A simple urban pencil sketch – snippets of life in Toronto

A simple urban pencil sketch – snippets of life in Toronto

For years, I’ve wanted to try my hand at an urban pencil sketch. Drawing random snippets of life in a single frame has an emotional appeal to me. I’m attracted to any pencil sketches that show life in a city setting. But I’ve never been able to pull off a decent urban sketch. My sense of perspective is a bit off. It’s difficult for me to draw a street scene without everything looking slightly Daliesque. Domes slide off the tops of buildings, windows unaligned and a comical sense of proportions that throw the drawing into complete disarray.

What I see when I want to create an urban pencil sketch

I’ve bought so many “How to” books and read many websites that run through getting perspective correct, but after decades of trying I had stopped. My most heartfelt dream was to wander the city with a journal and sketch urban scenes on the go. I think, that’s why I eventually gravitated to a camera. Many of my shots are setup the way I see an urban pencil sketch unfolding. It’s difficult to explain, but this photo will help:

Photo taken from the outside a greenhouse, Each pane seems to tell a micro story.

The photo above was taken about 2 or 3 years ago. I was standing outside Allen Gardens watching people wander through the building. I kept seeing each frame telling a story. Blink and the scene changed. This is the type of image I always wanted to sketch out. But the skills weren’t there. In hindsight, it was less skills than the fear of failing that held me back. I was so busy reading How To books, I forgot to say, “screw it” and just draw.

Butterfly pencil sketch completed

I spent yesterday working on a new pencil drawing titled Waiting for the Subway. I’ve been less than thrilled by photos I’ve taken lately so it was time to shift gears and focus on sketching for a while. Earlier I worked my way through a slightly lopsided butterfly. The sketch came out better than I hoped, but it also gave me clues as to where I go wrong. I realised, although I use little guides to get the proportions correct, I tend to ignore them, once I start drawing in detail. I focus too much on one side of an image (usually the left side, go figure) and don’t see the entire picture.  This in turn leads me to get one portion spot on, and the rest looking like it’s tagged on at the end.

Here’s the completed butterfly to show you what I mean

Pencil sketch of a butterfly

It’s completed, but a bit lopsided

I realised I need to work on both sides of the image to keep the proportions correct.  Critiquing the butterfly encouraged me to try urban sketching again. I started with a basic multistory building to practice. I carefully laid out the grid, laid out the edges of the building, and started layering in the bricks and windows. The drawing was lopsided, but not as bad as previous attempts. It was good practice.

Urban pencil sketch – the outline

Next attempt in my sketching forays was a photo I took while waiting for the subway. I used it as the basis of some digital art, but never tried to free hand the scene.  I measured the lines on the original and laid them out on the paper, carefully measuring the distance between the vanishing lines. Then, instead of starting on one section and working out, I created a complete outline, not just guides.

Scan showing the outline for the Urban pencil sketch attempt

The basic outline of the subway at Union station

So far so good. I debated what pencil to use and settled on a mechanical pencil and gradually built up the framework. That’s my second fatal flaw, I start out too heavy handed when I draw and end up with a dark, heavy picture.

Layering some shading

Scan of the second step, filling in details

A bit of shading to flesh out details

I moved slowly, working back and forth, adding shadows, and building up the human figures. I also experimented with different shading techniques. Cross hatching works well for this sketch.

Third scan of the urban pencil sketch of the subway at Union station

Slowly the platform took shape

Working on the entire picture, rather than focusing on one small part, allowed me to make numerous micro adjustments as I went. It prevented the sketch from taking on that familiar unbalanced look.

Fleshing out the people on the platform

Forth scan shows even more shading layered into the sketch

Slowly building up the shadows

I stopped at this point and evaluated the shading. Where did I want to go with this? I knew my history of over doing things, so I had to think carefully.

Time for my faithful 2B pencil

Fifth scan shows the effect of a softer pencil lead on the sign above the platform

The sign starts to pop out

A darker lead was needed, so time for my beloved 2B pencil. I focused on the sign to give it emphasis.  I also used the 2B pencil on various parts of the clothing to bring out the creases and highlights.

My first urban pencil sketch completed – Waiting for the Subway

Final scan - Urban pencil sketching the TTC

Completed urban pencil sketch – my very first

To complete the sketch, I used a 9B lead on the sign above the platform to make it really pop. It guides the eye along the platform and seems to pull everything together.

I didn’t finish the people on the left of the platform. I liked the way they started to come out of the wall. I also wimped out on the lady with all the bags. No feet. I struggled with them and decided no feet was the only choice. Overall, I’m thrilled to have pulled it off. My first genuine urban pencil sketch.

What will be my next urban pencil sketch? No idea, but I feel cocky now.

A struggle to get a realistic pencil sketch

A struggle to get a realistic pencil sketch

My pencil sketch of a butterfly isn’t going well. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it just isn’t working out. It’s ok. But none of my attempts are realistic so far. To improve, I am keeping a journal of the steps taken to draw a realistic butterfly.

