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Notes about my techniques


I get lots of queries about technique and, while I no longer teach, I will offer a basic explanation here. This is not meant to be a tutorial, and I encourage all artists to explore lots of options and approaches. My particular 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, but even now my techniques are a mash-up of many sources over the years. 

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 the base textures 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, 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 or Legacy Etching, both 100% cotton. I let them dry thoroughly then sometimes mount the paper to acid-free foam board. Whether I mount the paper or not depends on how aggressive the drawing process might be -- I frequently do a lot of erasing and redrawing, and loose paper doesn't stand up to it well. If mounted, I burnish the paper down thoroughly and trim the board to the planned frame-size.



Some years ago I discovered, entirely 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. 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 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 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, named for the 1920s psychiatrist who

invented the ink-blot exercises. 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 a lot. The full-color images take far more time than the creepy all-sepia goblins, and my wife (who is also an artist and an excellent colorist) helps me with palettes.  



When the drawing is done (both full-color and low-color images) I apply several light coats of workable spray-fix. I then paint in small highlights with acrylics and tiny brushes to reinforce them. Finally I apply a satin varnish to the entire image. The varnish unifies the surface, makes colors and blacks richer, and helps prevent the problem of "wax bloom" that colored pencils can cause. I use Liquitex Satin varnish and a foam brush, although I'm experimenting with spray varnishes to avoid brush marks and ridges in the varnish.
     I do a high-quality scan of the finished drawing BEFORE varnishing, for future print sales. The varnished drawing
scans poorly.

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

* I'll decline to mention the brand of colored-pencils I use, although I will say that they're the "most common" brand. I contacted the manufacturer several years ago to ask about sponsorships and received an impertinent reply, so I don't wish to effectively
offer an endorsement.

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