View Full Version : JTMB's Monthly Challenge Page-Per-Day Sketchbook - Portraits and Figures

11-01-2010, 07:50 PM
Gulp! Producing people sketches which give a good facial likeness is a very weak area for me right now - so I've decided to do that for this challenge instead of my normal landscapes, birds and related subjects.

The sketchbook used is a 12 x 9" Aquabee wirebound sketchbook with 93 pound (150 gsm) paper, textured on one side and smoother on the other. I think the primary medium will be graphite, but may throw in some pen, watercolor washes, watersoluble ink pen and wash and who knows what else. My subject references will probably mostly be photos from magazines or one of several artist reference books that I have in my library.

Off to do page number 1...

11-01-2010, 08:04 PM
Very cool undertaking, John. Getting a likeness is hard and I admire you goal this month.

11-01-2010, 08:56 PM
Good luck!

11-01-2010, 10:07 PM
OK, here's page one. The 'model' here was from Mark Simon's book Facial Expressions Babies to Teens that I found one day at a book store. It looks like he has one for adults too, but I haven't tracked that one down yet. In the book, he takes a model and shoots a wide variety of facial expressions that he gets them to do, based on a variety of moods or situations that he has them envision. Of course with the babies, you just shoot a bunch and hope to get good expressions. The person in this sketch is from page 200, the first pose in the upper left of the page. Of course, Simon appears to have picked people with interesting features - the model drawn here has a heavy jaw, very thick eyebrows, large eyes and a ton of black hair.

This one is done with HB woodless graphite and an Ebony pencil.

I think I got some likeness to the photo, but there are definitely areas that aren't 'right' from the viewpoint of someone who does portraits regularly.

C&C always welcome.


11-01-2010, 10:26 PM
Tough subject matter, John, but I'm sure the practice will be worth it. Nice start.

11-02-2010, 01:00 AM
You are off to a great start John! Portraits (faces and full body) are my favorite subjects and I am in a Wednesday portrait drawing group. For me it seems drawing from a live model is easier to get a likeness than a photo, but maybe that's just me. (Can't always find a live one to sit still for you!) I find profiles easier also-- you did a good job with a full face! Do it every day and you will be amazed at the progress in a month! Art books are really helpful for figuring out face parts one at a time. Your proportions are quite good also. Keep it up!

11-02-2010, 01:42 AM
Thanks Chris and Candace! I have had two figure drawing classes at a local college last year, so do have some training in that area - but, I haven't done much beyond that class. I hope this month will help push my abilities up a bit at least.

11-02-2010, 01:52 AM
Hi John! Good start to your new challenge. There are so many sites and books you can go to for advice with drawing portraits and figures etc. it is a huge subject.

My main 2 tips would be to think about getting a range of tone - too much of the same tone will end up flat. Start off with a bit of graphite and using a q-tip (cotton buds here in OZ!) smudge and blend to create a smooth range of tone, build the depth of colour slowly. Tip no. 2 is that our faces don't really have too many hard lines - it is more about areas of tone meeting up (if that makes sense?!).

I look forward to watching your progress, hope you have fun! ;)

11-02-2010, 01:59 AM
Great topic to study, your off to a good start... :)

11-02-2010, 02:02 AM
Thanks Chuck and Jackie.

Jackie - what softness of pencil do you tend to work with?

11-02-2010, 10:53 PM

Here's the second portrait. This model is a 7 year old from page 96 of Mark Simon's facial expressions book. It's a passable likeness (by my current standards) - I think his mom might recognize him from my drawing...! :lol: (Maybe.)


11-02-2010, 11:07 PM
Good stuff John - I find faces turning away quite difficult, you've done a great job!

I used to work with a set of pencils that were HB to 9B (lightest to darkest and getting very soft - difficult to keep a sharp point). I use mechanical pencils quite a bit because I like the really fine sharp point you get with those. However, I recently bought some loose graphite pencils that are 6H (very hard and very light) through to H. I think these are mainly meant for technical drawings but I like to use them to lay in the bones of the drawing and gradually work up to the B's. I have been saving the 9B just for really small points of interest in the celtic studies.

Being such a hard pencil, it is very easy to gouge the paper, so unless you want to hint at very fine hairs or whiskers that you later go over with a dark pencil so that they look "embossed" - go easy with pressing the point into the paper's surface.

Phew! Sorry to ramble but hope that helps a little? Let me know if I can help out anymore :lol:

11-02-2010, 11:09 PM
Hi John, I cannot comment on the likeness since they are not people I have seen. But you sure have gotten the ages dead one. . . a teen and a seven year old! Great work.

BTW. . . my favorite book for drawing people is called Drawing by Carrie Stuart Parks and Rick Parks. They do forensic drawing also for law enforcement and they teach classes in drawing and in forensic drawing. AND I know them too as they have same dogs as me :)

11-03-2010, 12:22 AM
wonderful subject to challenge yourself with! and what a great start!

In comparing the first sketch to the second, I can tell you have already begun to improve on your tonal range/shading.

I'm really interested in seeing how this subject matter develops for you. :)

11-03-2010, 01:36 AM
Sorry, John. . . the book is called Realistic Drawing by those folks. They have a series (people, kids, pets, secrets, etc)

Joan T
11-03-2010, 10:55 AM
John - Great job on the two portraits. Good for you that you're stepping out of your comfort zone for this challenge!!!

11-03-2010, 06:32 PM
Thanks Jackie, Rainy, Epoh and Joan!

