Being Art'ruistic: Brush Inking for Portraits

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I love magazines!

Let me rephrase that - I love glossy magazines!

I don't care what topic it is on, but if it's glossy, you bet your bottom dollar I'm going to pick it up. Which is how I went through a phase where my friends intervened when they felt that I had a less-than-healthy habit of "mild" hoarding.

Anyhoo, in short, I have lots of glossy magazines. Since fashion mags are the best at being glossy, I have a fairly good collection of reference photos to practice drawing human figures (even though they are far from being true to life). Usually, I pull out fashion magazine issues when I want to practice working with a new type of pen or brush or, as in this case, both!

Over a weekend, I tried out brush inking! I was inspired to try it out after watching this amazing video by Shane White:


Watching him in action is so mesmerizing! I must easily be 100 views of the views he has. Honestly, he deserves a million more views.

Now, I wanted to practice and learn being as steady as Shane White in the video. I made quite a few brush inking sketches that weekend but I saved four of them where I specifically experimented with a different technique or aspect of the portrait. Since this was all practice, I used printing paper that's been printed on one side. I have a whole bookcase full of them, you guys. #RecycleEmAll

In case you're wondering, the pictures I used as reference are from the May 2013 issue of Tatler magazine.
Starting the practice session: Natalie Portman

She is Natalie Portman, and the first portrait I started sketching with.


This one doesn't have any brushwork; just inking with a fountain pen I've had since I was ten. I just wanted to warm up for this practice session with a pen instead of a brush and get comfortable with it all. I also wanted to see if progressive cross-hatching to indicate deeper shading is as cool as I've seen in some places. I didn't cross-hatch the hat although, in hindsight, it would have been pretty cool if I had completed that.


I couldn't find the digital version of this picture on the web so I added a photo I took of the reference picture. Also, in case you're wondering what that strange snake ring doodle I made on the side is, that's supposed to be Cleopatra's ring. The National Geographic also does awesome glossies, you guys.

 Facial features: Mila Kunis

Next up, trying to see if I could use brush inking to show off details of facial features like eyes and lips.


I first used a number zero brush dipped in Parker Quink black ink to quickly draw the basic outlines as lightly as possible. This was the aha-moment!

It was a personal challenge, but quite a liberating one at that, to force myself to not use a pencil at all and directly work with a brush dipped in ink.  The number zero brush and a light hand became my pencil outline for the rest of the sketches I worked on for that weekend.

The eyes and lips took a lot of time and care (though I messed up in a lot of spots) but I'm happy that I could bring out Mila Kunis's penetrating gaze favorably. I could have gone with less detail on the lips but I think the hardest part about inking is to stop yourself - I learned that the hard way.

Working with textures: Martha Hunt (Miu Miu Eyewear)

Though I leafed through the whole issue and practiced using other pictures toward the latter half of the glossy Tatler, I kept coming back to this ad for Miu Miu eyewear because I really wanted to see if I could somehow pull off brush-inking a leather glove in that lighting. (Haha - pull off a leather glove! Anyone? Huh, huh? No one? Pout)


And so, after painstakingly marking out the darkest areas of the glove, I used a number 2 watercolor sable paintbrush, barely touched the tip to the ink, and then quickly made some lines on some scrap paper as though shading until I hit the shade or opacity which would be 2 shades darker than what I wanted on that spot.

Why did I do this instead of just draining the excess into the ink bottle? Because whenever I would try that, the ink would dry too quickly and give a dry brush effect instead of just reducing the opacity of the ink like I wanted. I really struggled with this one but I think it came out pretty decent.
 

  After the darker part of the glove was inked with the technique I mentioned above, I used the dry brush technique that Shane shows in the video. You dip the brush into the ink and then keep turning and rotating the brush tip against the neck of the ink bottle until the ink is wrung out. During this exercise, I also learned that it's better to use paper rather than cloth to remove the excess ink that the brush holds. Cloth tends to suck up too much of it too quickly and the ink gets wasted. So, I definitely learned to optimize better by getting a better look at the reference picture and picking out the parts where the shades go together.

 Skin, hair, hands - the complete package: Lily Aldridge

This was the last portrait I worked on for that weekend, and it also took the longest time, mostly because I completed all parts of it. This portrait started with the intention to practice brush-inking dusky skin. I guess I also wanted to finish this weekend practice session with a completed brush-inked portrait, so here is Lily Aldridge.


The actual sketch is a little larger than the one shown here but since I used cardstock that comes with new shirts (#RecycleTheWorld) , it didn't fit into my scanner and so, you might not be able to see details of her hand and her...cough...toplessness.


Final thoughts 

It was extremely satisfying to try out different techniques, some I picked up from other artists online, and some I just figured out while doing each sketch. This was a lot of fun and though it was all a really long practice session, it was a weekend well spent. I now have even greater respect for traditional comic book inkers. Because without their carefully placed inky darkness in each frame, you can't value the colors they outline. (That's not cheesy!)

Tools I used: Number zero synthetic watercolor round brush, Number two sable hair watercolor brush, a pot of black ink from Parker, and lots of scrap paper.  

Quick tip: To wash the brushes, first wash them thoroughly in water until it runs clear. You'll still find some dried ink on the brushes. Apply some light oil (I used baby oil) to the brushes, and then wash with soap and water. This method completely gets rid of any dried ink that might have congealed at the spot where the hair from the brush meets the wooden part.(So technical!)

~Ray

 

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