- Lesson details
We are pleased to share with you a 10-week long class brought to you by Art Mentors. In this class, legendary illustrator Mark Westermoe teaches figure drawing using the Reilly Method. In this 5th lesson, Mark will continue rendering the head drawing from the previous lesson by introducing new pencil and sketching techniques. He will also analyze a collection of figure studies and demonstrate how to lay in tones on the head using charcoal pencil.
- Conté Charcoal Pencil
- Smooth Newsprint
- General’s Charcoal Pencil – 2B
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In this class, legendary illustrator Mark Westermoe teaches figure drawing
using the Reilly Method.
In this 5th lesson, Mark will continue rendering the head drawing from the previous lesson
by introducing new pencil and sketching techniques.
He will also analyze a collection of figure studies and demonstrate how to lay-in tones
on the head using charcoal pencil.
Today I’m going to continue with the head drawing I started last week and take it either
to a finish or close to it.
As I do each week, I brought in a book that creates academic figure drawing.
In this case, I took Russian in college, but that was a long time ago.
I don’t remember anything except how to pronounce.
I can’t tell you what it means in most cases.
However, this book is available from Russia.
It costs about $60 or $70.
You have it in a way in your monitor.
If you’re interesting and you want to get it, you can find out how.
This is the way an academic figure drawing starts.
That’s pretty much what I did the first week of this term.
I just worked out the geometry and the composition to suit the page.
We have a 3 x 4 format.
I just keyed it to that ratio.
Then after that—let’s see if I have, I’m going to start to break down the light and
dark pattern and some of the smaller but important planes, especially at the joints.
If I knew my Russian I could probably give you some of the text, but I think it’s very
similar to the approach I’m doing for you in this class.
After that, it gets into the refining and designing stage, so now we have a figure that
is more than just a block for the head.
I confidently use the head to help measure his proportions.
Now we move onto this next step.
Notice the importance of finding the angle of the shoulders and the hips.
The angle of the pectorals is going to be basically the same as the angle of the shoulders.
Same with the armpits, same with the turning under of the rib cage above the upper abdomen.
At the waist, it changes.
Now, the angle of the iliac crest is also going to be the angle of the trochanters here
and here, where the thigh, the femur inserts into the pelvis.
Now he can start to flesh it out.
Even though the half-tones are quite clear and obvious they are still nowhere near as
dark as the shadow pattern.
You always have to have a gulf between the two.
This is a good example right there.
Very nice modeling of the half tones.
It shows what’s going on at each joint in particular, but still notice that the shadow
is very, very dark.
You can have a lighter shadow, but that will also mandate that you
have lighter half tones, too.
Okay, here is where we stand now at this stage.
So, very, very strongly delineated half tones justified by very dark shadows.
It’s not just one edge that follows from the pectoral down into the rib cage.
You’ll see here that this is a very firm edge.
It’s more rounded here.
Then it becomes more angular along the ribs and then softens where the upper abdomen turns.
It’s clear that these various shapes and their edges are in different planes from one
At the same uniform edge, they might look as though they were just black.
Here he has developed the half tones a little bit more and darkened the shadows on the head.
At this stage, notice he has not really finished the legs, but he has finished the torso and
In this next one, he’s carried it a little further.
Notice the hands and the joints in particular.
To draw the knee well you’ll need to do some study of the anatomy.
Juxtaposed is a nice anatomical drawing
describing what’s happening above and below the knee joint.
Now we see that he carries on down to the feet.
You see the head is just about finished.
This is exactly the same process.
Different model, different angle but the same process.
And then down here we have two more.
This one is a masterpiece of subtle half tones.
This one—I hate to be critical of such great work—but if I were doing it, I might darken
the legs a little bit.
It’ll give it more moment, a little more drama.
As it is, it’s the same light as on the torso and the head.
It’s very beautifully drawn, but I would probably make an adjustment like that.
If I did a drawing he would probably make many adjustments to mine.
There is a lot of artistic license that we have, each of us,
even each person, very very good.
Drawing the model from the same angle would come up with different solutions to some of
the lighting in particular.
Once again, there is the finished academic study.
There are several books.
I think most of them are based on drawings that the Repin Institute in St. Petersburg,
which is the school that the great Ilya Repin founded and has continued for 100 years.