Here is today's - a matador from a National Geographic 'coffee table' photography book we have at home. And yes, he did have dark circles under his eyes - I wondered if maybe his last bull beat him up a bit...:) . It looks a bit weird with just the head and face completed, but since I'm concentrating on faces and facial expressions, I didn't want to take the extra time to do the very fancy matador's outfit.

C&C always welcome.


11-03-2010, 07:14 PM
you are doing a smash up job of getting the age and expressions, John! poor fellow, he does look like he had a run in with that bull, huh?!

11-04-2010, 01:51 AM
Great idea for a theme. Like what you are doing so far. I'm not a portraitist so cannot really critique them, they look good to me.

11-04-2010, 02:06 AM
hehehe, reminds me of Uncle Fester with the dark rings! I can see you have varied the tone a little more on this one :thumbsup:

11-04-2010, 12:26 PM
Thanks Rainy, Debby and Jackie!

Jackie - I never knew Uncle Fester had a secret career on the side! :) Of course, gore does fit that show (sorry, bad pun).

Here's my fourth one - with this guy, I've pretty much spanned all the generations except a baby and a toddler so I guess I'll have to fit those in at some point. I'm trying to work up the nerve to do some folks I know from photos, but it's always nerve-wracking to work on one of those, finish and then go, well it looks like a person - just not like THE person I was actually drawing. :lol:

This came from another National Geographic 'Through the Lens' photo book. Again I didn't attempt any detail on the clothing except to put in the shadow since the scene was in such strong light. Although it came out looking passable, at least I hope it reads that way to others, there are some angle and other issues versus the reference photo. Since it still looked passably like the individual, I opted not to go back and correct them.

C&C always welcome.


11-04-2010, 06:55 PM
The last one rather reminds me of my husbands grandfather, a lovely old French gentleman. You're coming along nicely!

11-04-2010, 08:05 PM
Great portrait sketches John.


11-04-2010, 10:25 PM
nice, John. . . love how you are tackling all the age groups. Hm. . . but all men so far though. You still gotta do a lady :)

11-04-2010, 10:41 PM
Looks like a kindly old gentleman. Very good.

11-05-2010, 12:29 PM
# 5 for the month...

Thanks WYSIWYG, David, Rainy and Debby!

Yes, Rainy, I was thinking the same thing...so this time I did a woman. I think I gravitate toward guys because if I don't get the likeness quite correct I don't feel as bad about it. However, considering I don't know any of the people I've drawn yet, I'm not sure why I'm worried about that...! :lol:

So, here's my first female subject, which unfortunately has a lot of issues. I picked a difficult pose out of a National Geographic magazine where the viewpoint was looking slightly down at the woman, who was looking slightly up. I didn't get all the angles correct, and the head clearly is not as symmetrical as it should be. She actually was quite a beautiful woman in the photo - but not in my capture of her. Still, it's all good practice, and I am making some incremental progress (I think!).


Joan T
11-05-2010, 01:17 PM
John, You are really doing well with these!! I thought about doing portraits this month, but decided it would be too much work. lol

11-05-2010, 06:16 PM
Sounds like an awkward angle you tackled for this one. She is striking.

11-05-2010, 08:21 PM
John, keep going! You are doing really well and the only way to get "better" is to keep working at it. Faces at different angles ARE difficult because we have our brain telling us "no, that is not how an eye/mouth/nose is meant to look" and yet our eyes are telling us something different. You do have to draw what you see.

Also, you've touched on something there - capturing a likeness and capturing the "essence" of a person is quite different. You can get all the details down correctly, measure distances blah blah blah, but still fail to get it to "look" like the person. All part of the challenge of portraits and partly why I like drawing "characters" rather than portraits :lol:

Be brave - start sketching your wife or anyone you can from life - it is quite different to using photos :)

11-05-2010, 08:38 PM
Thanks Joan, Debby and Jackie!

I'll definitely keep at it...no problem there. I've had two figure drawing from life classes, but those focused on the whole figure, not facial features and expressions. So they were a help, but different than what I'm doing here.

I'm going to check on a nearby arts center that has a once-per-week portrait drawing session, after my current classes are over for the quarter and see if they still have room for another person.

Even though it's outside my comfort zone, I'm having fun.

11-05-2010, 10:11 PM
YES! The "having fun" is the very best part of our art! btw Virgo68/ Jackie took the words out of my mouth about our brains and drawing tricky angles of a tilted head. Just keep sketching, you are doing great. Capturing the essence, mood, emotion makes a good work of art, and one even "strangers" will buy. :D I read a great article on this in a back issue of The Artist's Magazine (June 2010. Stan Miller).

11-06-2010, 04:50 PM
Here is number 6 for the month. This one is from a photo in National Geographic magazine from 2009 I think. The photo was a unique perspective, looking up and the lower part of the Aussie rancher in the photo was cut off as shown here. He is looking up as rain is falling.


11-06-2010, 07:09 PM
You're going great and you are certainly capturing individual people. They are all different. The shading is going well too.

11-06-2010, 07:20 PM

11-06-2010, 08:04 PM
Thanks Elain and Jackie!

Here is a second one from today - number 7 for the month. While watching (American) football on TV I figured I could sketch and get a bit ahead on the page per day, since I have classes Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

This is in a different sketchbook that I picked up today (yes, another one, sigh! :o ). My favorite art supplies store had a 15% off everything in the store for their fall open house, so I picked up a few things. This is an 11 x 8.5 inch completely recycled hardbound, acid-free book in the Cachet brand by Daler-Rowney. I picked it up because I had experimented before sketching on medium gray paper, and using white for highlights, the paper for middle values and then shading for darker values. So I thought this would be an interesting surface to try for a portrait. At the store, I picked up a Signo Uniball white pigmented ink pen (which is supposedly archival) and a couple of white charcoal pencils. The reference photo is of an Indian girl from a National Geographic article. She had those huge eyes that immediately draw your attention.

