(I’m making this because I get the same few questions again and again, so I thought it would save time)
Are you self-taught or have you received training?
I’m completely self-taught, never in my life have I attended a class where I’ve been taught to draw. I got a “Mega-Sketcher” for my first birthday and I haven’t stopped drawing since then. I draw for hours every day (if I can), and I’m always learning new things by myself.
Do you draw free-hand or do you use a grid?
I draw completely free-hand, I used a grid once and hated it. However I do not think using a grid is “cheating”, it is merely an aid.
What pencils do you use?
The main pencil I use is a mechanical 0.5mm Pental P205 with HB lead, you can get these from art shops or online, but I just get them from WHSmiths. My coloured pencils are Staedtler ergo softs, and again you can buy them from various places. I’ going to start using charcoal more, and the brands I will be using’ll be Derwent Drawing and Derwent tinted Charcoal. When I paint I use Reeves oils or acrylics, but I don’t paint very often. I use a cotton bud and a blending stump and very thin erasers.
What paper do you use?
I use Winsor & Newton smooth surface cartridge paper 100 lbs / 220 gsm. It is excellent. But now I’m going to start drawing on hardboard and thick coloured card more often.
How long does it take to complete a drawing/painting?
It can take absolutely anywhere from 2 hours to 5 (or more) hours, I can’t be sure though because I always work on drawings for half an hour-or-so at a time, between doing other things. Normally it will take 3 hours to do an A4 drawing and 4 hours to do an A3 drawing, because I hate rushing.
What do you want to do with art in the future?
After I have finished two years of college at NHGS I was wanting to do a foundation year at Leeds College of Art, and then go to live in London and hopefully get into a good Art University there. But it turns out I have been offered a studio in Batley so I will be able to go work their as a fine artist as soon as I have left school, and see if it works out for me. If not, then I will go to uni. In my life, I would like to make a living from art. I want to do commissioned portraits in order to make a living, be an illustrator, or if I can, just be a fine-artist.
Do you take your inspiration from photos or from pure imagination?
I take inspiration from photos, that’s not to say I can’t draw from memory, I just feel more comfortable using photo references. Usually I will take elements from different photos to use in a single drawing, so it is not copying from it exactly. I seem to lack an imagination and I will be pushing myself to create more original work when I find the time.
How do you see a drawing through to the end? Especially if you think it looks “bad” when you are halfway through it?
Sometimes I will spend hours working on a drawing, then I will look at it and it will look “wrong”, and it will make me feel very frustrated and upset, often I’ll want to give up on it, but I just don’t. Once I’ve decided to draw something, I go through with it. If it looks “wrong” I will try to figure out what it is about it which is making it look bad, and focus on trying to fix it. It’s very easy to just give up, but just think of how amazing it could look if you persisted with it. I always think the more time you put into a drawing, the more rewarding it is, so be patient and stay focussed. If it’s really bothering you, put the drawing to one side and go eat something or watch tv or draw something else, take a break from it, because drawing the same thing for hours and hours can make you bored and impatient with the subject. Put it to one side for a few days if you like, and come back to it, that always helps and motivates me. Always remember that you’re in control of whatever you put onto the paper, and that you have the power to edit and change the drawing however you want, and ultimately create whatever you want, it’s a pretty amazing feeling. The possible outcomes are what motivate me to finish a drawing every time. What I always do is hold the drawing up to a mirror, it completely changes how it looks, and often the reflection of the drawing looks “wrong” or out of proportion, so look in the mirror and see what’s wrong from that perspective and try to remember what you saw when you’re redrawing bits of it.
What are some of your favorite sources?
How do you shade skin?
I shade very lightly but colour completely the whole face with a thin layer of HB lead (unless there is a lot of light thrown onto the face, then I leave it white. The Thom Yorke drawing for example, I coloured the whole of the left side of his face in grey and left the right side blank.) Then blend the whole grey area with a cotton bud so it is completely smooth. Then for the darker areas, I add another thin layer of pencil lead, and then smudge it again, if it is still not dark enough, add another layer very lightly and blend it again. I never press down hard on the shadowed areas of a face (unless you want a harsh effect or you are colouring in a completely black shadow) because it looks unnatural and not very skin-like. Colour harshly if you want a stronger or more abstract drawing, but I prefer a soft, realistic effect. Just keep layering thin layers over each other until it becomes as dark as you want it. That way it will look softer and more like skin. Also, when you’re adding layers gradually, you can judge when to stop adding shade, if you add a harsh layer of pencil straight away, it could be too dark and hard to get rid of. For where the light is hitting or just gently touching the face, get a thin eraser and lightly brush backwards and forwards, just as if you were shading with a pencil, so again it is very gentle and subtle. When shading with a pencil, use it very delicately, just barely brush the paper as you move your wrist back and forth, so it is leaving just a little shade and not “scratchy” lines, and then you can easily blend it together with cotton or a stump so it is one smooth surface of pencil. Also, bring your face close to the paper and concentrate on a small area and work outwards.
