Returning To Graphite
Interview of James McPartlin
News for June
Returning To GraphiteBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
I decided to do a graphite piece this month, because I havenít done one inÖ months, probably. Since our theme this month is spiders, I am going to feature a spider prominently, even as terrifying as they can be.
As always, a rough sketch is the first step. I spent a bit more time on the dragon, since I had to work out the design of him as well as the pose. The spider is going to be sitting on a web that will spread out over much of the composition, adding a sense of depth, and it will push the dragon well back. At this point the spider and web are very simple and rough, with just a quick placement sketch to help plan the composition.
Using a 2B pencil, I applied a more or less even tone over the whole piece. I used a very light hand to keep the appearance of pencil marks more subdued -- Iím not trying to build texture, just value. A little bit of darker values around the dragon begin to build more value.
This part is where it started getting fun. I took out an eraser and starting Ďdrawingí the web with it, bringing back the white of the paper to create a flat shape. Keeping it flat (without detail or value gradients) made it easier to judge the composition as I went. I also made sure to keep the web strands from intersecting in any strange places on the dragon, such as through the eye or at an intersection of angles.
Now that all the main elements in the composition are place, itís time to start adding detail and building our focus point, which is, in this case, the spider. Not only is it our focus point, but itís also in the foreground, which means that it needs to be the most detailed part of the piece. In addition, we will be making sure that our darkest darks and lightest lights are side by side by the spider, as this is another way to draw the eye to it. So using a very sharp 4B pencil, I added value and details to the spider, paying special attention to the darks. Once I got it about as dark as I wanted it, I used a mechanical pencil to draw in all the hairs on the legs and rear.
You may also notice that there is a large chunk of white space at the bottom of the piece now. When I was playing with the negative space, I decided I might try something more stylized, and have parts of the background fade in and out, or have strands of web crossing outside the frame of reference, or something. Bringing back a large rectangle of white was sort of an impulsive decision, but I ran with it.
This step was all about darkening the background. I again used the 4B pencil, and kept it rather sharp most of the time. I used a very light hand, going over the same spot over many times to achieve the darkness I wanted, rather than risk dark marks in one go. Keeping the pencil strokes parallel to the web strands was a personal decision that I think adds to the atmosphere of the piece, but I very easily could have blended the strokes, or made them all horizontal, or vertical, and it might have given it a very different feeling. This was definitely the most tedious part of the piece. I still hadnít touched the dragon since step two.
The dragon was the final step in this piece, since I couldnít finish it until I knew exactly how much detail would be in the rest of the composition, and how dark the other values were going to be. This is because the dragon is not only in the background, it is also not supposed to draw attention away from the spider. We accomplish this by keeping the values on the dragon low, and leaving the contrast on it to a minimum. That means that while there will be darks and lights on the dragon, they will not be very different from each other. That leaves the place with the most contrast and detail the spider.
Compare the darks on the dragon -- say, under its head -- to the darks on the spider. They are nowhere near each other. The lights on the dragon are still darker than the white web strands the spider is sitting on.
I decided to leave the web as one large, flat, negative space, more of a symbol of a web than a rendered image of one. The smudges near the center are due to an accident involving an anonymous feline, and were not intentional. Although they do make me think that blending the background may have also worked, particularly if I were trying for something more realistic. If I had decided to do that, I would have used a blending stick, and then added another layer of graphite to really push the darks back.
I also ended up cropping the image considerably. I decided my rectangle experiment wasnít working, and instead framed the piece in closer, creating a more intimate composition. Afterwards I realized that this placed one of the more horizontal strands at almost exactly the top third of the composition, which is as good a place as any to place a line. Itís important to try new things when you are making art, and itís also important to realize when something just isnít working. Cropping can be easily done anytime you are working on a paper support.
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