Tutorial | Sketching

Yesterday happened to be the birthday of beautiful actress Myrna Loy, so she was a natural choice for my next portrait sketch. I have been asked many times for “drawing tutorials” so I did my best to break this one down step-by-step. I consider this my “sketch” style because when I do these types of drawings they are quick, small, and entirely freehand with no special measuring or grids to help with exact proportions. These are great practice for drawing by eye only, focusing on basic light and shadows to create dimension, different styles of pencil strokes to express texture and form. Minus the time I took to stop and scan this drawing periodically, Myrna probably took about an hour to finish.

I start any drawing by finding a reference photo that I want to use. That doesn’t take long– the right one usually jumps out at me from Google images. I look for head position, expression, and lighting in the photo that catch my eye and will be easy to capture. This is the photo of Myrna I fell in love with:



The first step of the drawing is to lay out the basic outlines. Start with a dull or fairly dull pencil to avoid scratching the paper. Ignore all the details from the photo, and look at the subject as a collection of shapes. Start with the largest ones: the hair/head, and then the shoulders/torso underneath. This is the guide for everything that will follow, so the proportions need to be similar but don’t worry about being neat or exact. Keep the pencil strokes very light– most of the lines here will need to be erased at some point, especially through the face. After the big shapes are sketched out, I throw in some really messy guides for the smaller shapes inside the larger ones– in this case the hairline, jaw, shoulder, etc. I also like to get an idea of the angles in the face, so I usually define a centerline, rough placement for eyes, nose and mouth, and the angle from outside corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth. This will really help with placing the facial features later on.



After the basic outlines are ready, it’s time to start defining. The more accurate your overall proportions are from the beginning, the easier this step will be. Work off those rough, ugly lines to carve out more accurate outlines of hair, face, and torso. Constant comparison with the reference photo is the key! Begin filling in the features, using the facial guidelines to help get them in the right place. During this stage, continue to keep pencil strokes light and easy to erase. Start blocking in the largest and darkest shadows.



And continue to keep defining lines and features! This is a continuous process for most of the drawing, so it’s difficult to break down into specific steps– just keep working away. When you’re confident enough with certain lines, begin to darken them. Keep darkening the blackest areas, and now you will be able to create a contrast with mid-tone shadows to keep adding form and dimension. Continue to adjust facial features– they are the most important and will definitely take the most work to get right. Your eraser will be your best friend here! Sometimes the smallest adjustment of a curve or shape of a shadow can make all the difference.


I focused on the face first until I was happy with the progress, then moved on to start adding more detail through the hair. Hair can be intimidating, but it is much easier than it seems. Look at the reference photo, at the direction of the different sections of hair. Here Myrna has the side part, the majority of her hair swept off to one side, the rest going the opposite way ending in curls. Her hair is messy, which makes perfect pencil strokes even less important. Start with defining where the darkest shadows are, then use quick strokes to represent the direction of each section, filling in mid-tones, avoiding the brightest highlights. You can also erase the highlight areas if need be. A dull pencil tends to work much better at this stage.


All that should be left now is to get the dark areas as dark as they need to be, and add some finer details. Here I switched from a 5B pencil to an 8B to work on the blacks. This makes a huge difference in achieving depth and dimension through the contrast with the mid-tones and whites. For the lightest areas I just let the white of the paper remain. Here is where a sharp pencil is finally important! It can create crisp lines where needed and render little details like eyelashes. Keep going until you’re happy…


I thought I was finished here but decided to add some brighter highlights with a white gel pen, which is an invaluable tool, my favorite finishing touch. I cleaned up the bright line down the nose, the whites of the eyes, added the sparkle in the eyes, etc. until I was satisfied. Here is the finished portrait!


**Prints of this Myrna Loy portrait are available now at https://www.etsy.com/listing/198577287/myrna-loy-portrait-drawing-print?ref=shop_home_active_1.**


Hopefully this helped those of you who have been waiting for tips and a tutorial! I’ll be doing more of these along the way, and if you have any specific questions please let me know. I’m always happy to answer! xoxo



Tools of the Trade | Paper & Pencil

For an artist, the right tools are invaluable to the outcome of a quality piece of art. After trying many products and brands I have finally gathered a core collection of supplies that I can’t live without. For a pencil artist like me, the two most important tools of the trade are the paper and the pencils.


