Saturday, December 25, 2010

Stunt-Double Family Portrait

You know when your favorite action star does a triple backflip off their motorcycle, landing perfect in position to kick mr. bad-guy in the groin... but before they cut to the close-up and witty one-liner, you notice their eyebrows were too bushy or jaw a little too square?  ... telltale signs that the studio tried to fool you with a stunt double, but didn't quite mask it in the editing room!

I'm calling this my family's stunt-double portrait because, in one way or another, each of us looks a little off.  I learned an important lesson with this portrait, in that a 5"x7" board is a little too small for me to really nail the details on a medium shot.  Each of our heads fits into about 1 square inch, which I found makes it really difficult to make adjustments and accurately re-produce the details.  One millimeter off in the drawing could be a whole half-inch in the person's face, which is why those of you who know us may notice that we're a little pudgy, maybe with a goofy smile or a lazy eye.  

Not that it's all bad, there's something kind of endearing about it!  You wouldn't necessarily expect a drawing to look more lifelike than the photo it was based on, so long as you can capture something true about the person in the process.  I haven't decided what exactly I've captured here, but it certainly made us all laugh!  

Moving forward, I'll make an effort to use a larger board when drawing more than two people from waist up.

Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dog Portrait... yep, another!


Today's entry is a custom portrait of my boss's dog Hank!  I would tell you what kind of dog he is, but I don't actually know.  I've only ever seen photos of him, though I imagine he's quite the genial dogfellow... and if you're really on the ball, you might find his name hidden in the details!  Here's the original...

I've really been enjoying these mini portraits lately.  They give me a chance to let go of any conceptual concerns and just practice my techniques... mostly shading styles.  While not necessarily my best drawing, this was another great opportunity to experiment with line work.  The photo I was working from was a bit low-res or had a soft focus, so I had to tinker and invent some of the values and textures rather than copying them directly.

My favorite details are the highlights on his skin folds and background shading.  
I've been wanting to play with a background like this for awhile... not the bones specifically (although I do like them quite a bit!) but the parallel lines that break and fade at the edges.  

I see a lot of this shading style from some my favorite illustrators (R. Crumb, Patrick Arrasmith, and Mario Zucca to name a few).  Their clean, refined use of line is something I find quite elegant and really aspire to.

I may someday find I'm able to get this effect by simply lifting my pen to break the lines (as these guys most likely are), but for now I'm enjoying the flexibility of claybord for laying down lines and then breaking them with my scraper tools.  Claybord also allows me to reintroduce highlights, which I'm not likely to give up anytime soon.  

My automatic tendency is towards a more haphazard crosshatching style than my idols, but I'm going to continue working towards that nice, controlled use of parallel lines.  I may even try drawing something soon that sticks exclusively to parallel shading in lieu of the perpendicular crosshatching!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Self-Portrait with Sister & Snow

Today's drawing is a 5x7 self-portrait with my sister Lauren!  

Based on the photo below, I used micron technical pens (.35mm & .5mm) on claybord with scratched highlights.  I tried a few different things with the background but wasn't really happy with the direction until I decided to shade it black.  Once it was mostly filled in, the thought occurred to me that being a holiday photo, it made sense to throw some falling snow into the mix.


It's been awhile since I've done a realistic self-portrait... always weird staring at yourself for hours on end, wondering "What's wrong with this thing... my drawing or my face?!"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dog Portrait - Scratchboard Tutorial pt 4

Welcome back to the 4th and final entry in the BigDumbAnimal Scratchboard Tutorial!  So far we've discussed what makes scratchboard art unique, as well as the recommended materials and tools, the process of transferring a source image to the board itself, and the techniques for mark-making and shading.  If you've been following along and have a scratchboard of your own in the works, you may be ready for some tips for revisions and corrections.  And if you're quite happy with your drawing and just want to show it off, we'll address that too!  Thus, our final entry will cover adjustments, revisions, finishing, and presentation!


