the values that were set up to this point.

In the next shot, I have picked up a harder lead now, 6H with a bit more of a point on it. At this point, let me interject that for each grade of graphite I have two pencils, one a wood encased lead, like this one, and one a lead in a standard drafting lead holder. I do this because I tend to keep a different kind of point on each of the two different leads for each grade as each kind of point or chiseled edge will do something different on the surface of the paper. Anyway, here is a very soft background line of trees as well as to have gone back over the mid tone areas that I just drew in with the 2H lead above. This is not the best of shots to show that difference from the previous image, but be assured that the mid tone greys are being darkened. All of this again, being done with a combination of strokes, cross hatching and circular movement just slightly touching the upper surfaces of the Bristol Board. As you may be able to see here, there still is not a lot of graphite on the paper at this point and what that means is that I can still make changes without having to erase strong darks.

In this next shot, I am further defining darks, shadowy areas and making the area look more and more like tree branches and leaves, but focusing on the background area now so I can establish a good idea of how all the tones will work together and how to show separation between differing planes of depth.

Here, I have picked up a harder lead, 9H this time and continue to soften, and darken the lighter grey areas, pulling everything together to make the two dimensional surface have more depth. And again, all these strokes are still very soft in touch, one layer upon another upon another, slowly building up the darks.

Here I have taken a 3H lead in a lead holder, this lead with a slight chiseled edge to it that lends itself to giving a very soft, over all, even tonal quality when brushed across the paper. This continues to bind it all together while continuing to cover more and more of the underlying paper. You can also see that I have started to imply water and some reflection.

Now, I have taken up an H lead in its holder, this with a more shaped and rounded tip to it, and have gone over the entire area again to continue to darken. I am also 'picking out' more detail at this stage, redefining specific branches and clusters of leaves with the sharper tip of this lead.

Now, back to the 3H and the 6H to continue to bring out more detail in the distance as well as to continue to define more of the branching and leaf clusters in the foreground area. I have gotten quite 'picky' now, pulling out more detail by making every smaller and smaller circular motions and setting in more separations between the darker areas that would be closest to the viewer from those that are further back.

In this image, you can see the sort of circular marks that I spoke of and that help to define more tree and branchlike structures. Here I am using the 9H lead again as the harder leads tend to leave a very nice, soft mid value grey .

And now, just about done . . . I have picked up the 2H again, 2H being one of the grades of graphite that make up the larger percentage of any given drawing because it just seems to be a very useful lead . . . being able to lay in both soft greys as well as rather dark areas when the lead is sharply pointed . . . I've picked out final details and greyed down some underlying branch areas in the foreground line of trees.

And here, the final image where I have picked out all the strong dark shadows with a slightly blunted tip on a 2B lead. In this particular instance of work, 2B is the softest lead I have used and that quite sparingly, just here at the end to pick out highlights of shadow and make the separations more distinct. All of this accomplished through layering of varying grades of graphite.

And here is a little line of HB graphite showing how varying the angle of stroke, direction it moves in and number of layers, will help to slowly darken up an area and give depth. Starting at the left, I set in an angled set of lines, over which I set side to side strokes, darkening the first layer . . . followed by some circular motion, followed again with side to side strokes and continuing on with angles in the opposite direction from the initial set of strokes to a final layer of circular marks that tend to cover all the remaining white paper and bring a nice over all darkness to the spot. I hope this has been of some help and made some sense to those of you who have asked about defining more depth to a work.


Diane Wright said...

Wonderful step-by-step demo! Thank you for sharing your technique. Now I just need to work on pushing my darks in my drawings.


Unknown said...

Terry, brilliant demonstration. Thank-you for taking the time to share and explain so clearly. I've never used my 2H much! Will sharpen it and learn more about it's virtues. Many thanks:)

Meera Rao said...

wonderful demo - thanks for taking time and generously sharing your expertise.

Michael Anthony Galante said...

Hi Terry,
I love your work, you are a master with those pencils! Thank you for taking the time to share your techniques. It is greatly appreciated.