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How-To: Quick Sketch Portrait


Quick-Sketch Portrait

by Kent Steine


For my first contribution to AirbrushTalk, a simple preliminary study-sketch will be executed in five basic sections. As an illustrator who specializes in pinup, glamour, and portraiture, it has always been a challenge to express more life and beauty within a painting than is possible with photography. It amounts to an impression of the same experience we see and feel in life. If a portrait doesn’t engage your attention as a real person does, it has failed in its purpose. The manner or style of execution is irrelevant whether it be cartoonish or on-model realism; or painted with an airbrush or bristle. I’ll be using photo reference of my favorite model Shannon for this demonstration.

The first stage involves constructing the head, it’s planes, and structure. I begin by sketching out the head on tracing paper in pencil. This allows me to make easy and fast corrections. The simple guidelines are transferred to a piece of 11″ x 11″ series 310 illustration board. I will be using jar acrylics for this study, with flesh tones consisting of a dulled value 8 yellow and a dulled value 6 red-orange. That’s it. Using an Iwata HP-C Airbrush, I begin by spraying an even transparent layer of the yellow over the entire area that will be flesh tone. This warms the red-orange, and acts as the initial layer of a glaze. I have added points of detailed information such as eyes, brows and the location of the mouth with a sable dry-brush application.


This establishes a point of reference in order to maintain accuracy within my overall drawing. I now begin to locate and identify the darkest darks with the dulled red-orange, i.e., shadows and form. At this stage, I am spraying in a freehand manner, without frisket or shields. I am also beginning to work the “entire” piece, working from the large to the small, from the simple to the complex.

With a variety of curves and Artool shields, I now begin to establish the various planes and shapes with their respective “edge modulation.” For me, the importance of using a curve or shield is not to create the shape, but rather modulate the contours and edges. Sharper edges placed in front of softer ones create depth and the illusion of focus. At this point, I am modulating edges, with form and light throughout the entire picture. As the image begins to take shape, I am using both shield and freehand drawing techniques for the various passages.

Same thing for the hair, which is best represented with two contrasting values for it to read well. Here, I am looking for forms and shapes to identify and exploit. In this case, we are dealing with simple cylinders. Think of hair as mass shapes and simple forms rather than individual strands.


At this stage, the portrait is nearly complete. With the addition of a few soft highlights in the flesh tones, re-establishing the edges throughout with focus and contrast, I am ready to apply the finishing touches with both the Iwata and my sable brushes. This involves sharpening focus and increasing contrast.I do this wherever I want “our” eyes to be drawn. With this and most portraits, that would be the face and, more specifically, the eyes. Other elements such as the flower and dress are produced with a combination of airbrush and dry-brush technique. I would produce additional focused studies on various elements such as the flower before starting the “finished” artwork, and would consider this a successful study in order to proceed.



Reprinted with permission of ARTtalk.com


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