I draw complicated textures in layers or steps. Each layer concentrates on one part of the texture like this:
- General background value
- Large shadows
- Large highlights
- Small shadows
- Small highlights
- … and so forth
I’m using a reference photo of the field across the road from our house with our crooked mailbox in it.
What caught my eye about this scene was all the Queen Anne’s Lace (tall white wild flower – wild carrot) growing by our mailbox.
I’m going to work over value I already laid down for the field behind the flowers. It was created with loose powdered graphite, so it’ll be easy to work on top of it. Even erasing the flower shapes back to the white of the paper shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m using masks cut out of index cards so I can concentrate on one section at a time. The cut-out pieces are under two inches square.
I place one over the photograph and one over the same spot on the drawing, then I draw that area with full detail before moving on.
Here’s more about making and using masks for drawing.
This texture is drawn in simple steps. It’s all just highlights and shadows with hard and soft edges when you get right down to it.
Texture Step One – Block at the bottom left of image: I’ve filled its background to the local value. I did that with a B pencil and smooth hatching, then finished with a stiff brush to blend it. Next, I used a sharpened stick eraser to pull out the main highlights.
I’m using Arches Hotpress Watercolor paper. It’s tough paper that holds deep blacks and can take a lot of erasing. Some people don’t like the little fibers that work up from the surface sometimes, but I like the paper so much that I use tweezers to remove the little fibers if they’re in a bad spot. It’s worth the extra effort to work on such a smooth yet rugged paper.
I always think a drawing looks a little ugly at this stage. It’s looks smudgy and unformed. I’ve learned to love my ugly ducklings though, because they might grow into swans.
Texture Step Two – Shadows: I used a 2H and B pencils to hatch in and draw all the major shadow details. I used a stiff half-round brush to blend and smooth the hatching.
(I cut my brushes into the shapes I need out of stiff bristle brushes usually.)
In the next steps, I’ll be alternating drawing highlights and shadows, working smaller and more precisely with each step.
Texture Step Three: Two steps in one image. First I used a stick eraser that I’d cut into a point to lift out the smaller and more subtle light details. Then I used a sharp 2H pencil to draw the smallest dark details. I used a brush and stump afterward to smooth and blend.
Even working this small, this texture is all about shape, value, and soft and hard edges.
All I have left to do is add the brightest highlights and blend this section into the one next to it.
Texture Step Four: Finish and begin again. I finished by picking out highlights with a battery powered eraser and then fixing their shapes and values with a 2H pencil.
I moved on to the next square using the same technique. You can seen that I’ve already darkened the background and erased the main highlights.
I’m Not This Organized: I don’t draw in little organized squares all the time! I use masks for drawing really detailed areas and this scene happens to have a lot of detail. I usually jump around the drawing and bring different parts to different stages, and everything comes together in the end.
Because you can never have too many art supplies, here are the tools I’m using to draw this piece. The links take you to my affiliate and favorite art supply store Dick Blick.
Arches Bright White Hotpress Watercolor Paper– My usual paper of choice for drawings that are going to work the paper hard. (A really detailed piece drawn with sharp pencils stresses-out a lot of papers.)
Arches hotpress surface is very tough and holds up to multiple rounds of drawing, erasing, and re-drawing. The surface has some tooth and holds dark values well, but it’s smooth enough to make nicely blended graphite wash gradations with a brush.
Design Kneaded Rubber Eraser – Pinch them, roll them, point them, wedge them, make them into the any shape you need, then press and lift, roll, or stroke to create effects with soft edges or to lighten any area.
I buy several of the smallest size at the same time because so I can open a fresh eraser whenever I need one, which is pretty often because my cats like to carry them off. (They’re always well chewed and covered with lint and cat hair when I find them, so it’s easier to just open a new one than it is to clean them.)
Sakura Cordless Electric Eraser– Small, sturdy, and it fits the hand very well so I can “draw” delicate detail with it. I’ve had mine for 20 years and it’s showing no sign of breaking down. (The Sakura is bit pricey and worth it, but there are less expensive ones at Dick Blick too.)
If you do buy an electric eraser, pick up some replacement erasers at the same time. You’ll go through a lot of erasers at first until you get a feel for how to use it.
Alvin B/2 Lead Holder – I use mechanical lead holders and 2mm leads for most of my drawings because I appreciate the thin, long, and sharp lead I can make with the sharpener, and I use that sharp point to create small details.
Alvin Rotary Lead Pointer – This is the sharpener I use for my mechanical pencil’s leads.
Lots of people have a hard time figuring out how these sharpener work and just twist the pencil around in the hole on top. This won’t do a thing to the pencil lead. Not even if you push really really hard. It’s just not gonna happen that way. Please do not throw the sharpener at the wall. Just put it down, step away, and take a moment to read the following instructions.
How to use the Alvin Rotary Lead Pointer:
- Lengthen the lead a bit by pushing down on the button on the top of the pencil while pulling the lead out with your other hand.
- Put the pencil in the raised hole on top.
- Then rotate the pencil and the entire top around the body of the sharpener.