C&C always welcome.


11-06-2010, 09:26 PM
Hi John. . . first I have to mention that your woman looks remarkably like Angelica Huston!!! Cool. . . :)

Neat perspective on the cowboy, but I really love the girl from India with those big eyes. Very nice one!

11-06-2010, 09:59 PM
Amazing work. The toned paper makes for an interesting drawing.

11-07-2010, 06:14 AM
I reckon with paper like that you had no choice but to buy another journal! LOL The results alone are worth it, the idea of using the paper as a tonal value is a neat one!

11-07-2010, 11:21 AM
I thought of Angelica Houston too!

what a good idea for your book

11-07-2010, 10:22 PM
Thanks Rainy, Debby, WYSIWYG and Vivien! Here is tomorrow's page, done tonight since tomorrow is a busy day. I did this one again from a National Geographic article, and decided to use the toned paper, although there were not as many highlights in this subject, so it may not have been the best choice.


11-08-2010, 09:40 PM
The toned paper works for this one as well. Good job.

11-09-2010, 12:45 AM
Very nice portraits, like that tone paper too... the high lights on the Indian girl look real good.

11-09-2010, 01:57 PM
you are getting really great darks. . . are you using charcoal or graphite?

11-09-2010, 04:44 PM
Thanks Debby, Chuck and Rainy.

Rainy - I am using Sanford Ebony pencils (jet black, extra smooth). My drawing instructor at school last year suggested them as in his opinion the best dark pencils. I think they're just extra dark graphite - they act like graphite, not charcoal. I don't know if they add carbon black or something else to them, or what. They're also useful for lighter darks, just need a lighter touch.

11-09-2010, 05:30 PM
Here is number 9 for the month - can't believe we're already almost a third of the way through November. Time really does fly.

This is again in graphite on the recycled toned paper and done from a photograph in National Geographic magazine. This fellow is an old cowpoke in his 70's in the southwest US. I tried to get the 'grizzled' look here.

C&C always welcome.


11-09-2010, 05:37 PM
I do like the toned paper - gives a drawing a whole different dynamic. You're creating a wonderful collection of "different" faces - ages, ethnicity, gender etc - great stuff!

11-09-2010, 08:31 PM
I think you definitely accomplished the "grizzled" look. The toned paper works really well for you.

11-09-2010, 10:51 PM
Thanks Jackie and Debby! I should also mention that on the toned paper, the white highlights show up as a lot more contrasty in the photo than in actuality. It blends much better IRL.

11-10-2010, 02:25 AM
Number 10 is a beautiful Chinese woman from another National Geographic magazine article on China (from 2008, I think). I felt that I got a decent likeness of the reference photo...maybe the daily portrait practice is helping. :)


11-10-2010, 08:16 AM
wow, love that last one. . . really nice John. Love the cheekbones and the eyes. Beautiful!

11-10-2010, 11:03 AM
Thanks, Rainy! One of the things that helped with this one was that the image in the magazine was a full page instead of a thumbnail sized portion of a larger picture. That particularly helped with the eyes to get them more accurate, I think.

11-10-2010, 06:05 PM
Beautiful drawing.

11-10-2010, 06:28 PM
Good stuff John. Toned paper is cool. The faces you selected to draw are interesting too.

11-10-2010, 09:31 PM
...maybe the daily portrait practice is helping. :)

:clap: Without a doubt, John.

11-10-2010, 11:21 PM
I agree with Chris - you have shown tremendous growth in all of your sketchbooks - practise does pay off ;)

11-10-2010, 11:24 PM
The Chinese woman looks great, very good sketch! :)

11-12-2010, 12:31 PM
Thanks Chris, Debby, Candace, Jackie and Chuck! I did day 11 and 12 both last night with TV in the background (and wound up falling asleep in front of it until 1:00 am...!). Both of these are from Edward Curtis's famous American Indian photographs, from the book titled The Great Warriors. Curtis's subjects were largely of chiefs and 'decorated' warriors (the Plains Indian tribes had a system for battle honors, with specific privileges and symbols worn by warriors who had achieved certain things) and they really captured the wisdom, experience and personality of these people. I almost hesitate to say the source of the reference photos because if you look you'll see the likeness that I've achieved here falls very short of the magnificent photos and people portrayed in them. But, it is all in the learning process.

The first one here (on the brown kraft paper) is from a very famous photo of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe whose lands included the eastern part of my state. The Nez Perce were critical to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition (there was a tribal discussion when the expedition showed up about whether to help them or kill them, and they decided to help them). The reward they got for helping was (years later) to be driven out of their lands, losing many of their people in the process. Chief Joseph gained tremendous respect for his strategic and battle skills from the troops which chased them, but eventually surrendered and gave his famous '...I shall fight no more forever.' speech. His only wish in his later life was to be able to return to see and die in his ancestral lands again but was not allowed to do so.


The second drawing is of Mosquito Hawk, of the Assiniboin tribe. As with many warriors of the Plains tribes, he went on his first war party at an early age - fourteen in his case. Later he fought against the Piegan, killed two, took a scalp and counted his first coup. (Info from the referenced book.)