There are a few places where this can be taught.
It’s awfully expensive to go to St. Petersburg, live there, and pay tuition and not speak
the language so we use books to teach us, and we use classes like this which focus on
not sketches but studies.
Alright, now I’ve painted myself into a corner.
I’ll have to do really well on this drawing.
I will do my best.
This is the standard photo print as opposed to the dark photo print or the very light
I’m going to try to go with the standard to lay down the right values.
And so, I’ve got a Conté pencil nice and sharp.
I mentioned that I would discuss how to hold that pencil and demonstrate it.
If you’re not steady with it or haven’t practiced very much it, let’s go over that now.
The Conté pencil comes with a short blunt tip from the art store.
You need to take a single edge razor blade and cut away a lot of the wood so you reveal
a shaft of Conté.
Then you need to whittle that with the razor blade to a fine point.
You don’t have to get it to the fine point, you can always when you’re close to it,
take a sandpaper pad and rotate the pencil on the sandpaper pad so as to sharpen it like this.
I hold the pencil with my thumb opposite my middle finger.
I direct the pressure and the angle of the stroke and the edge using my index finger.
So here, I’m drawing along with the lead and creating a fine line.
If I want to create a tone I turn it 90 degrees or anywhere in between.
And so on.
That means if I want to draw something parallel to the bottom of the page, I have to change
the direction of my hand.
If I want to draw a fine line I have to go like this.
If I want to draw a tone, I have to turn my pencil like that.
I also use the pencil this way, where I pull back with my hand down farther on the hand.
But still, the movement of my stroke depends on the position of my hand.
You can also draw as though you were using a writing pen or fine details, let’s say
in and around the eye socket, just like that.
You should be able to put down a flat tone just by overlapping your strokes.
So, practice this, just on a clean sheet of newsprint and filling up an entire rectangle
with flat tone.
With this case, middle gray.
You should try to do it with a dark gray and a light gray.
You can even gradate from darker to lighter in one rectangle.
Once you have the facility to do that then you should be able to handle most of the issues
that come across in figure drawing.
Now, when it comes to charcoal pencils, I usually use these toward the later stages
of a drawing.
These are 2B charcoal pencils made my General.
They’re called medium pencils.
I just sharpen these in the pencil sharpener.
You can also sharpen them in the manner I described for the Conté.
It’s a little quicker this way.
For the uses that I have, which are very fine-tuned, it’ll be fine just to sharpen it in the
You’ll find that when I use the Conté over the course of drawing of any duration whatsoever
the pencil never gets dull.
It stays sharp because I’m using the side of it.
Yes, there are little accents like in and around the iris and the pupil, but in terms
of the large scale dark that’s here on the head.
I can go ahead and make this go faster by just using the Conté.
I’m going to use what we call a slip sheet, and that’s just a simple clear, white piece
of paper, like photocopy bond or something like that.
And by putting it down here I can prevent my hand—since I’m right handed—from
You would not want to go this dark at your first lay-in.
You have to build up to it one or two times.
Otherwise, the lead would snap from the pressure I’m using.
Just overlap your strokes.
It’s not fully clean and simple and seamless then just give it 20 more strokes.
If it’s not, then give it another 20 strokes.
It can’t not work.
In a painting, and after all, these studies, originally their purpose was, as a rule, to
create a study for a painting.
In a painting at this stage I would be putting in my darkest dark except with a brush and
It is not different with pastels or Conté or charcoal.
Once I get past this and into the head itself I’ll talk about how the forms on the Reilly
abstraction can be used to clearly understand the forms on the head drawing.
Here I’m going to soften this edge.
I do not want my head drawing or figure drawing to appear cut out with scissors.
In an early stage, that’s quite fine, but now, not
all the edges will be softened.
Some on the tops of his head where we see the sides of the hairs, that could be quite
firm, even hard-edged.
But primarily, I’m seeking just to get an even tone to create my darkest darks.
I don’t go all the way out to the silhouette that I described in the lay-in,
but I go right up next to it.
There is a crest light of hair describing where the top and side planes of the hair
come together, so I’m not going to lose that crest light.
Lift up your stroke at the beginning and the end.
Don’t be choppy and go station to station like that.
That may be a problem that some people are having, using the content.
