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Are you impressed by artists who are able to achieve high levels of realism in their work and wish you could also get to that point, someday? Interested in bringing realistic form and three-dimensionality to your drawings so that they can really pop out? Have you gained some confidence creating line sketches, and are ready to start adding realistic light and shading effects?
Even though I consider myself much more of a sketcher and a painter than a realistic drawer per se, I think it's essential to make time for these kinds of studies. I also think that it's important for aspiring artists to devote time to achieving believable drawings/paintings because this is what's going to lead them to develop great observational skills and grasp fundamental art topics such as proportion, value, perspective, form, etc.
In today's blog post, I'll be sharing a video time-lapse of a portrait I drew using regular pencils, as well my top six tips to apply when attempting to create a realistic drawing of any type of subject (whether it be a face, animal, arrangement of objects, etc.).
By understanding and practicing the six key points I'll be sharing below, beginner artists will start making much faster progress and will soon be creating impressive, more professional-looking drawings.
I want to make something clear. To achieve realism, we need references. These references are going to allow us to observe what subjects actually look like in real life. If we don't use references, we are going to be working from what we think subjects look like.
References provide us details and remind us of tiny intricacies that we would have otherwise not thought about. And when attempting to achieve realism, it's ALL about observing the subtleties and being able to recreate them accordingly.
References can take the form of photographs or compositions we have arranged to draw from life (otherwise called working from direct observation).
Drawing from direct observation is essential for artists that have gained a certain level of skill using photographic references, as it provides a more challenging opportunity to further our artistic development.
As I've mentioned in other blog posts and YouTube videos, drawing is the basis for everything else in art. I believe all artists, no matter how skilled they've already become or what particular medium they've chosen to gain mastery in, should continue making time to sharpen their drawing/observational skills throughout their journeys.
Personally, I make sure to schedule in time for it on a weekly basis, even though what I sell are my paintings!
Tips to Improve Your Realistic Drawing
When I set out to create a drawing that is more on the realistic side, I make sure to have the following supplies on hand:
-A few different pencil grades (2H or H for the initial sketch, a couple of mid-grade a 2B or 4B to start placing values gradually, and one darker grade like an 8B for darkest areas)
-Drawing or sketching paper (smooth paper is going to ensure smooth blending)
-A kneaded eraser or eraser intended for smaller areas
-A regular soft rubber eraser for larger areas
-A blending stump or tortillon to blend smaller areas
-A tissue paper to blend larger areas
-A quality sharpener
-A scrap piece of regular paper or tracing paper to rest my hand on as I'm working
3. Always start with a light initial sketch, focusing on largest shapes first
The proportion and location of these different elements in regards to each other has to be spot on, before even thinking about moving on to things like shading and texture.
It's the absolute worst to spend hours developing details and even creating beautiful, smooth shading just to step away from our drawings and realize that the proportions/locations of different elements are off.
Also, whether you're creating your initial sketch by tracing over a photograph or freehand, make sure those initial lines are created lightly so that they can be invisible at the end (we want no visible lines when creating realism).
4. Keep in mind that in realism, there are no visible lines
It's essential to stay away from creating any sort of stark-looking lines, whether it's around our different shapes/planes or in an area we're intending to create a smooth gradient in.
This said, we are required to draw lines when we are working on creating some kinds of texture (hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, etc.). However, even in these cases, the "lines" we are leaving behind are not uniform from one edge to the other, but have a variety even within them in terms of thickness or value.
They most likely go from thick to thin or from dark to light, etc., which leads to much less stark looking lines.
5. Create gradual, smooth transitions between your different values
There should be no stark changes between one to the next and there shouldn't be any visible lines throughout these transitions either.
6. Make sure you are creating a very wide variety of values throughout your drawing
There have to be very light areas (which will appear almost white at the end), there have to be very dark areas (which will appear almost black at the end) and there have to be a ton of mid-values in between.
Practice creating a beautiful balance between lights and darks.
A lot of beginners make the mistake of not going dark enough where needed. Don't be afraid to go dark (as long as the values are really there in the reference). This said, make sure you're never pressing down too hard on your paper because this can damage it and cause visible scratches that will not be able to be fixed!
For the most part, I like working my way towards the darks gradually. Also, as you're working, you'll probably find that you're darkening some areas that you were intending to leave light.
This is where small, detailing erasers come in super handy because they allow you to go back in and lighten these areas. They also allow you to pull out highlights wherever needed, which is crucial for realistic looking hair.
*Bonus Tip: Make sure that you're looking at your reference, at least, 50% of the time you spend working!
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