The right paper makes a tremendous difference in the drawing process. Paper weight and texture determine how much medium can be applied, how much erasure it can handle, the detail and pencil tones that can be rendered, etc. Bristol paper quickly became my favorite for its durability. It can be found in almost any arts and crafts store, in a variety of sizes. It usually comes in two types, smooth or vellum. Smooth Bristol has a slippery surface and cannot hold many layers of pencil, making it difficult to create very dark values with graphite. However it aides blending for soft tones and looser drawing styles, and holds pen and marker beautifully. Bristol vellum is my current favorite. The texture may be too much for tiny drawings or extreme details, however for larger-scale portraits it almost mimics skin texture with the right pencil technique. The texture also allows for the darkest graphite application, and works with charcoal pencil wonderfully. I have tried Canson Bristol and was not a fan, but I am in love with the Strathmore Bristol paper. Here are the two varieties and an example of portraits done with each to show the difference in texture.

Strathmore Bristol Smooth Paper Pad, 9 by 12-Inch, 20 Sheets
Link: amazon.com


Strathmore Bristol Vellum Paper Pad, 9 by 12-Inch, 20 Sheets
Link: amazon.com

I also used toned paper on occasion, and here Strathmore tops my list once again!

Strathmore Spiral Toned Sketch Book, 9 by 12-Inch, 50 Sheets, Tan
Link: amazon.com


Second to the right paper, in my opinion the right pencils are indispensable. There are so many brands and types of pencils that the selection may seem overwhelming. Every artist will have a different preference but for me, only two pencils are necessary: a 5B and 8B graphite. With them I can achieve the full spectrum of tones I need. Of course you can find many other pencils in the range of 9H to 9B, but with the right technique only a few should be really necessary. I have tried Derwent, Faber-Castell, Prismacolor, and some various lower grade brands, but wasn’t thrilled until I discovered Koh-I-Noor at my local art store. I haven’t picked up another brand since! Their Toison d’Or pencils are smooth and rich, easy to sharpen, can render rich dark tones, smooth shading or fine detail. The only downside I have experienced is some occasional weakness in the graphite– if they are not handled carefully the core can tend to break up inside the pencil, especially since I use the softer end of the B range. But this is a problem with other brands too, and for me their performance quality far out-weights their durability.

Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth Toison d’Or
Links: kohinoorusa.com, walmart.com, rexart.com

If you have tried any of these products, please let me know! Also share your favorites. xoxo



Hi everyone! In honor of my first “official” blog post I am taking it all the way back, to the first few drawings that really marked the beginning of my dedication to art as a serious hobby, and now as a part-time business. I have loved art ever since I can remember, from my first coloring books and that big box of Crayola crayons, to drawing my own paper dolls and giving them endless wardrobes, to writing and illustrating little storybooks… I would find any excuse to draw, and loved every minute. Throughout high school and college years I spent less and less time on art, and eventually several years went by without sitting down to draw. Then about two years ago I was feeling the creative urge fighting is way out once more, and I randomly bought a pad of drawing paper and a few cheap pencils and sat down to try again. I have always gravitated towards drawing people, so that is what I returned to and what I have stuck with ever since. For me nothing else compares to creating a face on paper, watching it come to life, and capturing all the emotions that shine through a human expression. I also happen to prefer drawing female subjects, which is pretty obvious if you are familiar with my work, and I can’t really explain why! Although lately I am trying to create a better male-female ratio. 😉

Here are the first two complete portraits I finished at that turning point two years ago, as I began practicing from reference photos that inspired me at the time. Looking back, my techniques and style have definitely evolved since then, but the learning curve is natural for every artist, and looking back is the only way to see how far you’ve come!


This drawing was inspired by a Kate Moss magazine cover photo I found in a book. At the time I only knew how to draw by sight (no grids or any other method to transfer exact placement or proportions) so the end result didn’t turn out looking much like Kate, but I will never forget how much fun it was to finish that scarf pattern!



For this drawing I used a magazine ad photo for Tom Ford as reference, again jumping in entirely freehand with no guides. I don’t have the original photo anymore to compare how accurate this is, but I still love it regardless. Her hair was a true exercise, the first time I had ever tackled realistic hair of that volume, and I loved the process.



So that was my nod to #flashbackfriday and where Shades of Sunshine really began for me. I’ll be back again soon with a new post! xoxo