My Process Part 7: Paint it (actually, ink it) Black


Back in art school I had a drawing professor that most students hated. It wasn’t because he was a bad teacher – on the contrary, he was terrific. At the time I had my first class with him, he was at the pinnacle of his own career, coming off a couple decades as one of the foremost photo-realist painters in the world. He was the exact opposite of the old saying, “those who can’t, teach.” See, students hated him because he was tough – real tough. And he had to be, because as he saw it, it was his mission to teach us that the drawing is the most important thing an artist will do. For example, if you are a painter, and your drawing is flawed, the painting that you do on top of it will be flawed. It’s like the human skeleton, break something and it does not function the way it should. So your drawing had to be right. This exacting philosophy was drilled into our heads relentlessly in 5 our-long studio class. Many kids, who just wanted to get on with an abstract painting or simply could not take the professor’s harsh criticism, dropped out. The few of us who stayed learned to wholeheartedly embrace his doctrine of getting the drawing right before moving on. I believe I would not be the artist I am today had it not been for his class. Keep that in mind, because I would not be at this point now if I was unhappy with the drawing. Everything that follows is because the drawing was where I wanted it.

The pencil drawing for my usual baseball portraits is usually about 9-10 inches in height. I find that this size allows me to get just the right amount of detail without having the drawing become too complicated. Remember, the finished pieces are often reproduced at a size slightly larger than a business card. If I’m working on a large-scale commission, like the Chicago Cubs Series that hangs in Wrigley Field (something like 5 feet tall!), then the drawing is much, much larger. But for Jake’s illustration, it’s just going to be my standard card size.

Using the final pencil drawing, I now use a simple black marker to ink in the outlines. There a million type of fancy “artist’s markers” on the market, but I use the most basic implement available, a Sharpie Ultra Fine Point. They’re cheap and you can buy one anywhere, including the gas station down the street. I found that I can mold the tip into a few different widths and thicknesses, just like one of those $25 jobs they try to sell you at the art store. For paper, I prefer just a decent smooth surface copy paper, preferably for a laser printer. The Sharpie is a permanent ink, so it tends to bleed if the paper is too porous. Laser printer paper seems to hold the ink on the surface just right for my purposes.

I go to my light box and place the white page over the pencil sketch. Working quickly and smoothly, I follow the lines of the sketch below. Because I am confident of the original pencil drawing, I am able to just concentrate on the look of the black lines which I draw in various widths, giving the drawing a little more life than if it was a newspaper cartoon. This line work is where my lifelong fascination with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s drawings and prints show through. In my opinion, no artist had more expressive linework than Toulouse-Lautrec, and though I’m not even in the same league as ol’ Henri de, he’s where I draw my inspiration from.

Sometimes it’ll take me more than one try to get the ink drawing right. When that happens, I’ll either tear up the bad ink drawing, or, if it’s only a small part I’m not happy with, use a sheet of tracing paper and trace over the ink drawing, correcting the part I wasn’t happy with. Once I’m satisfied with the black ink drawing, I use it as a base to add other details on a separate piece of tracing paper. These extras include pinstripes, piping on the jersey, team logos and seams on the uniform. When I do these extra sheets of details I add cross hairs to the original ink drawing. I trace these cross hairs on the tracing paper pages so that I can line them up later on, as you will see.

When all the ink drawings are completed, I scan each one into my computer.

Tomorrow: Digitizing Jake

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