Category Archives: pencil/graphite/charcoal



This buddha statue was partially overgrown by the box hedge, which led to the problem of how to represent the foliage without describing every leaf or drawing attention away from the main subject.

Following advice given in Barrington Barber’s The Complete Book of Drawing, only the leaves overlapping the shoulder were drawn with any detail, the others being abstracted into areas of light and shade. The theory is that one area of detail is enough to trick the brain into filling in the rest.

flophouse priest


Many of these pencil sketches are drawn while sitting on a sofa with the sketchbook on my lap, not the ideal drawing position and the lighting is poor, but if I get too precious about when and where I draw then I would do very little. The mantra I hear repeated by art instructors is to draw as much as possible – theory and knowledge are fine, but we only really learn while drawing.

For the flophouse sketch I used a lead holder fitted with a soft, fat lead (Pilot Croquis 6B 4mm) to shade large areas, with my trusty mechanical pencil (Ain Stein 2B 0.7mm) used for the details. A kneaded eraser was used to pick out the highlights, such as the light reflected from the top of the chairs and the folds in the suit, and to define the chain from the shading of the priest’s robes.

The sketch on the left is from the series Bowery Flophouse by photographer John F. Conn, printed in LensWork 86; the other is an Orthodox priest on the Solovetski Islands, from The Journals of a White Sea Wolf by Mariusz Wilk.

accurate weirs


Sketching Pulteney weir in Bath, using pencil rather than going straight in with pen as I wanted to try and make the main proportions as accurate as I could. The lines weren’t ‘restated’, they were rubbed out many times, obliterated and begun again. Something wasn’t quite right about it (besides being wonky and covered in smudges): the spire and dome didn’t look right, the buildings on the left looked too short…


Took a pic of the scene, and with the aid of Photoshop overlaid the sketch to check proportions: The pavement railings, pillars beneath and bridge arches seem to be ok, and strangely enough the spire is about right, even though I thought that was way out. The dome, however, has turned into St Paul’s Cathedral, and there’s too much space between the dome and buildings on the left.

It took so long to do this that there was no time to add any watercolour washes.


winged skulls


A work in progress, experimenting with techniques:

Flying skull death head snapped in the chapel behind Dyrham Park manor house, drawn with pencil (a nicely soft 0.7mm Pentel Ain Stein 2B, if you’re getting geeky), then scanned and printed (left), the back covered in 6B pencil then drawn over with a ballpoint pen to trace the outline onto another page (middle). The traced outline was then shaded with a dip pen with a mix of Winsor & Newton canary yellow and sunshine yellow. Took this pic as the next stage was to attempt some stippling with a darker ink, which would probably turn it to mush.

In some ways the cartoony one on the left probably looks the best of the three, even though that was just used for transfer. Ho hum.

The composition lacks some punch. More contrast needed, perhaps.


Mr Skullington has now been stippled. There’s a strange effect where the stipple seems to follow the lines of the underlying yellow/orange crosshatch even though I was doing it randomly. Maybe it’s something to do with the dried ink being slightly raised and attracting the newly-laid ink.

Still not enough oomph, somehow.  I was hoping it would be more Leonardo’s notebook.

master copy

sketches-scan1881 sketches-scan1871 sketches-scan1861

Copying pictures from an old copy of The Picture History of Painting that contains a number of rather heavily printed mono reproductions, which make practice pencil sketches that much easier as the image is already broken down into values.

It’s worth doing these copies just to feel something of the flow and graceful line that the masters managed to put on the canvas.

sizing saints


Practising proportions with a pencil sketch of a stone figure, from a photo of Murcia Cathedral roof snapped some years back.

Getting the mid-point (advised in Dodson’s Keys to Drawing) is very useful. From the top of the head to bottom of the plinth it turns out to be just to the right of the knee, which was surprising. Must do more of that as proportions are a major weak point. Still managed to make the cherub’s shield look like a melted ice cream tortoise.

I read somewhere that these rooftop statues were often made deliberately too tall, so that when viewed from below they would appear correctly proportioned.