Changing a drawing in progress is never a happy choice, especially if the drawing is starting to look finished.
But sometimes it is necessary.
Fortunately, it is possible to correct a drawing in which you’ve made an error in judgment. I’m going to show you how.
Changing a Drawing in Progress
First, let me tell you a little bit about the artwork.
It’s a portrait of one of our first cats, and you’ve probably already seen it before. It’s been featured in more than one post over the months, including this one on drawing a blurred background published in 2021 and using Powder Blender published in 2020.
This is the second attempt at this portrait. Both are on Pastelmat, which will become very important in a moment.
I’m using a mix of pencils, but primarily Faber-Castell Polychromos.
This is the portrait as it looked before I changed it.
It really doesn’t look too bad, and it’s been a puzzle to me why I’ve never been happy with it. Sometimes I look at it and think, “Wow. This is nearly finished.” The next time I look at it, I want to trash it and move on to something else.
So it should be no surprise that this version has been in progress since September 2020.
But until recently, I couldn’t figure out why I was so dissatisfied with it. What was the problem?
Identifying the Problem
One day, as I was walking and thinking, this portrait came to mind. With that reminder, a specific idea also came to mind.
“I need to get rid of that shadow on the shoulder.”
And all of sudden, I had the answer! Woo-hoo and happy dance!
The problem area is marked in this illustration. It’s a shadow cast by the sill of the window in which Thomas was sitting when I took the photograph.
The shadow makes perfect sense in the reference photo because it’s obvious he’s sitting in a window. The mesh of the screen is easy to see.
But I decided not to do the same background, which meant I essentially took Thomas out of the window in my portrait.
However, I intended to draw Thomas as he appears in the reference photo, so I drew the shadow over his shoulder.
I didn’t care for it the moment I drew it, but it was in the reference photo, so I thought it needed to be in the portrait. All I really had to do was finish the drawing and the shadow would look right.
What’s in the Reference Photo Doesn’t Always Work in the Artwork
I want to take a moment here to remind myself of a lesson that I learned a long time ago.
Just because something works in a photograph doesn’t mean it works in artwork.
There’s something about the way our eyes and brains process photographs that makes them look right, even when they’re full of distortions. Our eyes and brains apparently don’t process artwork the same way, because most of the time, distortions and odd details that are acceptable in photographs are not acceptable in artwork.
Part of the artistic process is determining what doesn’t work in your reference photo as well as what does work. Very rarely is it necessary to copy a reference photo exactly. That means you can exercise your artistic license to leave out some things, de-emphasize some things, and emphasize some things. It’s always worth taking a few minutes at the beginning of the drawing process to really look at your reference photo and make these decisions.
In other words, do as I say, not as I did in this particular project.
Deciding on the Solution
Remember I mentioned Pastelmat above? Now is where it becomes so important.
Because this portrait is on Pastelmat, changing the drawing in progress was relatively easy. All I had to do was layer different colors over that area, and blend it into the white hair that wasn’t in shadow.
But rather than tell you what I did, let me show you.
I used Faber-Castell Polychromos for all of the following work.
Changing a Drawing in Progress Step by Step
I sharpened the Burnt Ochre pencil, and scumbled color over all of the shadow and up into the white hair nearly up to the black patch on the back of the head. I did a couple of layers of scumbling (circular strokes) with medium-light to medium pressure.
Then I used directional strokes to stroke from the shadow area into the black hair below it.
To blend the new color into the existing light colors about halfway up the area of white hair, I used stippling strokes with medium pressure.
Next, I stroked Cold Grey I into the same area using a variety of strokes, beginning with scumbling strokes applied with medium-light pressure. That wasn’t satisfactory, so I switched to flicking strokes and increased the pressure slightly. In each area, I flicked strokes in the direction of visible hair growth.
For example, along the black patch on the shoulder, I flicked into the black hair. In the shadows between groups of white hair, I flicked in the direction of hair growth. Where there isn’t much visible hair texture, I used a combination of very short directional strokes and stippling strokes.
The next step was darkening and warming up the area with Nougat. I initially wanted to glaze Nougat as a blending layer, then decided to use directional strokes to start establishing the look of hair. I worked more or less over all of the area from the two black patches on the top and bottom and from the left edge of portrait to the darker shadow under the jowl.
After that, I layered Cold Grey I over all of the area from the front of the chest almost to the left side of the portrait. I used mostly short back-and-forth strokes to get the smoothest possible coverage. There is very little visible texture and not much change in color or value, so I wanted to fill in the tooth of the paper and begin creating that kind of color.
I could see a bit of a pinkish tint in this area in the reference photo, so I chose Light Flesh for a blending layer. For the first layer, I used directional strokes over all of the area except the extreme left side. I used medium pressure for this.
That didn’t produce the results I wanted, so I did another layer. This time, I used back-and-forth strokes applied on the diagonal from the upper right to the lower left. I did not sharpen the pencil, and I increased the pressure to about medium-heavy.
The primary purpose was first to fill the tooth of the paper. But I also wanted to disguise the shadow so that this part of Thomas looks uniform.
This layer was much more satisfactory in appearance, though it’s a touch too pink.
I finished for the day by adding Ivory to the front part of this area both to counteract the pink tinge and add hair details. I didn’t follow the reference photo exactly at this stage, but instead tried to make the area look realistic.
The first thing I did the next day was stroke Light Flesh over the shadow area itself. I used medium-light to medium pressure with a sharpened pencil and directional strokes. I wasn’t following the reference photo with any exactness, but just covering the area with color.
Then I added a layer of Cream over the same area using the same pressure and type of stroke.
After that, I repeated the process with both colors before adding Ivory over some of the darker “ghost shadow” areas.
Finally for this step, I used the paper stump to blend a little bit. That didn’t seem particularly effective, possibly due to having used ACP Textured Fixative before starting yesterday’s work.
Next, I layered Light Flesh and Ivory over the shadow area, concentrating on the edge of the shadow because that seemed the most obvious.
I also added a few strokes of Cream here and there throughout the area.
I reviewed the drawing both in real life and as a digital image. At this point, it seemed like I’d done everything I could do at present.
The shadow “ghost” is more visible in the scanned images than in real life, so I decided to let this area go and start working in the surrounding areas.
Was I Successful in Changing a Drawing in Progress?
Yes. Even though I didn’t cover the shadow as completely as I wanted, it was definitely more obvious in the scanned images than on the portrait in real life. In fact, when I first reviewed the portrait on the second day I worked on it, this area looked finished. I was quite pleased with that.
Am I finished with this area? Probably not. I’ll finish the rest of the portrait, then go over the whole thing again, looking for anything that needs to be fixed. Only then will I know for sure if this work is complete or not.
If you use Pastelmat, you can make the same kind of change to a drawing in progress that I’ve shown you here. I suspect you can do the same type of correction with any sanded art paper.
Why didn’t I just remove the shadow? I’d sealed it several times in the drawing process with ACP Textured Fixative. Because of that, all the previous work was “there to stay”. The only solution was covering it up.
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