Hand in colored pencil

I’ve tried switching things up a bit with this sketch. I used a watercolor pencil (Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Dürer in Venetian Red). I also borrowed a bit of hatching around the hand from my good friend Leonardo da Vinci. He really deserves more recognition as his work is pretty solid.

Kidding aside… I’ve worked from the illustrations in Giovanni Civardi’s Complete Guide to Drawing, the section of that book is contained in his volume Drawing Hands and Feet if you’re looking for an available copy to help work on your own illustrations.

Beginning the Process
I began this drawing with some very light 2H graphite pencil to establish the basic form of the hand. It took probably more than half of the total drawing time to get this right which is pretty typical for me when focusing on making an accurate drawing. I can’t stress the importance of getting this stage right from the beginning. It doesn’t matter how good your technical skills are if your proportions are off — viewers have a lifetime of experience with proper proportions even though most of us probably couldn’t articulate what seems wrong without close inspection. I still made a few errors but you’ll have to find them yourself if you’re interested but one clue is that it has to do with proportions (unsurprisingly). I didn’t actually measure any of the proportions which I would definitely do on a more serious effort.

Once I had the rough proportions, I created a clean outline of the entire hand and fingers with an F grade clutch pencil lightly drawn. I then drew over this line with the colored pencil and then began the shading process.

Shading
Shading is basically done by following the undulations of the skin but there was no rigid rule followed here. The key for me is to start lightly and really focus on the 3-dimensional form I am trying to portray. The darker the colored pencil becomes, the more it has a tendency to blob up on the page, meaning it begins clumping together and smearing. This is when having a very sharp pencil makes a huge difference. Try to avoid just smudging your darks, work in layers and employ cross-hatching instead.

At the end, I ended up outlining the hand with some 6B and 2B graphite pencil just to provide a solid outline and a more concrete idea of the form. I’m not sure it was necessary but I seemed to like the overall image better after doing this.

The colored pencil effect has an immediate appeal which might result in me working more in this medium. I’ve been interested in trying my hand at some life drawing, so this might be a nice medium for that application as well.

I’ll definitely be working in colored pencil when I turn to full body studies on toned paper along with charcoal pencil and vine charcoal.

Pelvis illustration

Turning my sketchbook to the human pelvis today. It’s quite an interesting and complex bit of architecture; quite the feat of natural selection in how it pivoted and morphed from the more horizontal primate-style structure designed for knuckle-walking to the upright construction in the early bipedal hominids. The angles the spine creates in the lower back as a result of this design continue to produce back strain even today after over 4 million years of evolution (as I can attest to after my trips to the chiropractor earlier this year).

I included a copy of the illustration with labels as it might appear in an anatomy guide. This is obviously a huge tip of the hat to Stephen Rogers Peck’s Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist.

The Hand

The hand is one of those amazing features of the human body that has confused and confounded artists since art began. For some reason, we appear to have a tough time judging the proportions of the hand with its little bits and bumps and it requires very concentrated effort for the beginning artist to begin to unravel its mysteries.

In this post I wanted to walk through the process I take in drawing a hand and the foibles I had along the way. To kick things off, we have to create a general shape for the hand. In this first figure, I have started by creating a very basic outline, what Anthony Ryder refers to as the “mitten” in his book The Artist’s Complete Guide to Figure Drawing. It’s an outline of the hand that connects the tips of the fingers, the sides of the outer hand, outer thumb and wrist. It’s meant to provide a general mass to the hand that can then be divided up into smaller pieces.

Once we have the mitten, it’s time to begin blocking in the fingers. My approach has centers around establishing the base collection of bones in the wrist first. This allows me to create a starting point for the rest of the hand. Next comes the middle digit. I start with relatively straight lines for the bones and try to breathe a bit of life into them by gradually curving them to avoid a stiff-looking anatomy.

You might notice that the ring finger has been lengthened in the figure below. I missed that error during the layout but thankfully caught it prior to the next step.

I lay out the basic structure and then start filling in the details, as Ryder describes as “drawing on the inside” of the lines you’ve created in the previous steps. Once this phase begins, it’s a simple process of just continuing to observe your model (an anatomy illustration in this case) and paying attention to the details.

