6 Tools for Drawing Portraits

If you are just beginning drawing portraits you are probably wondering what tools you should use besides the common writing pencil.

1. A good quality paper

First you should start by choosing an appropriate paper. A good quality paper can make your job easier so head over to an art supplier and choose a paper that is specially created for portrait drawing. It should be acid free, so that it will last longer. You will notice that the thickness is also grater than the average writing paper, or copying paper. This means the paper is more resistant and you can erase many times without the danger of putting a whole right through it. Another important aspect is that you can apply more layers before exhausting the paper teeth. You will find that the paper can be either smoother or rougher. This will not only determine the end result and its smoothness but also how much graphite or charcoal you can put in.
2. Different pencil for different results

The actual tool that draws your portrait is the pencil. You must know that there are many types of pencils: graphite lead, charcoal, pastel, mechanical pencils, wax pencils and so on. Two of the common used ones are graphite and charcoal. You might have noticed that your usual drawing pencil has an HB mark on it. This refers to the hardness of the lead. The softest lead is 9B while the hardest commercially available is 9H. This means that with a softer lead you can produce darker tones, while, due to its hardness, the 9H lead will barley let any graphite trace on the paper, thus you can create very light tones. The charcoal pencils also can be hard, medium or soft but even the hard ones are way softer than graphite. This makes using charcoal very messy and should be handled with care.

3. Kneaded eraser

Having a good eraser can save your drawing’s life. The kneaded eraser is preferred by the artists because it lets them unload the drawing layer by layer without ripping all the way down to the paper. To do this you have to slightly tap the zone where you want to lighten up the tone. You will notice that the graphite will adhere to the eraser, without leaving any heavy marks behind, like you would normally get from an ordinary eraser. One more good use of a kneaded eraser is that it can produce very fine lines and therefore you can place some fine details to your work.
4. Sharpening tool

A good sharpener can save your drawing’s life. Whether you need a very sharp tip to add small details or you want to expose more of the lead to be able to shade properly, you will need a sharpener.

But finding a good sharpener is a challenge. Not all sharpeners are good for every type of pencils you have. Some pencils are thinner while others are thicker. The lead also matters since soft ones are easier to break. If you try to sharpen a crayon with a thicker lead into a normal pencil sharpener you will see that the lead will be broken before the crayon got sharpened. This is why you need a special sharpener.

Another trick I use is cutting the wooden cover with a sharp knife to reveal the lead and then rub it against soft sandpaper to give it the shape I want.
5. Blending stumps

Although this tool is not crucial, when used properly it can produce astonishing results. Blending your drawing can help you smooth out the transitions between different tones and help you achieve smooth skin textures, ideal for babies or women. While you can buy blending stumps from any art store, you can also use any soft material to blend your medium. From the common paper tissues and pieces of cloth to cotton, you will find that they all work well. The only thing I strongly advice you against is using your bare hands as this will result not only in you getting very dirty and smudging other parts of the drawing but also in grease spots that will retain more graphite or charcoal thus creating ugly dark spots when blending.
6. Fixative Spray

Best way to preserve your portrait after you have finished it is by spraying it with a special made fixative. This will adhere to the surface, trapping the medium to the paper and creating a protective layer. Most fixatives are also protecting against UV light so that the paper would not go yellow in time. There are many brands and types of fixative sprays out there. You must choose one that is suited for your medium (example for graphite) and make sure to test it before applying it to the actual drawing. A good fixative will not change the drawing’s colors nor will it leave a glossy cover.


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