The wonderful thing about scratchboard art is that, assuming you haven't dug all the way through the layer of white clay, you can make multiple rounds of revisions.  Made an area overly bright with too many scratches?  Simple pull out a black permanent pen and fill those unwanted white areas.  On claybord and scratchboard I prefer technical pens such as Microns or Alvin Techliners, generally with a .3 to .5 millimeter point, which are smooth and don't skip along the smooth surface.  You could also use black india ink with a fine brush.  If you don't have access to either of those, you could do a lot worse than Uniball Vision Elite pens from your local office supply store.  These have a great flow, super-black marks, and are waterproof and fade-resistant.  In fact, Uniballs are my prefered brand when working on paper, they just don't write as smoothly as I'd like on the scratchboard surface.  In any case, once you've made your revisions, don't worry if the areas that you've re-inked have a sheen or appear to be a different shade of black from the board itself... you can use a finishing spray to unify those tones and protect the board, but more on that in a bit.

Remember in my last post when I introduced the technique of Broken Hatching?  Similar to using crosshatching to make your highlights brighter, you can use a black pen to make perpendicular marks through your scratches.  This will help by breaking up your white lines to introduce some texture and tone down the highlights that may have gotten a little too bright.  In my case (looking at the photo above), I decided that while the board was close to completion, it was overall a bit brighter than I intended.  I also felt the dogs could pop a bit more if I introduced some shadow behind them.  So I took out my black pen and cross-hatched the background to soften up the lines, alternating between pen and scraper tool to find a happy medium.

Detail shot with lots of black correction lines

Above you'll see a detail scan of Gizmo's ear.  Here you can see where I re-introduced black lines to tweak the shading and add shadow.  Note the strong outline along the right side and the black hatching lines just above the bottom edge highlight.  Funny isn't it, how much a mess it is up close?  But from a distance, you'd never know!

At this point in the drawing, I recommend standing a good 5 feet away to help identify any areas that may need some final touch-ups.  Again, it's easy to get overly hung-up on the finer details when your face is a foot away, but most people are going to see your drawing from a distance--and you should too!

If you still have any of those graphite transfer paper marks showing on your board, now is a great time to grab an eraser and gently remove them.  For this, I recommend Magic Rub vinyl erasers or a Sanford Design kneaded eraser.  Both will be available by the box-load at your art or craft store.

One last word on corrections: 
If you have, in fact, dug so deep that you've reached the end of the clay layer and still need it whiter, don't worry!  You can paint it back in with some White Opaque ink from the local art supply store.  While not as flexible as alternating between scraper and black pen, you should be able to carefully brush those trouble areas back to good health.

Finally, here's my finished portrait of Gizmo and Snoopy!


Now that you're happy with your scratchboard and psyched to show it off, you can have fun deciding how to present it!  Scratchboards look great in black frames, especially those without glass.  If you do decide to present it this way, it's a good idea to use some spray finisher to protect the surface and help even out the tones.  Ampersand recommends Krylon Matte Finish #1311 on their website, and that's precisely what I use on my boards. It's available at any art store and does a nice job of deepening the blacks while removing the shine or scuffs that may have accumulated from my hands or eraser.  It also protects the board from dust, moisture, etc.  If you prefer a glossy finish, you can buy the glossy formula instead.  Just give it a coat or two, let it dry, and plop it in that frame!


And that brings us to the end!  If you've read this far, thanks for following along and I hope you've been encouraged to try scratchboard for yourself!  It's a very unique process, and an even more unique aesthetic.  It does take some practice, but I promise you'll be happy you tried!  And of course, if once you get started you need any help, I'm always available to lend a helping hand, eye, or ear.  

Stay tuned for less typing and more drawing.  Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dog Portrait - Scratchboard Tutorial pt 3


click to enlarge for detail

Before we start scratching into your board, let's take a moment to look at some basic shading techniques.  These are important not just to scratchboard art, but to drawing in general!  I sketched up some examples for you to check out above.  I drew these in black to get the ideas down quickly, but the approach is exactly the same whether you're using pencil, pen, scratch tool, marker, crayon, etc.


  • Hatching is your most basic shading method.  Similar to scribbling, but with a tad bit more control.  It's basically the use of parallel lines to imply value.  The closer together your lines are, the darker your shading will be.