'Counting coup' was the system which many of the tribes used to indicate the accomplishments and reputation of the warrior. There were various acts that allowed the warrior to 'count a coup'. The most prestigious was to physically touch an enemy with your hand, bow, or other implement and escape. Other acts included stealing an enemy's horse(s) or weapons. A notch would be carved on the 'coup stick' indicating the number of coups to a warrior's credit and might also be marked by animal tails hanging from the coup stick, or marks on the warrior's clothes or adornments. (Or, grisly by our standards, but an integral part of their culture - even using the scalps the warrior had taken as decorations on his best clothes and/or coup stick or weapons.) For example, the Mandan tribe's symbol for counting coup was an eagle feather worn in the hair. If you were not wounded in the coup, you could wear the eagle feather in its natural color. If you were wounded in the coup, you had to paint part of the feather red to indicate you were wounded in the act.

One final point in my historical digression here is the huge difference between the Plains Indians and the Northwest Indians (multiple tribes under the general designation of 'Coast Salish'). The Plains Indians were nomadic because of the buffalo, and lived in a very harsh climate where survival was a constant challenge - and as a result were a very strong people and very warlike to protect their territory and increase their chances of surviving as a tribe. On the other hand, the northwest Indians lived in an environment that, although miserably rainy and damp a good part of the year, provided abundant food - ocean fish, whales, shellfish, salmon, berries, elk, deer, etc. Those who lived along salmon rivers and based their culture and primary food source on the salmon had a significantly 'easier' life than their Plains counterparts and so most of the coastal northwest tribes were not particularly warlike or aggressive. (There were some significant exceptions, with some tribes making frequent raids on more peaceful tribes to take slaves among other things.)


Joan T
11-12-2010, 04:37 PM
I really like how the toned paper is working for your portraits. The one of the rancher looking up and the girl with the white earrings are among my favorites.

11-12-2010, 06:08 PM
Love your portraits of the native americans. . . especially Chief Joseph. . . you really got a good likeness on that one as I recognized that picture right off. Great work!

11-12-2010, 10:31 PM
I reckon you're selling yourself a bit short - the portraits are very recognizable and very good especially considering Curtis subjects often had such amazing faces and he had tremendous skill in using light and shadow to create the sense of depth!

11-12-2010, 11:02 PM
I too think you are selling yourself short. I recognized the portrait of Chief Joseph. I live right next to the Nez Perce reservation here in the Idaho, so have seen his likeness many times.

You are doing very fine portraits.

11-12-2010, 11:53 PM
Interesting story about Chief Joseph.... very good at capturing his likeness, great job. When I started doing American Indian sketches last month, I started to notice their pain and sadness, and could tell some didn't want their picture taking.... The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" is very true.

11-12-2010, 11:53 PM
great drawings John! I think they look pretty good ;)

Interesting to look at the differences in facial features and bone structures.... and thanks for the "extra" info too!

11-13-2010, 12:41 PM
Thanks Joan, Rainy, WYSIWYG, Debby, Jackie and Chuck! :wave:

Appreciate the encouragement. I am actually very pleased with where I am - a little over two years ago I had trouble with stick figures, so have come a long way. My view is that self-criticism is good as long as it's not negative - I use it to push myself to try to do better.

Today's effort (done last night) requires some explanation. I went to a Faber-Castell demo at Daniel Smith's store yesterday afternoon, and the presenter was an absolutely incredible artist who works primarily in sketchbooks. (Also does professional illustration and original stuff, but really prefers sketching from life.) He talked mostly about their Pitt Artists Pens, which as anyone who follows this forum knows are one of Robert's favorite mediums. Robert would have fallen out of his chair if he saw this guy's stuff, as everybody else in the room did. Anyway, he had done incredible sketch portraits in his various journals using the Pitt pens, so I decided to try it on this sketch. Of course, my result was just a tad short of his...:o ! This is done from another Curtis photograph - Vash Gon of the Jicarilla Tribe, 1907 - and the strange crop is because that's how the photo was cropped and I never try to fill in missing details. I picked a range of yellows and browns for the different values and warms and cools and dove in. The result showed value differences reasonably ok but the stark difference in colors didn't look right, so I picked the lightest gray in my set and went over everything with it under the theory that it would neutralize everything. Which it sort of did -unfortunately the warmish gray I picked gave everything a green cast. Hmmmm...

Well, sketchbooks are for experimentation and so I'll give myself an A for an experimenting. :) The light areas went too dark with the gray layer, so I added white conte pencil for a few of the reflective areas. And yes, the conte needs to be blended better - I wanted to wait until everything had a chance to completely dry.

C&C away...


11-13-2010, 04:50 PM
Wow, John. Sounds like a cool demo and sure seems as if it was a great use of your time. There is not way I could do that with those pitt pens! So I think its darn good :)

11-13-2010, 04:58 PM
Thanks, Rainy! Yes, I don't think that Pitt pens will ever be a primary medium for me for several reasons. But they are great for sketching, and that was reinforced by the fellow who did the demo yesterday (Don Colley, currently living in Chicago). For quick from-life sketches like he does, he enumerated the following benefits of them: 1.) No bleed-through (He has a number of very old, faded ledger journals he bought, complete with all the accounting info on them - he sketches on them, using the faded ledger stuff as an interesting, funky background. Even though that paper is very thin, he had zero bleed through at all. 2.) Water-based, so no smell (he likes to sketch people near him, say on a plane, and the lack of smell doesn't telegraph that someone is sketching. 3.) Even though water-based, when the water evaporates, they are permanent and you can use Pitt pens over them, or other media over them with no issues. 4.) Even though they are permanent when dry (and very lightfast), if you work very quickly when you first apply them, you can smear them to soften edges (he uses his thumb or heel of his hand) and can even have a damp watercolor brush standing by and get some softening with that before they set up. 5.) The slightly-flexible brush nibs allow different size lines.

So, I was impressed. Now, if only I could draw as well as he does -of course he's been doing it for a living for 35 years...!

