I usually have fifty or so photo references for each drawing that I do, depending on how many panels and how complex the layout. I've included here just a few of my references that I took from various places on the web. It is important to use these photos as references only; do not copy or trace the photos. Copying photos is a bad habit because the lighting will be wrong. As you can see from the eagle flying over London, the camera also distorts the image because the range of field is often not what we can draw. The foreshortening may be all wrong. The photo may also be too complex or two contrasted to use in a drawing. If you are painting, the colors may be off in a photo due to filtering or light conditions. As I shall demonstrate, it is also important to know the subject drawn, for it is easy to make anatomy mistakes in using photos.

In this first image, you can see that I have completed my layout and I am beginning work on the tree. I am right-handed and a bit sloppy, so I draw from corner to corner so I don't drag my hand through the pencil. You can work up the drawing bit by bit and use a paper under your hand if you don't hold it off the paper. I do all of my work with a mechanical pencil for I am too impatient to do a good job sharpening. I use a B lead because much of my technique involves rubbing in the graphite and working into a soft background. (see ball demo)

Although you can see from the photos, that I have used one of the eagles, I have adjusted for the foreshortening and changed the tail. I believe that drawing using references is more a matter of knowing what not to draw as knowing what part of the photo you can use. I am an \ intuitive artist, so I do not know what won't work until I have to change it. I don't know if it will work until I see it. This is involved, but becomes much much easier the more I do draw. I probably do about 400 drawings a year of this complexity. I used to be pleased if I could keep one out of three pictures, now I only have to re-do one in 100 drawings.


As you can see in this second picture, I have worked in the tree, leaving the eagle blank. I have tried to stay soft and loose in my work of the leaves and trunk. It is much easier to darken than it is to take off lead with a kneaded eraser. I want to leave the eagle blank so that I can make any changes if I need in the anatomy. If I went ahead and put in the drawing, changing it would be much more difficult. Try to work up in layers so that the quality of your pencilling is consistent. Coming back and working may mean you are tired or in a different position and you'd be surprised at how things "don't match up" from one part of the drawing to the other. I work extremely fast; most of you will work on something like this over the period of a week. This drawing took about four hours for me to draw. This kind of speed is only possible after you have drawn about 10,000 drawings. Ten years, full time. Five years in school, five years professional. When you work for magazines, you will be lucky to make $30 for this drawing, so if you take a week to do it, it's a hobby.

I can see from this drawing so far that the composition is working. At this stage, keep your work light. If you've made composition errors, you can change them. You will get too attached to a finished drawing to want to change it. As you can see, my tree is similar to the one above, as is the eagle, but I have made changes for the sake of composition. If you copy your photos, you cannot put the art first, only the technique. The composition must come first. Technique can dazzle and many times you can carry off a drawing on technique alone, but in realistic art, technique can make a bad composition look even worse. What people cannot draw themselves, they can see, and you will be ashamed if enough people point out that "something is wrong."


I wanted a drawing that would be very dramatic. It is obvious that this bird sees the man and is flying at him. This creates a drama in my story so that a person flipping through the book will stop and wonder what is going on. Posing the drama just before something happens is much more exciting than doing a splash page where the bird has already attacked the man. The reader wonders at the drawing. If you can evoke this wonder and create a tension, your reader will be caught. The advantage of doing work graphically is that you can tease the reader with a gestalt image of something dramatic; think of it as a teaser or a trailer for a movie.

Drawing the moment before something is to happen is often much more exciting than doing a splash page where the bird has already attacked the man. The reader wonders at the drawing. If you can evoke this wonder and create a tension, your reader will be caught. The advantage of doing work graphically is that you can tease the reader with a gestalt image of something dramatic; think of it as a teaser or a trailer for a movie.

I now begin to work up the eagle. Note that my line work is showing through my layer of graphite. This is usually okay, but an excessive amount of erasing will cause the paper texture to change and the scanner will pick up artifacts in the drawing. This is another reason to stay very light when composing. Most professionals trace over the rough onto virgin paper. I don't have that kind of time. I also like working the original for I want more of a sketchy feel to my work.


See also that I am doing more work in the tree now that I am confident of my bird's position. If you look up to the photo references, you can see that I'm not following the tree photo now, but working in the shadows more darkly and bringing in more contrast for the ferns. I is so important to look and draw from many photos so that you can begin to "feel" the leaf forms and the bark and just know what to do based on the lighting that you have chosen.

Also not that I am working with the anatomy of the tree and the bird, not just copying the photo. I need to exaggerate the arc of the wings so we can "feel" the air cupped by the gliding bird. The light is coming from the upper right corner, which may make you think that much of that wing should be in shadow, but to do that would detract from the way it cups the air. Use your intuition.

