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Hanna-Mae Illustration

Illustrator & eco clothing designer

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sketching

Choosing the right sketchbook

You’d think it would be the easiest thing in the world: finding some paper to start your art project. But when you’re just starting out in the world of art (such as GCSE students etc) it can be perplexing to navigate your way around the vast options available. Don’t be tempted to reach for the cheapest option just to save some money! I’m sure plenty of you have been in a situation where you begin full of enthusiasm only to find that your paper is wrinkling or your ink bleeding. This is because it really is important to be using the right kind of paper for your piece, it really can make or break a piece. I’m going to take you through the basics of choosing a sketchbook when you’re just starting out, or are just getting serious about pursuing your artistic interest. I’ll be putting key points/tips in bold/colour.

All sketch books will generally be suitable for what it says in the title: sketching. Just getting some ideas down in pencil. Where problems usually arise is when you begin using other mediums, especially ‘wet’ mediums such as paints and ink. The very basic sketchbooks you can find almost anywhere (such as budget shops) are usually not suitable for anything more than just getting down some ideas in pencil.

Over the years I’ve learnt to feel my paper before choosing in addition to looking at the description/symbols on the front of the book/pad (more on this later). Generally, cheap papers are quite rough to the touch and will feel thin. Slightly higher quality paper will feel thicker, but may also have a rough texture. But BEWARE! If you do choose a cheap sketchbook for just doodling it’s good to know that cheaper kinds of paper won’t usually stand very much erasing. Ever seen higher quality paper advertised as being ‘acid free’? This is beneficial because it means your work is less likely to fade and the paper less likely to break down.

Let’s talk about cartridge paper…this type of paper is widely available and a lot of illustrators and artists are happy to use it.  If you do decide to go for basic cartridge paper for paints such as watercolour bear in mind it must first be prepared. Painting directly on to lower GSM* cartridge paper will cause buckling and you’ll end up with a wibbly painting! The process of preparing paper for watercolours/gouache is known as ‘stretching’. It’ll take a little effort to do, so if you’re desperate to get stuck in to some work straight away using wet mediums it’s best to avoid low GSM cartridge, or make sure you have a stash of pre-prepared sheets. I learnt how to stretch paper on an ‘introduction to art’ summer school at a local college when I was 15 and found the course a real stepping stone into GCSE art, which then progressed to A level, which then progressed to a degree. By the time you reach university it’ll just be assumed that you know these basics. It’s good to look out for taster courses or holiday schools at local colleges/uni’s as you could pick up some skills that prove useful for the rest of your artistic journey. You can find so many videos on Youtube showing you how to stretch paper: link

Now we’ve covered the cheaper ‘everyday’ papers let’s look into specifics. The good news is that a lot of the sketchbooks they stock in art and hobby stores usually have guides on the front, it’s just a matter of reading the symbols and understanding what certain things mean. Something I found confusing for a while was ‘hot pressed’ and ‘cold pressed’. It’s actually as simple as this: hot-pressed paper has a smoother, finer surface, whilst cold-pressed has a more textured surface. Some pads don’t even mention these terms though and keep it more straight-forward by saying ‘smooth’ or ‘grained’. It’s really a matter of personal reference, I use both depending on the finish I want.  As I usually work with a lot of detail I generally avoid heavily grained papers as lines can be less ‘crisp’. Thanks to the information on a lot of sketchbooks it’s actually now easier than ever to select your book. Some pads will say ‘mixed media’, meaning that generally any medium is ‘safe’ to use, others will say ‘watercolour’ or ‘drawing’ (Daler  Rowney label their sketchbooks really well making it easier to select one). As for symbols, they’re easy to work out; a paintbrush head means it’s suitable for paint, a fountain pen means fountain pens can be used, a fineliner/pen means drawing pens may be used and what looks like a conte stick means pastels can be used. But there’s one area that I know confuses a lot of people…GSM*. This stands for ‘grams per square metre’. Basically, the higher the GSM the heavier the paper, meaning it can handle more. GSM is sometimes written as ‘G/M2’. Papers with high GSM are usually labelled as ‘heavyweight’.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand what paper you’re using before you begin an important project, mainly to avoid frustration over things like buckling, bleeding, eroding etc. I think the most important thing you can do is read the specs of the paper (even individual sheets in art/craft stores will usually have a little label telling you hot/cold pressed and GSM) and if you’re not sure then ask!

Time for some recommendations! For general doodling and really rough work I carry around a small ‘Graduate‘ sketchbook. These are Daler Rowney’s reasonable, lower GSM books that come in various sizes. Hobbycraft also offer their own version of these, with a similar GSM and a very modest price tag. For work that I plan to use (for exhibitions, card designs etc) I rarely stray far from Daler Rowney finegrain heavyweight paper as I find it can hold all mediums really well. I’ve used pastels, oils, gouache, pens, pencil and I’m always happy with the results (though be careful if working on small areas in oils especially oils that have been thinned as sometimes you can get a ‘halo’). I also recommend Daler Rowney’s smooth heavyweight when I want less of a textured surface. If I’m solely using gouache or watercolour I may also opt for their Aquafine smooth pad.