11-13-2010, 06:01 PM
The portrait is very good. The pens give this a more illustrative quality than a true to life feeling. But, it's a sketch and it's really very good.

11-13-2010, 06:24 PM
Thanks, Debby! Yes, definitely more illustration-like. The demo person, however, was able to get much more subtlety out of his work - I'll keep at it, at least for some of the sketches.

11-13-2010, 06:41 PM
Liking all these, John, but the Pitt pen one is my favourite (so far). :clap:

And an extra :clap: because you reminded me I have some markers somewhere, something else for my Nov daily sketches.:D


11-14-2010, 03:09 AM
John your faces are definitely getting beeter.

It is easier too doing them from larger pictures. Your faces are definitely becoming more individual, especially the eyes.

Loved number 10, and also 11, 12.

11-14-2010, 05:17 AM
it's going well :)

11-14-2010, 11:58 AM
Thanks Chris, Elain and Vivien!

Here is number 14. I am really enjoying using Curtis' photographs as subjects. There is so much depth of character and life experience in their faces. On this one, I decided to do a pastel, although I generally stay away from them in sketchbooks due to the potential smudging issues (even with fixative, I find it's hard with books that are opened frequently) - the paper in the Aquabee sketchbook I'm using isn't specifically designed for pastels although it seemed to work ok. I liked this subject because of the very strong features, perhaps why Curtis chose to photograph him in profile. I used Faber Castell pastels here and did this in about an hour.

The eyes were particularly hard here because they were in shadow in the photo and only the eyelashes and the top of the eyelid showed any detail in the photo. I think it worked passably well here.

C&C always welcome.


11-14-2010, 12:37 PM
I know what you mean about pastels in sketchbook, I tend to avoid that too. But this looks really nice. . . especially the braid details and the contours/shadows of the face.

11-14-2010, 01:24 PM
Just pops off the page. Great work.

11-14-2010, 07:30 PM
This one is very cool. The braid is wonderful.

11-15-2010, 12:20 AM
Curtis has some great images.... like your pastel colors, you did a good job on the eyes, and the braid looks good too! He does have some strong features...

11-15-2010, 12:59 PM
John, great stuff, I can see daily improvement in your portraits, the matador great, the Indian girl and Chinese lady. Your Curtis sketches totally send me and it's obvious they do you too.

I went to a demo at Jerry's last year that the Faber artist did, can't remember his name think it might be Michael Colley. Awesome work he does, I bought a huge bag of the pitt pens afterwards, then ordered the polychromos and albrecht durers, good salesman too I'd say. He makes it all look so effortless doesn't he?

You are rocking right along and I'm enjoying the ride. The last Curtis with the contes or pastels, was amazing.


11-15-2010, 05:57 PM
Thanks Rainy, Elain, Debby, Chuck and Margo!

In the second figure drawing class I had last year, we used pastels as our primary medium, so I have a bit more comfort with them for drawing people than other mediums. I don't like the dust, mess and added precautions needed for framing and storing, though...so tend not to do too many. Maybe I should figure out how to get used to the dust...:) .

Number 15 for the month - wow, halfway through already - is another image taken from the National Geographic magazine focused on China a couple years ago. The white is not as bright in real life, it was so dark today I had to use a light on the subject and the white reflected some of that. This one is on the kraft recycled paper in graphite.

C&C always welcome.


Joan T
11-15-2010, 06:44 PM
:clap: :clap: You are doing so well with these!!! I love the one you did with the Pitt Artists Pens. (I've never tried them....yet. lol) Each medium looks good in your hands.

11-15-2010, 07:24 PM
Very nice. . . love all the different ethinicities you are doing in addition to age variations and sex variety! What a well-rounded study this has been for you. You get such amazing darks in your drawings. Love the loose way you showed the texture of that jacket

11-15-2010, 08:06 PM
Wow John you are flying. I DO like your Pitt pen drawing - I think it is rather unique (might have to dig mine out too..... :lol: I have never quite mastered them ) Sounds like a really interesting demo, wish someone would do stuff like that over here where I am.

I am seeing huge improvements in this sketchbook - the dedication to sketching is paying off for sure :)

11-16-2010, 05:38 PM
Thank you Joan, Rainy and Jackie! :wave:

I am feeling like I have made some progress on portrait sketches this month, so it's already been a worthwhile project.

The variety of people is fun - I've been looking hard for faces with character, as well as trying to get variety in various areas. It isn't very easy (for me at least) to find good reference photos - many don't have good lighting that brings out the features that well.

The next photos I do will definitely be varied, as I found a book with some great images - A Day in the Life of Hawaii. Several of these projects were done, where a large number of photographers get sent out into whatever the particular location being portrayed is, and spend the day getting one 'perfect' shot. My wife is originally from Hawaii, and there are of course a very wide variety of people there.

This fellow is the owner of a repair shop in Hawaii, and I liked the expressiveness on his face, so decided to give this one a try.

C&C welcome.


11-16-2010, 06:23 PM
Nice! He looks like he's puzzling over a car problem or something. Great expression! You are doing awesome at the ethnicity. And I look forward to seeing more faces of Hawaii. . . I lived on Oahu for five years back when my oldest daughter was just a little tyke! She was born there and even though we left the island when she was about four, she still calls herself a Hawaiian gal. :)

You must really be spending some time in working on these each day as they are quite detailed. I admire your dedication to the portrait a day! :thumbsup:

11-16-2010, 06:38 PM
Thanks, Rainy!

My wife has been in Hawaii (Oahu) for the last three weeks, visiting her mom (90 years old) who still lives there, and working with a client.

