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Notes about my techniques


I get lots of queries about technique and I'll offer a basic explanation here. My methods are hybrids of many techniques I've been shown, lots of trial and error, and more than a few happy accidents. My experience over decades has covered both traditional and digital media, so my approaches take advantage of both worlds. When I retired from full-time teaching (and the responsibility to teach digital illustration) I returned to traditional media and methods, which I missed very much. For me there's no creative experience that can compare to simple, basic drawing at a slanted table with a task-lamp. 

Pre-drawing prep

For most of my images, both full-color and monochrome, I draw with colored pencils over a digitally printed "grungy" texture. For that base texture I scan almost anything -- old rusty steel plates, the unpolished back-sides of pewter platters, sides of dumpsters -- and then sepia-tone them in Photoshop. I print a texture-rectangle, sometimes lighter sometimes darker depending on the intended image, onto good quality matte-surface paper (see image at right, detail of texture below it; images on mobile are below text), usually Epson Legacy Fibre paper or Legacy Etching paper, both 100% cotton.


​Hard-mounting vs. loose paper


Before about a year ago I hard-mounted the paper to acid-free foam board before drawing, because the varnish I applied later (brushed-on gloss varnish) would buckle the paper badly. Lately I've started using spray varnish so there's no need to board-mount the drawings. However I also frequently do a lot of erasing and redrawing, and if I anticipate that then I still occasionally hard-mount a drawing. If mounted, I burnish the paper down thoroughly and trim the board to the planned frame-size -- strictly a business decision to reduce the cost of matting and framing.



Some years ago I discovered accidentally that a grungy texture printed onto matte paper takes colored-pencil beautifully. With colored-pencil you cannot draw light-over-dark because the pencil is too waxy, but over the grunge-texture you CAN draw light-over-dark, much like a painter might work. I'm color-blind so I can't paint, but I fell in love many years ago with the Renaissance pre-painting technique of drawing both light and dark values onto toned paper, and this is precisely what I do with colored-pencil over the printed sepia-grunge. My process sometimes completely covers the base-texture, but occasionally it shows through in small areas of the final.

    To prelim-sketch into the texture I use light value pastels or white charcoal. I used to sketch digitally (part of what I taught) but found that sometimes I wanted to completely obliterate the rough sketch as I added colored-pencil details, and a digital sketch won't erase. Soft pastels are perfect since they can be completely removed down to the grunge (see 4-step progressive image at right; images on mobile are below text). The grunge also sometimes suggests features -- objects, facial features, skin wrinkles, etc. -- but it can also be completely covered up. In this way I frequently do what I call "Rorschach" sketching -- 
I sketch into the texture and watch to see if the combination suggests anything to me..  

    I do lots of erasing and re-drawing, which adds to the base texture as I go, so there's lots of serendipity. For the low-color images my palette is mostly French Greys, although I do add some browns and Cream or Eggshell for hilites. I frequently draw hilites first then draw the negative space around them; it's time-consuming, but the hilite needs as much paper-tooth as it can get. I do work under a magnifying glass at times.
Full-color images take more time than the sepia images,
and my wife (who is also a professional
 artist and an excellent
colorist -- ) helps me with palettes.  



When the drawing is done (both full-color and low-color images) I apply light coats of workable spray-fix, then paint in small highlights with acrylics and tiny brushes to reinforce them. Finally I apply varnish to the entire image. The varnish unifies the surface, makes colors and blacks richer, and helps prevent the problem of "wax bloom" inherent to colored pencils.
     I do a high-quality scan of the finished drawing BEFORE varnishing, for archiving and for future print sales.

Other approaches?


I'm still having a lot of fun with the techniques I mention here, but I'm also getting more curious recently about plain old graphite and/or charcoal, and possibly a return to the more narrative images I've done in the past. In any event I have more ideas than I have time to create, which is precisely the problem you want to have as an artist. 

-- eb

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