First attempt at a butterfly pencil sketch

I couldn’t seem to get the pencil strokes right.  The pencil sketch has more of a draft feel to it, but the delicate wings are baffling me. I can get the body and the shadows, but how do I capture a realistic feel to the wings?

 

Scan of first attempt at a butterfly pencil sketch nearly completed

I became frustrated with this and abandoned it.

Can’t remember what paper I used. It’s something I have laying around for doodling on. I thought maybe, I need rougher paper, something that would grab the pencil lead a bit more. Butterfly 1 was set aside.

Butterfly pencil sketch two – another meh

Scan of the second attempt at drawing a butterfly

Hmm, ok, but not realistic

I stopped at the body. The entire sketch wasn’t working. Still very two dimensional. I switched up the style and tried a stippling pattern on some of the wing portions, trying for a less mechanical feel to the bug parts. I spent about an hour working on different strokes and styles, moving between a mechanical pencil and regular pencils of various lead types. I tend to rely on 2b pencils more than I should, but I love the way it feels running across paper. And that’s where I went wrong, again, with this drawing. It’s too uniform in the blacks, and I didn’t leave myself room for lacy sections of the wing.

Looking at the second drawing makes me think just a mechanical pencil should be used. Start with a basic HB and then gradually shift to a softer led?

In search of sketching help

I watch several YouTube artists channels that have helped enormously. In this instance, I need something a bit more butterfly oriented. This one is useful for the basics How to Draw a Butterfly Step-by-Step.  It’s helpful in understanding the outline and patterns but doesn’t get down to sketching a realistic butterfly with pencils. This next site has a bit more shadowing details Easy Drawings and Sketches. I like how they shade parts of the wings to give them depth. Both helped in understanding butterfly bodies.

Third kick at the pencil can

A scan of a partially completed pencil sketch of a butterfly

Third try and it’s still not there

This one is better, but still missing depth. I’ll go back at it tonight and see how the second wing fleshes out. This time I used a gentler hand on the shading and switched up between the mechanical pencil leads and a very sharp 6b for the darkest spots. Keeping the point on a 6b is a trial.

The body has potential but needs more work. The soft feathery bits around the body need more depth and an airy feel to them, but that’s easy to correct as I go along. At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do for the head. I’ve spent so much time fussing with the wings. I haven’t even thought about it.

Although the wings are better defined in this sketch, I still went too heavy handed on it. That’s my drawing kryptonite. I never know when to stop with the shading and strong strokes. But the patterns are much better this outing.

There’s still an element to the butterfly’s structure I’m missing. Something about them I’m not understanding. More research is required.

Butterfly biology and summing up

This has been a maddening and satisfying exercise. I’m attempting to push myself creatively and try drawing things that … are scary to draw. No, butterflies aren’t frightening (at least to me). The fear of failing is. It’s easy to start a sketch and give up when it doesn’t work. I’m applying the ideas I’ve acquired from my amateur photography sessions to my drawing – just keep at it. Examine everything, look for tips and hints from people who are better and keep a progress journal.

One thing I did when I started drawing birds was look at ornithology texts. I went through many books and websites that dealt with detailed anatomy of bird eyes, feet, beaks, and differences in feathers. It wasn’t until I understood more about bird anatomy did my drawings improve. At that point, my pencil sketches took on a realistic feel.

Scan of pencil sketches of bird heads and beaks

First step is understanding the diversity

Scan of drawings of eyes from various species of birds

Second step is examing the finer details

I also took several trips to the Royal Ontario Museum and used their ornithology resources. The ROM has “birds on a stick” you can access to see the details up close. Their material is first rate and accessible for novices like me. I spent hours doing nothing but drawing bird feet, beaks, and eyes. Unfortunately, that’s not a luxury I can tap into at this time. I’ll have to make do with internet resources.

My recent searches took me to Cornel University’s little pdf The Biology of Butterflies compiled by Emily Kearny, Cornell University, 2010. It illustrated what I’ve been doing wrong.

An image from Biology of Butterflies showing details of a butterfly's structure

Veins and wing order

Do you see what I’ve been missing? Two vital misunderstandings of butterfly anatomy. First is the wing order. There is a forewing and a hindwing. That clarifies how the shadows on the wing should fall. It’s a subtle aspect, but important.

The bigger triumph of knowledge is in the second image. Those lines I’ve been glossing over are wing veins. They aren’t the pattern, they are veins. Funny how this bit of information has made me want to try a new butterfly pencil sketch. Knowing where all the veins are, are like following a road map to the butterfly’s design. This is exciting.

So, there you go. You get to share my successes and failures. Although, I hesitate to use the word failure in hindsight. Less a failure than a building block to achieving stronger skills.

Frankensteining my way towards a full body – drawing eyes

Frankensteining my way towards a full body – drawing eyes

Learned something valuable the other day. If you’re going to take a close up of your own eye, make sure the flash is off. I get the type of migraines that are triggered by bright lights (especially flashes) and well, let’s just say there was a bit of cursing when the flash went off, rapidly followed by the usual pain.