As far as time on the portraits, I'm spending between an hour and two hours per image, approximately. I usually do them in the evening sitting in front of the TV for a couple of shows - paying more attention to the portrait than the TV. It's not a very good drawing position, though it seems to be working ok. I sit in the recliner leaning back with the sketchbook and reference photo on my lap and draw away.

Hawaii would be a great place to sketch from life because of the wonderful mix of ethnicities. Since you've lived there, you understand the terminology...my wife's family always referred to themselves and other typical multiple-ethnic Hawaii residents as 'poi dogs' - the local term for pooches of unclear parentage...! :)

Eh, bra, wha kine your family? Oh bra, we kine mix up like one poi dog, yeah?

11-16-2010, 07:32 PM
These are marvelous. Your practice and dedication is working.

11-16-2010, 10:38 PM
The expression is great on that last sketch, excellent job on the shading too...

11-17-2010, 01:05 AM
The repair shop owner has to be one of my favorites yet of yours... not just a nice drawing but also a portrait of him and showing a lot of his emotion and individuality if that makes sense? The balance of light and dark really works for my eyes too!

11-17-2010, 01:34 PM
Thanks Debby, Chuck and WYSIWYG! I felt good about getting some apparent character or individual personality in the last one. It really helps to have an excellent photograph (or live subject) that conveys those things well for a reference.

Here is number 17 - another one from the 'Day in the Life of Hawaii' book. This old fellow was holding a chicken (probably a fighting bird, a tradition which though illegal still exists in parts of Hawaii) below the crop that I chose for the portrait. I loved the happy-go-lucky, time-worn look on his face and tried to capture some of that. His face was very interesting with the very short nose, very big ears, and well-used teeth.

C&C always welcome.


11-17-2010, 05:47 PM
John, without seeing the references I can't say if these are "correct" or not, but I do like your treatment of the subjects, they have character. Enjoying your face book very much.

11-17-2010, 05:48 PM
He has personality. You've captured it beautifully.

11-17-2010, 06:14 PM
Hi John. . . you made me smile with that pidgin! Yes, Hawaii is a mixing pot of ethinicities, my ex was manong (filipino) and me being a haole, my girls are definite poi. Gosh, I do remember those terms, but hadn't thought about it in years. Mahalo, brah, for the trip down memory lane.

Love the latest portrait. . . what an interesting face. Nice use of the white. This must be a good book to use for references, John! I'm liking them.

11-17-2010, 06:17 PM
good characters :)

11-17-2010, 08:02 PM
Way to challenge yourself, John. You seem to be getting more confident as the month goes on. Your drawings show a lot of character.


11-18-2010, 09:50 PM
The last sketch does have that happy-go-lucky look, I would bet he has some interesting stories to tell.... great job capturing his features...

11-19-2010, 12:18 PM
Thanks Chris, Debby, Rainy, Vivien, Doug and Chuck!

Here are numbers 18 and 19, done last night while watching our local university's (American) football game - which they won, on national TV. However, the game was good enough that I think my portraits suffered a bit...:) .

Both of these are from the 'A Day in the Life of Hawaii' book again. The first is a local Hawaiian guy from a scene in which he was on a boat fishing. The second is a Korean sailor with a group of sailors on shore leave in Hawaii.

C&C always welcome.



11-19-2010, 05:23 PM
that first one totally has the look of a fisherman, even without seeing his setting/boat. And the sailor is wonderful. . . love the writing on his cap and he looks very happy to be on shore leave. Once again, you've capture the character and ethnicity just so very well on these. John, you are doing wonderful with this challenge. . . just an awesome job! You are rocking at portraits this month :clap:

11-19-2010, 08:44 PM
Awesome portraits.

11-20-2010, 01:30 PM
Thanks Rainy and Debby!

Today's portrait (#20 for the month) is a Hawaiian guy from the 'A Day in the Life of Hawaii' book. I tried adding a bit of color to the background using Graphitints. I don't think the mix of graphite-only portrait and Graphitint clothes and background worked all that well, probably should have had no color anywhere, or used color on the subject as well. Might try a watercolor portrait before the end of the month as well.

C&C always welcome.


11-20-2010, 04:46 PM
Hi John, I think the two tones on the background behind his head rather cuts his face in half but it does show that the one side is darker, hence the shadow on his face. Its good to experiment though even if ends up you don't like a method, never know what you'll like til you try. I've been doing that all month :)

11-20-2010, 07:48 PM
Still going well, John.

11-20-2010, 11:41 PM
The fisherman and sailor look great, like how you experimented with the last one, that's what it's all about. :)

11-21-2010, 03:44 AM
It's about experimenting. Keep trying things.

11-21-2010, 02:00 PM
We learn by experimenting, John. That's part of the fun about sketchbooks, to me anyway. It give me freedom to try things I would not do if it was a new piece of good paper infront of me.:eek:

Your portraits are coming along nicely. Keep it up!


11-21-2010, 07:02 PM
I agree with the others - the experiment is worthwhile ;)

I've found that working with the graphite and the graphitints together is tricky finding the right balance - too much graphite makes it look dirty but too much colour becomes garish! I think it is worth experimenting though because the right combination is quite pleasing and unique I think.

The faces are coming along well. It is interesting once you start studying faces that you notice different things and your idea of what makes a face "interesting" changes. I think that is how I discovered that I don't really enjoy drawing smiling faces but lean towards the moodier or solemn expressions. I think my concept of "attractive" has changed too......

11-21-2010, 07:04 PM
PS John, I just thought some more on the graphite - try getting a really hard, light pencil (I've been using a 6H) to combine with the graphitints and see how you go. I found even the HB was a bit dark with the graphitints.

