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Everything You Need to Draw a Black and White Portrait

Black and white is where I started when I first began to draw portraits. They are the easiest for beginners because all you have to worry about apart from accuracy is value.

I have tried countless different pencils and after many many loose leads and hard particles ripping into my paper and destroying my hard work, I finally came across the supplies that would change the game forever.

At first I only used graphite pencils and focused on finding the most beautiful, smooth leads that I could get my hands on. I have a couple of favourites of but currently I am loving my Faber Castell set.

Eventually I graduated from just graphite and introduced a coloured pencil for extra contrast. I have lost count of how many of the black Faber Castell Polychromos pencils I have got through over the years and will never be without one. Using the two together gives an interesting result, especially in person as the black Polychromos pencil is matte and really sets everything it touches into the background and lets the luminosity of the graphite jump forward.

A couple of years ago I participated in my first Inktober. I created a number of black and white portraits using many different ink pens and developed a love for combining pen and pencil. I bought a starter pack of Micron Sakura fineliners and adored how dark the pigments were and how fast the coverage was on the paper. I love that you can use them over pencil too without putting any extra strain on your paper, so I always go in again at the end of a portrait and pump up the contrast with these. I used the 0.05mm in this portrait just for the eyes and eyelashes. They are perfect to begin the portrait in those definite black areas as they stay put and won't smudge away, giving you a visual anchor to base the rest of your portrait on. I have since almost used them all up so I thought I would try a different brand a go this time. My new love is the Faber Castell Pitt Artist pen 0.5mm. This adds an even deeper, richer black than I've ever been able to achieve with any pencil. In person, the different values look truly striking.

Getting the reflection in the eyes really white and clean was something I couldn't figure out for a long time. I tried using the whitest of white paper, drawing around the area and trying to keep it clean, but pencils are dusty and it's very difficult to control the fallout. I tried a gel pen which worked well but it was tricky to get the flow right when drawing things like whiskers (and I draw a lot of those!). I finally realised that paint was my best option and I purchased a large tub of white paint and haven't looked back since. In this portrait I used it very sparingly, on the reflection in the eyes and a little on the brooch with my teeniest paintbrush.

Blending materials are essential for me and I use all different types. A strong but soft tissue is perfect for blending skin and creating blurry backgrounds. Any tissue that you have at home will do but if for some reason you don't own any tissue at all, a good Kleenex is your best bet (not one with any balms on though !) because they are very smooth and strong. These Lamelia cotton buds are great as they have a pointed end on one side and a round edge on the other, giving you a couple of options in one and making them perfect for small areas like eyes and teeth. Blending stumps are something I use a lot of and you can get them in all different sizes. I use these for all of the same areas as the rest of my tools but they apply more direct pressure and really get into the grooves of the paper giving a really smooth and almost wet effect, perfect for eyeballs, lips and the inside of the mouth.

There are many things you can use around your home with your drawings. If you have made a mistake or gone a little too heavy on a certain area, Blu Tack is brilliant for gently lifting some of the graphite away. Don't use it as a rubber, just roll it between your fingers so that it is clean and mould it to whatever shape you want it to be and gently dab and lift. I have had a pricey rubber before that did a similar thing but it wasn't as good so I stick with Blu tack now.

This most recent portrait I have done is of my lovely Grandma.

I drew her for my Mum for her birthday. I couldn't think of anything more precious to give her and I have wanted to draw this particular photograph for a long time.

My Grandma is the woman who introduced me to the classic old Hollywood films I adore and that kickstarted my journey into black and white portraiture and my series of Old Hollywood portraits.

So thank you to my beautiful Grandma for the big part you played in getting me here.

Watch me draw this portrait here !




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