So that’s it, your guide to choosing the perfect sketchbook. Happy creating!

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Monthly tutorial: Using Body-Chan model for artists

Last week I reviewed Body-Kun models for artists and as promised this week I’ll be showing you how to use them. As I’ve been experimenting with children’s book illustration lately I’ll be creating a character in this style.

The instructions that come with some Body-Kun sets show one way to use the sets but I like to use them just as direct references. You can take a photo using your phone then upload it to Photoshop and go from there (there are plenty of videos on youtube showing this) but I’ll be showing you how to develop a character in a more traditional way.

Start off by getting your model in to your desired pose. Body-Kun dolls are just the right size to be used with dolls house furniture, so you can use props. You can use the stand if you’re using a flying or standing pose, but as mine was able to balance on its own I didn’t use it.

NB: Apologies in advance for the not so great lighting!

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Once you have a pose you’re happy with, place the doll at the right height depending on what perspective you want. I wanted mine straight-on, so placed it at eye level.

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This is your reference, so now you just start drawing! Don’t worry about clothing etc at this stage, just draw what you see. Below I’ll show you the steps I went through.

 

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Once you’ve finished drawing out the basic shape, make your lines more fluid. I think that when it comes to children’s illustration the lines are much more soft, less angular. I’ve just drawn some guidelines on the face, though with children’s illustration characters don’t have to adhere to any real measurement rules.

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Once you’ve smoothed off your silhouette, rub out the inner lines and begin drawing in your clothes. I’ve decided my character will be a gardener.

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Keep adjusting as you go along until you’re happy with the shape and how the clothes sit.

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Once you’re happy with your body/clothes you can add your face and hair. Don’t forget to rub out the inner lines.

 

 

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Once you’re finished with the drawing stage you can begin to add colour. I decided to outline mine with fine liner first.

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Monthly review: Derwent Graphitint pencils

After postponing this review it’s finally here! The promised Graphitint review. Here’s what you need to know…

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Product name: Derwent Graphitint 12 Tinted graphite pencils

Price: £5 (without postage) – £20.96

Rating: 4/5

About: A set of 12 tinted graphite pencils which can be used dry as you would a pencil/watercolour pencil, as well as brushed over with water to ‘soften’. They give a subtle colour finish.

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I was so excited to try these out, not knowing quite what to expect;  would these handle like graphite pencils? How would I get tone like I would from B-6B? I was keen to get stuck in, and they didn’t disappoint, though did take some getting used to. I initially made the mistake of setting out using them as I would normal graphite pencils, but these are something different entirely. I soon realised that these pencils are a medium all of their own; not quite a watercolour pencil, not quite a graphite pencil, and like when you’re just starting out with a new medium these need a little getting used to and a little practise.

Due to cost I opted for the set of 12 (having just given in to the temptation of Derwent’s Inktense watercolour pencils)  and rather than feeling as though I was limited by not having the available range of 24 colours, I came to realise it was the very fact that I had a limited palette that put me in the right direction in terms of use. When using graphite pencil I focus on tone, when using colour mediums to depict reality I try to get the colour as close to reality as possible, but this is a mistake when using this medium. Because these pencils offer only a tint, and therefore limit your ability to depict the colour of the animal/object in reality, you will not achieve exact likeness, and therefore must treat these as what they are: a combination between graphite and watercolour pencil – bear colour in mind, but also bear tone in mind. It really is about not boxing yourself in to think of these as one medium with one set of rules. This is a medium with which two set of rules apply. To be successful you have to get in to this mind-set.

Whilst some of the characteristics are the same as graphite pencils, blending is not one. This is where the medium crosses over into watercolour pencil territory. Forget attempting to use a blending stump or your fingers, as these can only be blended using water. They have a harder point than I had expected, which actually makes them more economical than Derwent’s watercolour pencils, which, due to softness wore down very quickly.good bits

  • Portable
  • Economical
  • Unique
  • Good for detailed work

notso

  • Take some getting used to
  • I very much missed white in the 12 pack (though this is available individually)
  • Generally pricey (though in my opinion it’s not worth scrimping on materials and these are good quality)
  • Availability of individual colours (so far only found on derwentart.com)

 

concludePersonally I’d buy these again as I found them quite unique. However, it’s worth looking around a bit first as price can vary drastically. Availability of sets is an issue, though The Range seem to be the best high street store for this, offering sets of 6,12 and 24. I feel these are more suited to those with a real interest in art and mediums, as opposed to simply for use in colouring in for example.

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