11-21-2010, 08:52 PM
Thanks Rainy, Chris, Chuck, Debby, Doug and Jackie!

Well, in the spirit of ongoing experimentation, the next two here are also experiments. And not anymore successful than the last one - :o - except for the learning. :)

These are numbers 21 and 22.

The first is done in sanguine and sepia Conte crayon, and is of Crow's Heart - a Mandan photographed in Curtis's The Greatest Warriors book. The likeness isn't great, although it's passable (he has a very strong profile aind a very prominent nose). Sometimes Curtis's photos are a challenge with the eyes, as they are often shaded in the strong cross-light he typically uses.

The second one is watercolor, and of a young model from the expressions reference book I have.



11-21-2010, 09:24 PM
The Mandan is very striking. The boy looks good, just I think (and it may be my monitor) that there is too much yellow in his skin for the red hair.

11-21-2010, 11:00 PM
John, I think the one of Crow's Heart is good. Not sure why you do not like it. I even did a google and found his pict that this is based on, and to me the likeness is definitely there, esp. the nose. Beautiful hair texture, too. I really like that one myself. Cool subject, too.

11-22-2010, 11:52 PM
Thanks Debby and Rainy!

Yes, the Crow's Heart drawing is a likeness, but just not as good as some of the others I've done so far. The eye in particular didn't feel right to me. I'm still feeling good about what I've done so far this month - it's been great experience.

Number 23 here is from the RIL. It is of Arthur, courtesy of user nonamac - thank you!

This one is done with warm and cold grey PITT big artist brush pens. The likeness is ok to the reference, though I made the head somewhat too wide proportionally.


11-23-2010, 12:11 AM
John, I think it is good that you are critiquing your work sensibly. You are pointing out the things you are needing to work on - this is good! You've identified areas you know are "wrong", quite often when we critique our own work we just say "I don't like it or it's bad" without really identifying "why".

You should feel pretty pleased with the journey you've taken with this particular sketchbook ;) you've shown great improvement and are willing to pick the areas that you need to work on further - well done! :)

PS - like the range you've achieved on the last one with the Pitt pens

11-23-2010, 12:33 AM
Nice set of portraits, they are looking great! I'm liking the expressions that you captured:) and good use of different mediums too.:thumbsup:

11-23-2010, 12:41 AM
Nice use of the pitt pens. . . that always amazes me to see portraits with those. But then, I guess folks commonly use them for manga so it shouldn't! John, such a great month of portraits in all mediums. Hope you will throw in a few more ladies before the month is over :)

11-23-2010, 02:43 AM
I have to echo Jackie's sentiments - identifying what we like and don't like helps. The portrait of Crow's Heart is definitely got a lot going from it. I googled it and was flicking back and forth between yours and a black and white trying to pick details and couldn't do it aside from that I could see some subtle differences somewhere. I think I may have to take a page after you and spend a journal dedicated to learning portraits. I hope I improve as much! :)

Joan T
11-23-2010, 01:04 PM
Each of these is a treasure. I love your shadowing of the faces!

11-23-2010, 04:12 PM
you are getting lots of character into these :)

11-23-2010, 09:03 PM
You just keep getting better. This is wonderful.

11-24-2010, 01:27 AM
Thanks Jackie, Chuck, Rainy, WYSIWYG, Joan, Vivien and Debby!

Here is number 24 - a woman, by special request from Rainy...! :) This one is from the RIL, courtesy of user Ceci, and is a Choco Indian woman from a photo taken in the Darien jungle.


11-24-2010, 08:55 AM
what an interesting face, John. You do find/pick some cool subjects! You used the kraft paper with no white this time. . . I think it gives nice color to her skin.

So John, are you liking doing portraits this month? Or are you eager to get back to birds and the outdoor studies? Just wondering. You seem to have quite taken to the portraits!

11-24-2010, 11:19 AM
Thanks, Rainy! I think landscapes, nature and specifically birds are always going to be my primary interests. That said however, I have really enjoyed working on portraits this month - more than I expected to. I started into this with more of a 'homework assignment that I have to do but it will do me good' sort of mentality, but wound up finding it more engaging than I thought it would be. Plus, I've gotten passable enough at art now that I'm starting to get family requests for pieces (including some portraits) from my wife, sister and in-laws. I think now I might be able to actually get a good enough likeness (at least in graphite) that I wouldn't be embarrassed to do something like that. Wouldn't even have considered that possible six months ago.

Yes, I decided not to use any white accents on this image - it seemed like the kraft tone itself was light enough for highlights and I just tried to get the darks dark enough that it worked ok.

11-24-2010, 06:44 PM
The kraft paper is perfect for this lady, really helps to describe her well. Instead of white for highlights you could use a cream or "off-white" pencil - that could be quite effective.

Thinking on that a little more you could try two or three colours eg a dark brown and cream with the paper as the "middle" tone. That might be a nice combination?

11-24-2010, 11:54 PM
She's lovely. Great job.

11-25-2010, 12:35 AM
John I am impressed with the progress you are making! The Choco Indian woman is stunning. I like you idea to sketch from Geographics and books. I'm always complaining that we don't get any ethnic models in the life drawing groups. My answer so far has been to sketch at local asian restaurants, but the geographic idea would kick that up another notch. Thanks, and everything is looking good. You are already much better with the Pitt pens than I am.

11-27-2010, 12:18 AM
The Choco Indian looks good, the blending and shading is very well done, keep up the great work!:thumbsup:

11-27-2010, 09:49 AM
Absolutely stunning... she has got to be the nicest so far imo and I wouldn't change a bit of her.

