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Skills
graphite sketch of Julia by Jeremiah.

graphite sketch of Julia by Jeremiah.

Sketching by: Jeremiah

rendering in pencil and charcoal

Purpose

History: Both Mom and Grandma show artistic talent, so it did not come as a surprise to find that many of us children enjoy art. I delight in the creative and craftsmanship skills that are required. We have made several false starts while looking for an art program. The best (most comprehensive) system that I have seen is called 'Young Masters' however I don't have the time to do the full program at this time in my life. I have detailed our current program below, however part of it is continually changing as we find new resources.

Grandma learns to draw.

Grandma learns to draw.

Current course materials

We have found that the following materials provide a nice balance of a short learning curve with pleasing output.



Carcoal rendering by Jeremiah.

Carcoal rendering by Jeremiah.

Charcoal

First we go through a charcoal program. This is a pretty quick course - one to two months. It starts out with simple shapes and progresses through realistically rendered artwork. This is the minimum I would suggest, it is still quite a bit of work, but you can see the results quickly.

Charcoal by: Sarah


Through the years many art programs have come to our house and left again without imparting much benefit to our drawing skills. Every person is different, and an art course that works for one may not work for another. For us, the latter continued to be true, even though we were trying programs recommended by friends. Some were too vague or too inadequate, others thought you would know things that you actually didn't or taught you how to draw a specific article and nothing more, and some just didn't present a style we wanted to learn. Anyway, it wasn't until the early 2000's that we finally found a course that met our needs. That was the charcoal art course "Draw Today". The style of charcoal drawing it presents is very forgiving, making it a great learning course for young artists with a degree of eye-hand coordination. (We start at 12 or older)

Sarah sketching.

Sarah sketching.

Since the paper starts out covered in charcoaland the picture is made by removing it in the proper places, any mistakes can be re-charcoaled and worked again. The technique of drawing a grid on the paper and the picture to be reproduced, and then working with that grid to accurately transfer the picture was a great help, not only in getting the shape right but also in proper placement of the details. Once the program's five steps of progressively more and more detailed pictures had been completed, the young artists could take a photo and reproduce it themselves. Jeremiah, Hannah and I have each gone through the course and Julia is following suite. Our final pictures include portraits of Grandpa and Grandma Stover, Dad and Mom, and Theodore Roosevelt. Because this form of art is rather limited in how detailed the artist can get, we have each chosen to not continue with it, however it has greatly increased our skill and self-confidence and laid an excellent foundation for the pencil sketching we three went on to do, which uses the same grid method.


Graphite

Sarah sketching a lily.

Sarah sketching a lily.

After completing the charcoal course, we move on to graphite. The harder lead makes for a greater control over the tonal range, and it is much easier to keep those points sharp. Sandra McFall Angelo's book "So You Thought You Couldn't Draw" has proven very practical. The process is very similar to that for charcoal, starting with simple shapes in monochrome (read silhouette), and progressing on to more difficult subjects, such as smooth shading, and eventually even feathers and fur.

Portraits

Jeremiah at work.

Jeremiah at work.

Once I completed all the exercises in the book, I decided to move on to portraits. I have decided to put a high priority on family, so I chose to work on family portraits. First I select a photograph that displays a good portrait, then convert it to grayscale on the computer. I then print it, and impose a grid on top. Next I add a grid to a piece of art paper. At this point it is easy to scale the drawing. Once both grids are in place, I transfer the basic shapes to the piece of art paper. Then I remove the grid, and begin rendering the shading for the finished portrait.

Color

Habiscus done in graphite.

Habiscus done in graphite.

As I have not yet completed my work on family portraits, I have not begun the color part of the course. As I make progress on this part of the project I will update the article.

Results

Graphite of an oil lamp.

Graphite of an oil lamp.

The most difficult part of the sketch is the finishing. Like polish on a fine piece of furniture, the last few touches can make all the difference on how people perceive the work. On faces, the lighter shading is the most significant. The light shading differentiates the planes and curves of the face, and adds most of the individuality and expression. This part is critical, and also the part that I find most difficult.

Sea Gull done in graphite.

Sea Gull done in graphite.

I do not work on the portraits very often, a full schedule keeps me away from my pencils for most of the week. I do try to work on my artwork once each week. At this rate I obviously do not finish drawings very quickly, it takes me several months to complete each one. How many largely depends on the quality of the print I am working from. If I can discern enough variation in the shading of my copy, I will keep trying to capture those details.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah's rendering of his brother Zechariah.


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