Instead of white bond paper, you can use acetate, clear acetate, and that will shield the paper
from your hand, but it will also allow you to see the value that you’re drawing relative
to what else you’ve already drawn.
That’s a good way to go, too.
This is dark.
You can go back over it with a stump, paper stump like I showed last week.
When you do that, it will even out all of your tonalities.
I prefer at this point in time that you use just the pencil for the most part.
Because I really want everybody to develop control of their values, just without any
other artificial means like a stump.
If you were painting this area, this crest of light here, I wouldn’t bother with it.
I’d just go ahead and put down the tone all over his hair, and then I would come back
with lighter paint and paint opaquely the crest light on top of the black.
One of the reasons why at some point, not right away, but not too long either, you should
do some painting, at least monochrome or limited palette.
Then you’re learning how to paint light on top of dark.
Here, by definition, we can only paint or draw dark on top of light.
Learning good control of your pencil, Conté or charcoal is so important because it allows
you to put down your planes, your values, the shapes themselves in a very direct way
rather than try to scribble on top of it over and over to get the effect.
While at the same time, breaking up the spontaneity of the drawing.
If you’re really on, then you’re striving to get a drawing that looks as though your
subject just happened.
It wasn’t labored.
None of the above.
It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s what I usually like to see.
Andrew Loomis in his figure drawing, for what it’s worth, or creative illustration or
In all those cases, his drawings have a certain clear and brisk spontaneity to them.
No matter how far he carries them, they do not ever look overworked.
It’s not just what you express, what you know, what you understand, what you want to
bring out, but it’s how you do so.
It’s the presentation of those important aspects of any good figure or head drawing.
We don’t see the texture of the hair inside the body tone of it.
We see it at the crest lights or at the edges where it meets the skin or along the silhouette
right before the background.
But, people will try to impose the texture right here in the middle.
We don’t see that, nor could we.
We can only see so much at one glance.
So, focus on the area I just mentioned, and things will go well for you.
To get a good angle on a particular shape or edge, it sometimes is helpful to turn the
drawing board instead of having to contort your arm too much.
I do this because I want to keep a stationary position for the camera so you can see it
best, but really, in my home studio at my drafting table, I’d probably turn the page
and do other things as well as turning my arm.
If it’s giving you trouble, finding that correct shape
and angle of edge, then try that.
Now, that’s not really black that’s just a very dark gray.
I’m not going to finish it all the way to black, but let me show you
with a couple examples what black really looks like.
You can see I can saturate this dark value without risking breaking the lead because
I’m not having to put as much pressure on it as I would have if I didn’t first lay
down two layers before this final black layer.
But, I want to get on into the rest of the drawing.
Alright, now we’ve established some of our darkest darks in the hair.
Now I’m going to go back into the form shadow on the head itself.
I’m using a 2B General charcoal pencil.
I’m not applying very much pressure to it.
Basically, I’m evening out the form shadow on the side of his head and under the nose
and so forth so that it’s nice and legible and not too grainy and distracting.
Where we have hard edges that would be cast shadows or overlaps.
I’m going to really firm up that edge.
You know, we understand these points, but it’s not enough to utilize them.
Sometimes we have to exaggerate them because, you know, it’s an illusion that we’re
An illusion of three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface.
We have to really push these points, not just observe them.
Okay, the nose overlaps the eye socket, so don’t leave the edge too soft.
We want it to advance the eye socket behind it to recede.
Now, if you don’t use a sharp pencil, this approach will pretty much be useless.
It’s necessary, not just for fine detail, but it’s actually very important to making
your shadows and your lights very legible and clear.
Not fuzzy and kind of so, so.
We started off getting the big shape of the head.
Now we’re taking that big shape and further breaking it down into the smaller shapes and
the distances and edges between them.
Notice I’m massing the cast shadow beneath this nose with the shape and the value
of the philtrum here.
I don’t feel any need to separate the two, one from the other, no.
This is a concept simply called massing values.
I don’t need to see where one starts and the other stops.
I can chisel or firm up a shape or an edge, or I can let it float into a lost or a soft edge.
Here I’m being very critical about the work that I’ve done in designing every
aspect of this head.
I redesigned the white of the eye, and then I drop it back down into its appropriate value.
If you want to do that, it’s just two steps.