11-27-2010, 12:53 PM
Thanks Jackie, Debby, Margo, Chuck and WYSIWYG!

Thanks for the suggestion, Jackie - I am going to need to do some experimenting if I do more portraits after this month. Actually, I definitely will do some more portraits at least for the practice, but I doubt they'll ever be a primary subject for me. It has been fun doing them this month, for sure!

Well, with the Thanksgiving holiday and friends, eating (and eating, and eating), football and other distractions, I fell behind. Here are numbers 25 and 26 (hopefully I'll get numbers 27 and 28 done today and finish out the month with 30 as planned). These two were done with football games on in the background, using National Geographic (I think I'm back to 2006 copies now, having started with current issues) magazine article photos as references. The first one is a Kurdish woman. The whites are not nearly as 'splotchy' in the actual drawing, but the photos increase the contrast enough that they look bad in the photo. Also, I should have modeled the necklace a little more, but opted not to since it's just a sketch.

The second drawing is a rancher in the southwest part of the US somewhere, can't remember where.

C&C always welcome!



11-27-2010, 01:45 PM
these are AWESOME, John. I love the Kurdish woman. . . but the rancher is very well done also. So much personality in both. . . and just looking at the images, you can tell so much about them/their life. Amazing stuff. Bravo.

11-27-2010, 02:53 PM
GREAT drawings! Really wonderful. I wish I could draw like that.

11-27-2010, 09:29 PM
John, I like the toned paper ones more, but you are doing a good job with them all.


11-27-2010, 09:35 PM
You can see these people in your portraits lived. Great stuff.

11-28-2010, 12:24 PM
Well, I spent enough time watching football yesterday, and working on portraits while watching, that I finished the 30 portraits for the month. I'm very glad I did this project, despite a bit of queasiness about it when I started. I think I improved, and a couple of the portraits came out pretty good (as the saying goes, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile - :lol: )...and of course more than a couple were, well, a lot less successful. But each one was practice, and practice always helps. Not sure what I'll do for December yet. Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to look and comment.

So here are numbers 27 through 30. All are from National Geographic articles, and I believe all these were from 2006 (I went back and paged through four years worth of magazines to find the most interesting faces that I could).

The first one is a dapper gentleman whose name and significance I cannot recall. This is done with Pitt artist pens, warm and cool grays. I did an initial pencil sketch, then used the pens. His features were more angular and craggy than I achieved in the sketch, but the likeness is passable.

The second is a female skier, done in graphite. I felt like this one came out with a pretty decent likeness though there are (always) things that could be much improved.

The third is a member of the British royal family - I hope he's recognizable without that hint but I doubt it...! :lol: In fact I'm not even sure his mum would recognize the fellow from my drawing. I am certainly going to try him again, because his features are very strong and fun to draw - he's of course been the subject of many caricatures over the years as his very interesting face certainly is a wonderful subject for that approach.

The fourth and final one for the month was the toughest and least successful of this group I think. She is a debutante in, if I recall, Spain. She had a very regal bearing in the reference picture, but the angle was difficult - looking up and to the right (as viewed by the reader). Her neck appears too thin in my drawing, though the proportions are pretty correct from the photo. Her hair covered part of her neck in the reference, but my drawing doesn't capture that and so the neck looks too thin. In any event, she was a good challenge to draw as well.

Thanks again, everyone!





11-28-2010, 01:36 PM
Well - I recognise Prince Charles!

The female skier is terrific.

It has been great watching your progress over the month and well done for finishing.

11-28-2010, 04:52 PM
hehehe Charles looks a little worried! I like the kurdish woman and the skier - both really well done ;)

11-28-2010, 05:18 PM
A month of good work, John!:clap: You can put your feet up now, and have a break.:D

11-28-2010, 05:23 PM
What a marvelous finale to the month of portraits. I recognize Charles. Congrats on your accomplishment.

11-28-2010, 09:41 PM
Hi John, wonderful ending to your journal. I had such fun following along and I think you did have many really nice ones. I recognize the Prince!! The female skier is really well done despite the hard angle. . . love that one. Also great expression on the pitt pen sketch.

A very good month's work :clap: :clap:
Eager to see what you decide to try next month. . . . I was just picking a theme today as I want to focus a bit more since other than the ducks, I have been very random the last couple months!

11-28-2010, 10:39 PM
Great job for November, cant wait to see your next sketchbook.

11-30-2010, 01:44 AM
Elain - Thank you!

Jackie - Yes, Charles had an intense look on his face in the reference image.

Chris - My feet are up and I'm relaxed for a couple days!

Debby - Thanks much!

Rainy - Thank you. Not sure whether I'll do a theme in December, or leave it open. I will definitely do more themed books down the road.

Chuck - Thanks!

12-01-2010, 09:40 AM
A great month of sketches- very interesting portraits with emotions or moods showing. Thanks for sharing!

12-01-2010, 11:15 AM
Thank you, Candace!

Joan T
12-01-2010, 11:47 AM
John - Great finish to your portrait and figures journal. You really grew a lot doing these.

12-02-2010, 12:51 AM
Wonderful series. I enjoyed each piece though I do have to share that I'm partial to the works on the toned surface. The way you can show the darks and the lights/whites is awesome!!

12-02-2010, 02:05 AM
Thanks Joan and EP!

12-02-2010, 04:01 AM
Coming in a bit late as it's 2nd of December but congrats on making the whole month! The last group are a lovely way to finish off, your royal is quite recognizable *G* but the skier is absolutely lovely - she looks so content in the moment from her expression!

12-03-2010, 01:00 PM