Here is a closeup of the drawing to give you an idea of the detail involved. The wrist is 2″ across so this is actually around 125% magnification on your monitor.

Mastadon Skull Sketch

This sketch was done recently after perusing through my photos from a trip we took to Cincinnati a few years ago. During the trip, we visited the Museum of Natural History & Science which resides within Union Terminal (the old Train Station in Cincinnati which is a beautiful building to visit on its own).

There is a full-size mastadon skeleton in the atrium of the museum that immediately captured my attention. The lighting on the skeleton was brilliantly done by the staff at the museum and it lent itself nicely to a small drawing.

I’ve been working on refining my sketching technique based on a new book that I’ll be reviewing once I finish it.

The drawing was done on a new paper for me, Strathmore’s Field Drawing Book. The sketch is approximately 6″ x 4 3/4″ and was done primarily in HB with a bit of 2H and 2B in spots.

Color Calibration

Color management is one of those things that you think, “I should definitely do that… some day”. After countless “some days” you find yourself continuing to struggle with a monitor that fails to provide an accurate, objective color scheme for your photos or web graphics. You figure out some poor workarounds and say to yourself, “I should really get a calibration device… some day”. 

Well, I’m embarrassed to say that it took me a long time to invest in a color management device and I can safely say it will be the best investment I’ve made in my Macbook Pro. I have always operated under the assumption that a Mac has superior built-in color management compared to a PC so it should be “close enough” to do everything but the most critical work. As it turns out, that was a really bad assumption. My Apple Cinema Display is definitely a whole lot more accurate out of the box than my laptop display, as this little device showed me all too well. 

I work mostly in Lightroom and Photoshop on my computer when I do printing and I’ve always complained about using my laptop to proof my images. I now have nearly complete faith that what I am seeing on the monitor is an objective, accurate representation of the actual colors and tones of the image I am working on. Gone are the days where I’ve had to do countless test prints to dial in the color of an image. 


I read quite a few online reviews, some detailed some (typical of the web) woefully inadequate on specifics. I finally founds an extremely useful comparison of the major brands and devices on the Northlight Images website. Specifically, they discussed the devices, software, ease of use, and accuracy of the profiles created. There are numerous reviews of other devices under the More Info section at the bottom of the page.

The installation of the software is a bit archaic on my Macbook Pro (10.6.4). There is a standalone program on the installation CD along with two other applications that don’t quite provide an easy way of determining their function or whether they’re required to run the calibration. I simply double-clicked to install each of them and found I only needed one of the three (time wasted and almost solely due to poor installation instructions). Apparently, X-Rite decided a generic installation guide with pictures and multi-platform installation steps would suffice. Well, for the initial installation, it didn’t. The Flash-based and PDF-based install instructions were a great addition, however, if you are the type who likes sitting through them. Fortunately, I am, so I was able to determine the majority of what I needed from those two sources. 

The software that runs the device is very straightforward and walks you through the simple process of calibrating your display. I had to play around with the white point settings just a bit to get rid of a green cast resulting from using the Native White Point of my laptop and Cinema displays. I reverted to 6500K with a 2.2 gamma and the results were much better! I’d recommend this to anyone complaining of a green cast. There’s nothing in the software to indicate that this will fix it, but I’ve read a few online forums discussing the default settings of the Eye-One Display 2 and they each recommended using 6500K and 2.2 gamma for a Mac.


Overall, this device, albeit a bit pricey as a one-time purchase, will produce reliable, high-quality color for a long time to come. I am planning on upgrading my computer next year and this will be the first change I make to the machine after getting it set up. It’s simply that good. I highly recommend it to anyone doing their own printing who wants reliable results.

More skull drawings

What can I say, I am fascinated by skeletal morphology. If I keep adding miscellaneous parts, someday I might actually have an entire Frankenstein’s monster of skeletal pieces that I can assemble into a complete drawing.

These  drawings were done in my favorite sketchbook, Canson’s Field Drawing book. The skulls are approximately 2.5″ in height. I used a variety of pencil grades from 4H to 2B.