How do you draw hair?
Block in the dark areas with pencil, leave white spaces where the light is shining on the hair, make sure there isn’t a harsh contrast between the patches of dark and light, use a blending tool or a cotton bud to soften it so the dark and light areas half blend into each other, but so you can still easily distinguish dark from light. Then make lines (the strands of hair) which join/go over the dark and light (make sure the lines are the same tone as the dark patches). Be quite gentle when drawing the lines, don’t try to define them all as individual lines because it will look to harsh, just flick your hand backwards and forwards in the direction of the flow of hair as it builds up, don’t spend time on individual hairs or it will take ages. Then I’d smudge everything over and then use a thin eraser to pick out the highlights.
How do you know when you’ve finished a drawing? What makes it complete?
That’s a good question! Erm, when I draw I do outlines, blocks of tone and then detail. I do these three stages and when I’ve finished them I’ll look at it and judge whether or not it looks “finished”. It’s hard to describe, I’m not sure exactly what defines finished and un-finished for me. Usually it is NOT finished after I’ve done these three stages, sometimes it is, but often it will look too “flat”, so I’ll go over the dark areas and add finer detail until it looks deeper and more alive. After I’ve made it look acceptable, I would say it is finished, but truthfully I could keep adding to my drawings infinitely - my laziness and desire to start new drawings stops me. So in a way, none of my drawings are fully finished, because I could always add to/improve them, but I don’t have time. How finished a drawing is depends on how much time I have on my hands. However, it is very possible to “over-finish” a drawing and therefore ruin it, if that makes sense to you. So usually I stop drawing as soon as it looks okay in my eyes
Do you have any advice on overcoming extreme lack of motivation?
I motivate myself by looking at other people’s art and thinking “I need to make art which is as good as this”, by reading books and watching films and finding inspiration from everything around me. I’m motivated by the fact that when I put a drawing online, people will see it, and the idea of sharing work with the world makes me want to produce more and more of it. Something which motivates me is knowing that every time I draw something, it is practice. And without realising, each time I draw something, I will gradually improve. I’m motivated by the big blank wall of my bedroom which is crying out to be filled with drawings. I’m motivated by the blankness of the page which calls out with endless possibility. I’m motivated by the fact that I can only improve, and that the only way to improve is to draw, and draw, and draw.
Do you have any tips for painting?
I’m not very experienced with painting but what I’d say is firstly make sure your whole canvas is covered with paint, just big blocks of colour and simple shape, so that no white/canvas is showing. Then build it up with layers, adding shape and definition, and don’t do any detail until you’re completely content with the composition and the feel of the basic shapes. Then as you’re doing it, step back from it at regular intervals to assess it and think what needs changing and what to do next. I need to paint more for myself.
Do you have any tips/advise for drawing?
Because drawing comes naturally to me, I don’t have any tips as such, because I just DO it without thinking. My advice is to master drawing a small thing at first, draw eyes, or lips, or hands, or something else, over and over again until you are confident, and then build up the list of things you are happy with drawing over time, instead of jumping in at the deep end and trying to do everything at once. Don’t ever give up, it sounds so cliché but really don’t. Draw as often as you can, and without realising, you will probably improve with each drawing. Drawing takes a very long time, don’t expect to have produced something great after an hour, because it can take days to become happy with something, so be patient. Do not draw things to please other people, if you have an idea which you think people will consider “too weird”, just draw it anyway. Who cares if it gets notes on tumblr or not? If you like it, it’s good enough. Push yourself, and experiment with new things, but not so much that you feel uncomfortable. If you don’t feel happy using paints; stick to pencils! Also, look at other people’s work to get inspiration, but never look at it and think “My work isn’t as good as that, I might as well give up”, because what good will that do? I could look at Marco Mazzoni or Chuck Close’s work and think my drawings were inferior, but that would not help my progress at all. We all work differently, with different approaches and techniques, so you can’t really directly compare your work to someone else’s and say it is not good enough, because every artist is different. Never put yourself down or underestimate your ability, and never give up, keep drawing, it’s good for the soul.