How to Draw a Detailed Portrait in Graphite

By H. Edward Brooks in Art Tutorials > Drawing Tips

For today’s tutorial I will be demonstrating how to render a finished drawing in graphite. The images used below were taken from a portrait study done on Stonehenge printmaking paper.

1. Build up the shadow areas

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Once you have established your line drawing, you can begin the rendering process.

Put in all your shadow shapes together, using the same light tone or value, before worrying about finding the differences within the shadows and forms.

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Once you’ve blocked in the shadow shapes through the entire drawing, proceed to further develop the forms and shadows, one tonal level at a time.

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The process is much like a black & white photo slowly developing in the tray in the darkroom. Patience is key at this phase.

Here you can see how I’ve continued to develop the forms of the head, the shirt, and the drapery, pushing the shadow values darker to contrast the light areas.

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2. Add your darkest darks

In preparation for adding a dark background, I have ground up my own graphite powder using 7B, 8B, and 9B leads. I also cut a mask to protect the drawing when I apply the graphite powder around it.

Use a soft cotton cloth to gently apply the graphite powder to the background of the drawing. Patience is key here again.

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Think in layers of graphite, and try to get the full range of dark values by gradually glazing the graphite onto the paper.

About every third layer you will want to lightly apply a workable fix to build up an additional surface to apply the graphite to. You may need to apply up to 12 layers to get the full range of values.

3. Pull out highlights and other details

To finish this drawing, I developed the backdrop drapery with various erasors and stumps, creating the effects of soft light on dark fabric. Further refinements to the head, shirt, hands and drapery followed.

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For more drawing tips from H. Edward Brooks, please visit his drawing blog.

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