I said in my last post, Still sulking, I needed to go back and examine eye structure closely. I wasn’t happy with my output, so I lurked around all sorts of medical sights and Bing images for super quality close ups. I dabbled with them and then flipped over to a couple of Youtube channels for some help because I just couldn’t get it right. I couldn’t see what I was doing wrong.

Here’s the original sketch (posted on the previous article):

Scan of original drawing of human eye

After watching videos I figured out I was too heavy handed. I didn’t leave any wiggle room for darkening and shading. The eye lid was too high and should droop down over the eye a bit. I went back to the original drawing and tried correcting it:

Scan of second drawing of human eye

Better, but no, not right. The shape of the eye is off. It droops unnaturally down and the eye is too perfect along the top.  I’m struggling with this aspect of drawing the eye. It’s not easy getting the shape correct. As well, I was puzzled about how to approach the white part of the eye as it merges with the edges.  I started a new sketch, trying to pull together what I’d learned:

Sketch 3 of the human eye. Not much better

In this one, I over compensated for the bottom and the eye looks like it’s bulging. If I owned that eye, I’d be trotting off to a specialist right about now. And once again, I’m too heavy handed with the pencil. I started off far too dark and literally drew myself into a corner. I abandoned this sketch and  decided I’d rather try drawing my own eye and went to take a photo of it. FLASH! and I had to go lie down until the migraine settled. Sunday I took a series (without the flash) of photos of my right eye and printed a couple out. I sat with a ruler and looked it over carefully, then settled down to draw it. Here’s the result:

4th sketch of a human eye - much better this time

Now, I’m happy with the progress of this sketch. Starting with a ruler to get a basic idea about placement and sizing helped immensly. I started out with an F pencil for all the basics, including the preliminary shading. Then moved onto HB, 2B and a 4B. Now I have to work getting the blending a bit smoother. The eyebrown is a bit of a bodge job, I haven’t quite figured out how to do the fine hairs, but the shape is correct. I think the bottom of each hair should be a bit heavier so they look rooted in the brow. The other thing that’s hard, is getting that slight watery look along the bottom rim. I’m going to pick up a white pencil this week and see if using that helps.

So, things to work on:

– basic roundness of the pupil and placement of the iris.

– shape of the eye itself.

– smooth out blending techniques

– work on the eyebrow

Just wait until I try to do a pair of eyes. Maybe I’ll keep Frankensteining and cut and paste eyes instead.

I found this video helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbgYr_10Rfs Leonardo Pereznieto has a number of tutorials on realistic eyes that are excellent.

I also found https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQo7P9VkFaA by Makoccino useful. She uses a step by step approach that covers the real basics, things first time drawers get wrong.

Now, aren’t you glad I lost my Wacom tablet?

Remember those drawings of feathers?

Remember those drawings of feathers?

Over the holidays I pulled my sketching material out for the first time in a long stretch. Suddenly had the urge to draw. Problem was, I had plateaued. I’m pretty much self taught – I drew what I saw and struggled with some basics. I tried the usual “Learn to draw” books, but found them well … boring beyond belief and stodgy.  Part of the problem with being largely self taught is you get set in your ways – whether they work or not. 

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Pencil sketches, feathers and a crappy week

Pencil sketches, feathers and a crappy week

Trying to get over a weirdly awful week that started with the death of a friend and ended with me doing a classic face splat on the road and an ambulance trip to emergency for a patch up job.  It was one of those nano shit moments – a nanosecond before you tip over, your brain goes “aw shit” and down you go.  And now I have a nifty swollen black eye, broken glasses, an ugly cut on my eyebrow and a variety of bruises on the go as a souvenir for the week.

Did you know they can glue your forehead back together? A little glue, good as new… well not quite but almost.  After the repair job, off I went in search of a place to fix my glasses. They were oddly askew with the arms pointing in the wrong direction.  Hard to see when you can’t put the glasses on your nose. Made it as far as Eatons Centre and Lens Crafters fixed them up for me – no charge. Considering how badly damaged they were, I’m amazed they even offered to fix them.  Damn fine job they did to. Really pleased. Thought for sure I’d have to buy a new pair of glasses, they were that badly mangled. Wasn’t looking forward to spending $500 on them.

Started rooting around looking for something to cheer me up this morning, so I pulled out some pencils and paper. Began sketching after a long lay off.  I was paging through some of my previous drawings as well.  Here’s a page of feathers:

Pencil sketch of feather

Not a bad collection of feathers

I have a book of pictures I’d shoved on a shelf and neglected.  I drew these about 2 years ago (I think). Maybe longer, can’t remember.

Feathers are intriguing – each bird has such distinctive ones. Great fun.  I used a mechanical pencil with no .07 2b lead on these ones. Unfortunately, I dropped the pencil behind the bed this morning and will have to pull everything out to get at it. Bit of a pain, but my Staedtler mechanical is a favourite. It’ll have to wait until I can bend a bit better. After yesterday’s fall I’m not so pliable… maybe tomorrow.