Preparing to Draw

Today I want to talk about how I get ready to draw a portrait, and my techniques for laying down a basic sketch. I’ll preface by saying that I am quite lazy, and thus don’t put in as much prep work as some artists I’ve seen. Still, what I do works for me, and that’s what matters, right?

A good example of my very very basic line drawing and the partially blocked in first layer of colour.

The first thing I always do is delineate my drawing space. I almost always work on paper, so I start off making sure my ‘canvas’ is the size I want it to be. When I work in ink or coloured pencil, that involves drawing a light pencil line in the size I want my drawing to be. If I’m working in pastel, I usually put down tape around the edges because I usually have backgrounds in my pastel pieces, and it’s really fun to peel off tape and see nice crisp edges on your drawing. 

Once that’s done, I put in a grid if I am using one. I don’t always use a grid for my drawings, but for complicated ones or for people’s pets I usually do. I used to draw the full grid, but after spending lots of time erasing I’ve made things a bit easier for myself. I usually only put in little dots where the lines of the grid intersect, which saves me a whole lot of time erasing. 

Finally, I put in the sketch. I’ve seen lots of artists online who block out  sections of colour on their portraits, and seem to spend quite a bit of time on the sketch part of the drawing. I’m sure this works for lots of people, but it doesn’t for me. Like I said, I’m lazy, so once I have the proportions right of a most basic outline, I’m ready to get started. 

All the colour variations and subtle textures I just do freehand as I’m laying down the first layer of coloured pencil, or ink, or pastel. I would argue that my true ’sketch’ is this first layer of colour, as that’s when I put down all the subtleties I’m going to refine later. It’s a bit of a strange way to do things, as I could probably save myself some time during that initial layer phase by spending some more time on sketches. But I’m lazy, and I really do like getting to laying down colour as soon as I can, because that’s the fun part of drawing for me. And every artist has a system that works for them, which is what really matters. If you have a specific way of getting things ready for a drawing, feel free to share! 

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