Again, I go back up and finish the tree and add in the feathers on the upper wing. Although I go in with darker feathers, you can see that establishing that white shape beforehand makes for a clean edge of sunlight on that wing. People tend to think that contrast alone will make an edge, but think about pencil texture and direction. The tree trunk lines are going at right angles to the wing line. The eye is stopped as effectively as if the trunks were done darkly. I have worked up the ferns, but again, I rely more on the line direction than in contrast, for the ferns are in shadow and in the background. I do not want to detract from the center of attention of the drawing. Also look at the trunks compared to the leaves. There is not much difference in the tone, but a lot of difference in the texture. Work on creating textures with your medium of choice. Work in computer programs often relies too much on color and tone. One of the things you miss in looking at masters' work in photos is the line work created by brush strokes.


Again, I work from top to bottom because I drag my hand. Although I can turn the drawing as I work, I'm working at a board using my computer screen to display the images. Each person has their own way to work. I try to do very, very little on the computer. Although I have a tablet and a stylus, the tracking does not work very exacting and nothing beats the speed of doing it by hand right in the first place. Having said that, flipping the image on the computer is the best way to see your mistakes. Hold your drawings up to a mirror. I was shocked the first time I did this, but I had completed the drawing. I only saw the mistakes I had made from that time out, so I cannot repeat it enough: work lightly, hold to the mirror early on when you're composing.

On of the aspects I love about drawing is that it's closer to painting. I have done a great deal of work in pen and ink, crow-quill, which is a very thin nib on a pen. You build up layers as you might do in pencil. Some people achieve this effect with pen washes. I like the pencil better because you can build up tones as you do in painting, but also overlay in linework in the tone as you do in pen work. I also love the silvery tones that you get with pencil. I decided to work in pencil only because I did not like the heavy look that comics have when the inker gets in with black ink. I found myself in love with the pencil roughs and not liking what happened when the inkers got finished. Ink work can be astonishing, but I found it too heavy for my tastes. I tried working in gray toned ink and sepia tones, but pencil is just too forgiving and fast for me to use much anything else.


You can also see here that I've put in the back ground behind the tree and begun to rough in the man. This being an illustration from a book, I have constraints upon me for drawing. The man has red hair, so I can't draw attention to him with black hair. He also has light colored clothing. I must rely on the change of texture in the drawing to "snap him out" of the background. My line of background trees also add to the illusion that he is running away up a hill and the big oak is on the right side of the path. He does not have to be in the shadow of the oak, so I can leave that for a later option.

You can also see here that I've put in the back ground behind the tree and begun to rough in the man. This being an illustration from a book, I have constraints upon me for drawing. The man has red hair, so I can't draw attention to him with black hair. He also has light colored clothing. I must rely on the change of texture in the drawing to "snap him out" of the background. My line of background trees also add to the illusion that he is running away up a hill and the big oak is on the right side of the path. He does not have to be in the shadow of the oak, so I can leave that for a later option.

Again, work in a background in a mass of shapes that cut across an overlapping figure behind that figure. The crossing of a massed shape of the same tone and texture against a shape in front that may be similar in tone but of different texture and direction of line is effective at establishing the difference between them without using tone or color as a prop. Color and contrast can be added to a good drawing that already has the texture in it. Adding color and contrast into a drawing on the computer is very easy, but tone is not. Nothing beats doing your own tonal work. People used friskets with tone on them as screens in the past, but this always looks fake. I constantly scribble in the tone, smear the pencil and scribble in more to build up layers of texture that look more real that doing it all in one pass. I've told you before that teachers will rag on you for smearing in tone, but nothing beats the ease of line work put in OVER the tone. Try it on a scrap of paper. Trying building up tone with just the pencil and beside it do a smear of graphite and work up line texture into the smear. Big difference. Also it's faster, and in this business that counts for more than you might think.


All right, so here is the finished drawing. Note how light it is. The original is 11x14. I had to do giant pastel drawings to free my hand so that my work did not feel cramped on the page, or worried. Even on the smaller page, I can still have a sweeping, open feel to the art. Look for movement in your art. If it feels like the artist (you!) was bent over and cramped while drawing, do a series of larger pictures to free up the movement in your work.

Notice also that I'm not overworking the tree or the bird. A real problem with amazing artists like Boris Vallejo is that he overworked everything. Everything in his work is in sharp focus (see Lighting) This became his style. It is not a traditional style and I do not prefer it. I wanted an immediate style more in line with Ingres or Sargent or other artist whose work looks a bit unfinished. I wanted to give the illusion that someone was right there, drawing this scene. I also encourage you to think like a master. The work should be finished where you want the focus. Portrait artists finshed the faces more than the clothing. The eagle is close, he is the most finished. There might be a tendency to overwork this tree, especially the bark. I have to leave it a bit sketchy in order for the drawing to feel fresh and not worked.


