Focus - Draw This Again Challenge


Hope ya'll have been having a nice weekend so far! For today, I'll be showing off some of the back-end process of my latest drawing--Focus. This is actually the FOURTH time I've drawn this picture of my brother! (Might be my last, who knows! xD)

I've been doing this on a three year cycle, starting from 2008 when I drew him in my sketchbook back in high school. The three years thing was unintentional, since I happened to redraw it a second time three years later, and decided to do it a third within the same time frame. The jumps were always much more drastic than I anticipated, which made me sweat a little for this fourth version! Going into this, I was quite anxious. Though I did practice quite a lot between 2014 and 2017, and I also had my second series of Avengers portraits done during that time, I still wondered if the jump would be as significant.

Which, side note, that's a natural thing that happens on your art journey anyway! Especially as you grow your skills, jumps in improvement are much more subtle, but DO make a difference overall :)

Going into this, I wanted to do my best to go all out. Starting off, I set the ratio to actually match the size of my workspace (8.5x11 inches) since I didn't always do that in years past! (whoops! Different ratios can cause for proportional issues xD)

I then snatched up my sketchbook and got to work, doing my best to break down the photo reference so I would be more accustomed to it and feel looser when drawing it. For the first time also, I referenced other cameras since the scanned quality of the photograph is quite poor, the details are practically invisible! Making the third (as I had the actual photograph for the first two times), and now fourth, attempt quite hectic in drawing that dumb camera >:P (I got many flashbacks while working on it again this year, haha!)


The idea was to measure the contents of the photo, not to get details. I wanted to understand the placement of the objects, the relationship between them, and proportions. For the cameras, I went a little more detailed and had them be closer to loose sketchy studies, since I have no idea how to draw cameras and wanted to get familiar with them before going into the final image.

These are quick, only spending about a minute or two max with each one. This is just me, some people might want to do more detailed or larger breakdowns of a piece before starting it. I'm more of a quantity over quality person when it comes to art, so I spent less time and drew more, and I find that methodology works best for my mindset.


From there, once I felt I'd done enough, it was time for the real deal!

The initial sketching process is always the worst part of it for me, haha. I'm quite impatient, and doing more accurately realistic work takes much longer, given the precision needed. Everyone has their own method for making realistic or photo realistic artworks, be it tracing, using a proportional divider, a grid, measuring in other ways, etc., mine is a bit of an odd mix of things.

This tutorial is older, but my method for drawing this portrait was the same! :)

I loosely sketched basic shapes of contour lines to map out the placement of the figure/portrait. I then take a picture and transfer it into Photoshop (though most any digital art program works, as long as you have layers), then matched up the lines and looked to where things were off. Make adjustments, take a photo, compare to reference, make adjustments, repeat. You can continue this process as many times as you want, I only had the patience for three, haha.

You can of course go into this sort of thing freehandedly, but I do want to emphasize two things: #1 - going in freehand with realism or photo realism is INCREDIBLY difficult, time consuming, and nearly impossible to get accurate, ESPECIALLY with photo realism. (I don't think it's possible to do photo realistic artwork freehanded.) And #2 - it's not cheating to use any of the methods I've mentioned above to produce the artwork. In fact, while you can certainly try to freehand realism, I have never personally heard of nor seen any professional who does. (By professional, I mean they make a living off of their work. I'm also referring to those MUCH more skilled than myself.) There's no need to feel guilty over using tools invented for the very purpose of helping you! (Why do you think mathematicians use calculators?) Art is art and it has no rules. If you want to use a ruler to draw straight lines, an eraser to fix mistakes, or white ink for easy highlights, then go for it! Whatever makes it fun for you.

Once the sketch is done, then it's on to the shading. For this portrait, I used my set of graphite pencils from Cretacolor. I'm not in love with them, but they're the only set I have, haha. It's a set of HB to 9B pencils. I decided to be more daring this time and used them in conjunction with my spray fixative to achieve some darker tones to really push the contrast. You can more easily see my process in the time lapse video below. I only used the fixative once at the very end, and it helped make a difference. I wanted to avoid burnishing (aka pressing hard and crushing the tooth of the paper, making later blending and layering essentially impossible), especially with graphite (it looks shiny and ugly when burnished), which is why I went the fixative route. I've heard hair spray works the same, but never tried it!

As far as the rest of the process goes, it's pretty simple. Since the image is black and white, it's easy to see the contrast and values and match things up accordingly. I did something a little different this time, working off of what I've heard from another artist, who mentioned building up graphite from light to dark to really amplify the darks. (Typically with graphite I like to work dark to light, get in those dark darks first.) It's hard to say if all that layering did much in terms of making it darker, especially since I didn't compare the drawings until AFTER I had already done a layer of fixative, but I think it definitely helped in the blending aspect!

When using graphite, the more you lay down on the paper, the better and easier it will be to blend later on. Having very little pencil on the paper, or having large gaps between strokes, makes blending difficult if not impossible. If you want smooth coverage, the more the better!

My blending tools are pretty standard: tissues, tortillons, and the occasional q-tip. Since last year's portraits, I've fallen in LOVE with tortillons. I used to be all about them tissues, but WOW do tortillons give you /so/ much more control. You can be a lot more precise, get smaller areas, and make things sharper. If desired, you can burnish with them as well. Like with tissues, you can use the graphite the paper picks up and put it in other areas as sort of a soft texture, gradient, etc. I did that a few times in this piece, specifically when doing the leaves. I used the leftover graphite on the tortillon and blended that out on the paper. (In some instances, I scribbled some graphite elsewhere, rubbed the tortillon on that, and then used that graphite on the leaves.)

All that combined, it's just layer layer layer until it's done!

So after ALL THAT, here is a static image of the side by side comparrison with all four images.

Click  here  to see larger.

Click here to see larger.

And that's it! Pretty big difference, huh? All that stress for nothin'! ;)

Hopefully you found some of these tips helpful!

The content on this website is 100% free, but if you'd like to help give back, you can do so by donating here or by sharing this post! I appreciate the support, thank you! :)