  • Cross-hatching introduces perpendicular lines to your first set of hatched lines, taking the values even darker.  You can also angle your lines beyond the standard 90 degrees for different effect.


  • Stippling is the use of small dots to build up value.  I tend to use stippling for shading skin tone because it's less distracting than lines and can be built up more gradually.  It's a time consuming process, but has a beauty that's hard to match.  Check out my 'Potty Training Portrait' post for a great example of this technique.

Broken Hatching

  • Broken hatching is my favorite, and can look really elegant.  This is where you start with basic hatching technique, but then go back in to break the lines up with perpendicular marks of the opposite color (via pen on scratchboard, or via scraper tool on claybord).  This is useful when you want your hatched shading a bit softened or faded out at the edges.  The background in my 'Potty Training Portrait' makes a lot of use of broken hatching.


  • Don't be afraid to experiment with combinations of these techniques.  Each is good for different things, and bringing them together can have a great effect!  Have fun with them, and practice all the time!  (I draw little boxes and play with shading techniques while on the phone, etc.)

Now let's get back to our scratchboards!

SCRATCHING THAT BOARD (vrecka, vrecka!)

Now that you've got your image transferred and you're happy with your shapes of value, go ahead and grab your scraper tool of choice and go at it!  If you're hesitant to proceed, the best place to start would be the center of a highlight where you have some wiggle room to test your technique.  Remember the shading methods that I outlined above, but don't be afraid to experiment!  Try slow deliberate scratches.  Try fast and sloppy scratches!  Try parallel lines for grey tones, or add perpendicular lines to go even brighter (hatching & cross-hatching)!  You can even make quick little pecks at the surface to make small dots of value (stippling).  

A word of advice--work the whole surface evenly and don't spend too much time in one place.  Make sure you're moving around and addressing the whole image, gradually bringing those highlights out together.  That way you won't find that you've overworked your image or dug too deep into the surface. 

I broke my own rules, getting a little gung ho on the dogs while ignoring the background... oh well :) 

Keep on alternating your area of focus, always referencing your original image to make sure you're getting the values right.  Try looking at it upside down (remember, this tricks us into really SEEing the values as they are, not as our brains THINK they are).  And make sure you stand up every few minutes to look at it from a distance.  It's easy to get tunnel vision and get overly hung up on the fine detail without seeing the image as a whole.

On the next and final entry of the BigDumbAnimal Scratchboard Tutorial, we'll look at some more techniques for refining the image and how to fix those boo boos that inevitably will happen.  But don't worry, it's only art!

... Continue to Part 4

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dog Portrait - Scratchboard Tutorial pt 2

Welcome back to the BigDumbAnimal scratchboard tutorial!  While I don't profess to be an expert per se, nor do I mean to suggest there aren't more exhaustive scratchboard tutorials out there, I am an enthusiast with a desire to teach!  And so long as I'm posting my own personal work on this blog, I figure I might as well leave some interesting or useful information about my process for those who choose to read beyond the pretty pictures.  Now, let us get back to the good stuff!


Now that you have all of your materials, we're ready to start transferring the image to your board!  (if you don't have your scraper tool handy just yet, no worries.  You won't need that until later) 

Make sure your image and transfer paper are both cut down to the size of your actual board.  Be careful handling the transfer paper, as it has a tendency to leave a fine residue everywhere!  But don't worry--like I said before, it will wash out of most everything.  And if you want, you can take a tissue and wipe off any excess graphite from the paper.  A little bit goes a long way.

Now you're going to make a sandwich with your board, transfer paper, and source image.
First off lay your source image, face up, directly on top of the scratchboard.  These will be your two pieces of bread.  Now using a strip of masking tape folded over the top of the board, hold the image in position.  Now, place your transfer paper face down between the board and your image, using a strip of masking tape along to bottom to hold it all in position.  The tape should now be touching both the face of your image and the backside of your scratchboard, not necessarily the transfer paper and ideally not the black surface of your scratchboard.  The reason I suggest getting your image in place before the transfer paper is to avoid shifting which may leave some of the graphite residue in areas you didn't mean for it to.

