It is upon request that I attempt to give a tutorial on my technique for sketching portraits from photos. I, by no means, think I am an expert, or an art teacher in any way. This is just my technique and I hope you are able to see the pencil marks (try clicking on the photos to see them much larger).
This time I have chosen to tackle Padme in her 'Meadow Dress' (from Episode II). It is a lovely image of Natalie Portman, wouldn't you agree? Anyway, I have printed one in the size I will carve, and another larger to capture the details more clearly. I also like to make the image black and white in a graphic program (I use PrintShop, but PhotoShop would be better). I think the shadows are easier to see in black and white.
Sketching a photo, in my mind, is all about light and dark. Try to train your eye to see just light and shadows, and sketch those shadows appropriately. I really have to work at not adding in my own lines, especially at the beginning. If I do that, then I lose the essence of the portrait from the very beginning. You will have a chance to add your own little artistic touches at the end, and with your gouge.
I like to start with a border, as it will give the stamp stability and clean stamping later.
I have started with outlining her face using short strokes with my pencil. I like using a thin mechanical pencil for my sketching. I use light strokes in case I need to erase and give it another try, but too much erasing will eradicate your image, so be careful. Sketch slowly and deliberately, always watching those shadows.
As with carving, I get the eyes done first, as they are so important. I hope you can see I have penciled in the eyes and eyebrows at this point. I'm not so sure about the line I have drawn towards her nose from the left brow, but I leave it at this point for further consideration.
With the eyes, you need to be mindful of the light; if you don't have some light reflecting in the eyes with a portrait of this size, it will not look right. Oh, one more thing about the eyes; you don't have to outline the eyes all the way around, in fact, it's better if you don't. Sometimes that will make the eyes look too cartoony. If you can see, I have left some space open at the bottom of her eye, at the lightest point. Next I give the nose some attention; noses can be overdone, so I like to give shape to the nose from one of the eyebrows down to the tip. The other side only needs a little line of definition, which I will carve as thin as I can get away with, so it does not draw the viewer's eye to her nose. Notice the nostril and under her nose - I will probably only include one of those lines curving down to her lips when I carve, but we'll see.
Notice, again, I have left some space in her jawline, to keep it from looking heavy. I have started the headband and her hair. Hair is pretty forgiving; I tend to modify when I'm carving, as I usually put in too much detail. Let's talk about the lips for a minute; I have left quite a bit of 'light' on her lips which I want to appear kinda glossy. I usually don't outline the lips, but since you cannot see the right side at all, this seems to be working. I always start with the dark middle of the lips (where the two lips meet), and then add the dark shadows around the edges.
Then, it's the hair and snood...I love this hairstyle! It's kinda hard to tell what exactly is going on, really, so I just tried to follow the shadows. And, you can see that I have shortened the line on her left eyebrow - better, huh?
Then it's time to transfer.
After you transfer, this is the time to critically look at your image and add your artistic style or any lines that may add to the image. I added some more detail to the hair, and another line in the crease of her eye to add drama. I also added some little shadow here and there to give some more dimension.
This is what I will carve, but not tonite! Portraits are funny things...at some point in every portrait I stop and say "I don't think this is gonna turn out at all!" But, I just keep carving and I'm always pleasantly surprised at the result.
Below, Tay snapped a shot of me sketching Padme.
I hope that helps those of you who are wanting to challenge yourselves with portraits. I like to look for portraits that are interesting and have good expression. I don't particularly like to carve teeth, so I avoid those usually.
I like to say that you get pretty intimate with whatever you are carving, so make sure you actually like the image. You are gonna get up-close and personal with it, to be sure!