One, you erase and then you put down the proper value.
Remember, the eraser is a drawing tool.
It’s not there just to correct mistakes.
It’s there to help us refine the drawing every bit as much as the pencil itself.
Now, I’ve massed all my shadows together in one value, but within the shadows there
are passages that receive a considerable amount of reflected light.
One of those areas is here right under the septum because the light on the top of the
tooth cylinder reflecting into it does not allow that to be as dark as much as the surrounded
value happens to be.
Try to keep the nose essentially chiseled, not soft.
Don’t give him the so-called ball of the nose.
Instead you want to chisel the cartilages that make up the underplane of the nose.
Cast shadows tend to be somewhat darker than the form shadows near them.
Bearing that in mind, I can darken them up.
You can darken the upper lip, but you never want to make it go black because it
too gets reflected light, in this case, from the lower lip below it.
This I’ve noticed is a very common issue with students, going too dark on the upper lip.
So, taking a drawing from a sketch or a lay-in all the way to a finish is not a matter at
all of laying on more and more detail or more and more secondary values.
It’s a matter, really, of making sure that you get everything in the right place and
with the right edge.
Now, the patience that you have to require to do finished drawings and studies is on
a level that some of you have not been up against before.
Although it’s really important stuff, some very good artists
just don’t have the temperament for it. That’s okay.
But if you do, because after all there are just as many people who do have that patience
and want to and enjoy using it, if you do, you’ll find that paintings immediately improve.
Again, not everywhere wants to paint.
That’s fine, although I think that with paint
the expression of the form will be improved dramatically.
You don’t have to start right away, but that was the original point of doing studies
Now you can see here that with a light touch near the tip of the pencil so that we can
create less grainy shadows, you can see that this will even out some of the grainy kind
of feeling that the initial Conté gives us.
Okay, let’s spend 15 minutes to wrap up today’s lesson.
I’m going to go into the shadows now and simplify them using that 2B pencil.
I want this to be seamless.
If I turn the form against the source of light or along the form, and then I’m bringing
the tone into it, I want to make sure that I get a nice transition from my shadow into
my light, so that’s an issue here, here, and here.
If you look at your relative values on the photograph, you might miss this.
But here, above the temple, you’ll actually get a half tone whereas you might, by looking
at it think that it should be very light, but no.
Instead compare it to other values in the drawing.
Notice the direction of my initial strokes for the shadows.
I’m not going to run counter to that.
I’m going to follow that.
If your shadow pattern is not easily legible, then you can’t really hope to pull off a
All kinds of other types of drawing, no problem, but for this I recommend evening out your
shadows and then going back and
making sure that the strokes with your pencil are not distracting.
It’s not a good idea to cross your strokes.
Instead if you draw with your strokes, it’ll work pretty nicely.
Right now, in this early expression of the ear, it looks paper cut, very thin.
The cartilage of the ear is not so you want to soften the edge before
the silhouette of the ear.
This area is quite ragged, so we’ll clean that up.
Right now it doesn’t matter.
You see how much graininess you have here?
Now it’s getting smooth.
You can look at some artists whose work almost looks like it’s been airbrushed,
but instead it is not.
A couple people come to mind.
One is the great German caricature artist.
Gosh, I forget his name.
It’ll come to me.
Kreuger has many paintings because his caricatures are done in many styles.
But when he does that very realistic style, you’d think, okay, alright, he did it with
He did it all manually with the brush.
You may never even have reason to go that tight with your professional work or anything
But here, in this class, you should learn how to do that.
It’s really almost just like filling in the gaps between my initial Conté lay-in.
Remember to lift the pencil up at the end of each stroke.
Otherwise, you’re going to get a broken-up field of value where you really want it to
be a simple one.
So, I hope you can perceive the difference between the work that’s been gone over with
the charcoal pencil and the work that is still just the Conté.
Remember, we have to blend this out so it doesn’t look separate.
That is to say, the core shadow of the form shadow.
It needs to melt into the body of the shadow.
Okay, so I will finish that up in the first part of our next lesson, and for that lesson
I’ll do a female figure and I believe we’ll do a whole figure.
But, I think this session on the head was really important.
Once again, you can’t really expect to draw a nice figure with less than a really good
Okay, well, enjoy your drawing and think you for attending today.