Before you start transferring your image, keep in mind that when working on scratchboard you want to draw the highlights, not the shadows or outlines.  For that reason, I'm hesitant to use the phrase 'trace your image'.  If you need to leave a dark line to define a shape, you'll want to focus on the areas surrounding that outline.  The best tactic here is to try seeing your image as a series of shapes of value, tracing around the highlights rather than defining outlines.  In my case, I followed the shapes of bright white and patterns within the dogs' fur.  My favorite trick, both while transferring and shading, is to turn my drawings upside down.  This helps to trick the mind into looking at the actual values instead of relying on our preconceptions of what we're drawing.  You'll find you're much more likely to focus on highlights and shadows than outlines.  Now get out any old pen or pencil and get started on that transfer!  A gentle touch will work... again, a little bit of graphite goes a long way!

Once you feel you've identified the major shapes of value, go ahead and peel the tape back from the bottom.  Gently lifting up the transfer paper and source image, you'll see your marks transfered to the board.  Check to make sure you didn't miss anything important.  If you did, go ahead and lay them back down and rework those missed areas.  Otherwise if you're comfortable moving forward, go ahead and toss your transfer paper.  I tend to keep my source image attached so that I can easily flip it up and down for comparison, but you can also keep it to the side of your board for reference.  In fact, I tend to print a couple extra copies of my source image to have around just in case.

Scratching that Board (vrecka, vrecka!).... Continue to Part 3

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Potty Training Portrait

A coworker friend commissioned this 10x8 portrait of her twin 2 year-olds.  Having drawn the boys once before (and always a fan of toilet humor), I was excited at the opportunity!  

We agreed that instead of the same old paper, claybord might offer us something special to work with, and I took it as another great opportunity to explore shading techniques.  If you click to enlarge the full image or detail shot below, you'll see that the boys themselves are primarily stippled (shaded using small dots, individually 'tapped' on the surface), whereas the background is hatched (shaded with lines).  In the case of their hair and the rug, I shaded with curves and squiggles.  All in all the process took about 9 hours.

detail click to enlarge

My favorite detail of all is where, at the last minute, I took my scraper-tool and re-introduced those highlights on the left edges of the boys' skin.  Every project seems to find me trying something new with the materials, and I'm wondering how I ever survived without the ability to push and pull values like I can here, alternating between pen and scraper-tool on the claybord.  Can you tell I love Ampersand products?  I should be sponsored, wink wink!

Mastodon vs Sabre Tooth

Greetings!  Here's an 8x10 claybord... my first in fact!  It was inspired by the legendary metal band Mastodon, something that I'd been plotting for months before I finally got to work on.  I was originally going for vicious and violent, but as is typically the case, a bit of my cute and cuddly cartoon style crept in.  Regardless, I'm really happy with the movement in the composition and the consistent texture throughout.  This was really fun to work on and definitely kicked off my new claybord obsession!

To those of you who may have seen these already, I promise to start uploading NEW drawings as soon as I'm back in my apartment and have a scanner handy!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Claybord Band Art

Here's a 5x7 claybord piece I recently drew for my friends in the Dallas indie band Sealion.  

Recently I've been really focused on developing a more controlled use of line, especially when it comes to hatched shading.  The nice thing about the claybords is that I can use parallel lines to suggest value, but cut back across them perpendicularly with my scraper tool, giving it a nice faded dotted-line effect.  Best example being the sea lion's fin where it goes from white to gray.  Some areas work better than others, but looking back on it I'm especially happy with the fish/seaweed/bubbles area.  If you click to enlarge it you can see the details a bit more clearly.

Chasing that Turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving, and welcome to the inaugural BigDumbAnimal blog post!

Here is a 5x7 ink drawing on Ampersand Claybord, my medium of choice these days.
Claybord is an 1/8 piece of masonite which is coated with a smooth white clay, allowing you lay down ink as thick as you like while still having the flexibility of removing it with a sharp tool.  This is almost identical to scratchboard art, except that instead of starting with a black board and removing the surface to reveal white, I draw black on the white surface and then scratch away when I need to make corrections or integrate texture.
After the drawing was completed, I scanned and colored it with photoshop and a Wacom tablet.