This is usually the point where I scan in the drawing. For my splash pages, I work the entire paper or work to almost the edges side to side because this pad has a different aspect ratio than my splash panel. This gives me another option, to crop one side or the other, whichever looks better. Often, I like the drawing too much to crop, so I must add to the top or bottom. As you can see in this next picture, I added a great deal to the bottom and some to the top of the drawing. It has taken me a long time to be able to make these kinds of changes to a drawing. You must experiment with brushes and all kinds of cut and pasting to be able to make these kinds of changes.

This is another reason to keep the drawings loose. Overworked drawings would get distorted in the cut and past process. I was able to stretch the tree trunk without much difference in the drawing to make it look weird. I added to the man's legs and gave him feet and also stretched out the background behind him. I did not want to lose either side of the eagle in the cropping process which would have ruined the anatomy and the sweep of the wing. Usually a splash page does not have much text on it. It must carry the weight of the story just by being an interesting drawing. This is your chance to show off. It is a chance to do a lot of scenery or show something large and complex that would be lost behind word balloons or in panel composition. I do not believe that book illustration, while being drawn fast and mass produced, should be "throw away" art. Manga artists seem to sense that a splash page is a chance to really shine as an artist. These pages also make the best advertising material or work to put into a portfolio. Of course, you must not make the splash pages so much better than the regular panel art that the reader is jerked out of the fantasy of the story!

Notice, notice, notice, that I did the repair and change work BEFORE I did anything to the contrast. The work scans in very light, but darken it only to the point where you can see clearly what you are doing. If you try to repair "finished" work, it is much harder to fit the repair into the rest of the picture. Compare this to the darkened drawing below.


I will try to explain what I've done without too much Photoshop jargon. In manipulating this drawing, I have make the mid-tones darker. I have not changed the contrast or darkened the bottom or the top of the contrast scale. But darkening the mid-tones my pencil work "jumps" out, giving me texture without contrast. The eagle is still light underneath. It is very important to experiment with your tools in a design program and then apply what you learned in the macchia lesson. (See ball) The rule is that you work up from the middle ground, dark, light, darker, lighter, darkest, lightest. We had a mid-toned drawing scanned in, perhaps lighter than we wanted. We toned down the middle without moving the ends of the drawing to pump up the contrast. Graphic art tends to look too contrasted. Some of this is print quality, most of it is being in a hurry. With masters' work, the highs and lows of the work are place on last, as decoration, for they cannot carry the drawing. If your composition doesn't work without high contrast, then you need to work on trying to develop texture.

At this point, you need to find a way in your program to "paint" in lights and darks. Photoshop has a nice tool that lets you darken highlight, mid-tones, or shadows or do the same with a lightening tool, called burning and dodging color. This tool works very well in grayscale, but not so well with color. With color photos or drawings you are better off using the paint brush and toning colors down or up. Before you do anything, copy the drawing. It's easy to ruin stuff with the burn and dodge tool. I start like I do with drawing and painting, with the softest brush and most transparent brush and work up in layers. It's always too easy to get too dark too fast.


I do as little as possible in the background. I darkened the ferns a bit and lit up the sky behind the trees. I also worked on the path to draw the reader into the woods behind the oak. I almost never burn the darks. I've found that with dark creatures, it's better to let the mind fill in the darkness. The animal or person should stay in the mid-tones with darker shadows. Even on this black eagle, the lit area will not be dark. Most everything has quite the shine to it if it is dark. I carefully burned the mid-tones on the eagle. That gave the feeling of a dark animal without doing the high contrast that you get in photos. I'm relying on the change in texture and direction of pencil lines to draw out my wing, but I darkened the tree leaves just a little around the top of the wing to bring out the contrast. This is an old trick, to darken the background to bring out a highlight. You will see it quite a bit in portraiture.

I then put a shadow under my man to ground him. This is a very busy drawing made simple because I treated the texture parts as masses of tone with pencil worked into them. I left my figure very simple to draw attention to him as "empty space." The bit of clouds echoes him and follows the line of the path. The wings of the bird also frame the man so the eye keeps moving round the sweep of wings and back to the man. I was happy with this drawing. It has movement and drama but is very accurate in the anatomy and the tree without being exacting.

I did not seek out a style of work I liked to follow. I sought only to make my anatomy more accurate and to give reality to my work. I write fantastic books, but I wanted a really real world, so to speak. I discovered from working in pen and ink, that I lost the freshness of the pencil. When I looked at other artwork, I loved the gestural drawing that was very real and exact, but offhand. I do not like the impressionists, but I appreciate their attempts to capture the color and texture of nature in the raw rather than overworking it.


You see here that I have put my splash page into my novel. I let the beech detail follow into the eagle. the page is pleasing without being too distracting from the flow of the book. At this point, I just have to be careful that my printer does not change the work into a program that will add filters to the work as does a .pdf program or many other formats of image files. Yes, it's a lot to know, but well worth the effort!

© 2017, A.R. Stone

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