November 4, 2013

Back to Graphite

| Tags: graphite, new portrait

Here's a wee section of my current graphite hyperrealistic portrait. It's going to be pretty big for me - a crowd of four! Again, I'm working with mechanical pencil on smooth illustration board. This piece is going to take some time to complete (I'm drawing it between work and other commitments), but I'm glad to be making good progress. Slowly and steadily, I'm committed to create a quality piece.

Here's the bride's veil in close up. I've spent plenty of time drawing tiny little black spots and spotting away tiny little white ones.

As for my previous ink piece, I will be assembling it later this week and hopefully posting it in the coming weeks. Keep an eye out!

June 17, 2013

Foraying in Ink: Part III

| Tags: ink, illustration


Over these past two months, I've continued my work with ink. This time, it's been in order to create an illustration to promote an event that's happening later in the year. I've drawn more ambitiously than I did for the previous piece, and largely because this will be the last ink drawing that I do for some time. I've decided to go back to hyperrealistic graphite drawing for a wee while, starting this week. I very much look forward to the change because I've found myself missing graphite quite tremendously.

About this illustration
It's a crowd scene with busy figures all around. Digitally, I'll find it harder to assemble than the last work because I need to perform a lot more editing. There will be transparent balloons and glass objects, floating confetti and bubbles, and things hanging from trees and swaying in the breeze. I imagine that crafting the focal point/s will be quite a challenge because so many figures are doing so many things across the entire scene.

Where I'm up to in the process
I've drawn just about all of the subjects that I can draw before compositing them digitally. This means all foreground people, most background people, all props, and most bulky subjects like furniture and trees. 'Props,' in this case, are things like food (cupcakes, slices, parfaits, doughnuts, candy floss, lollypops), drinks (milkshakes, cappuccinos, sodas), and toys (robots, puppets, ragdolls, bubble-blowers, toy drums, tin soldiers).

I found that ink requires more concentration than most other medium I've used before. The foreground people took much time to draw because I had to develop and craft a certain style that made them aesthetically attractive. The background people, however, required more of a caricature quality so that their expressions penetrate through the busyness surrounding them. On the whole, I've grown enormously in my ability to control a new medium and, as a result, I've managed to create some pretty cool yet freestanding images. Now it's time to piece them all together and see that they fit to create an intricate, engaging, and artistically successful piece.

I warmly invite you to check up on my progress soon! In fact, why not join me on Facebook? That's the best place where you can see my work progress from day to day. I'm also on Twitter and Behance, and I update both of them regularly :)

April 13, 2013

Foraying in Ink: Part II


I began to draw with ink seriously several weeks ago when commissioned to create a steampunk image. I've since found the medium to carry many wonderful characteristics that I'm keen to share with you. You'll find Part I, which discusses the process of drawing with ink, in the post below. In this Part II, I'll take you through the digital process of piecing the work together.

Digitising the image
This process was simple and straightforward, but time-consuming. I photographed the drawings rather than scanning them - scanning caused some problems as the machine's light had a degrading effect on the ink. After this, I spent much time using Photoshop to cut particular subjects out individually.

Unexpected changes

Killing my babies. Subjects that were meant to play important roles in the finished piece were proving incompatible and needed to be set aside. Among other things, I lost a couple of sea birds and a fantastical dirigible.

Like a jigsaw
On piecing the separate images together, there was much cutting, copying, layering and blending. Far-off subjects were lightened and given a haze, close subjects were darkened and sharpened. Perspective was a significant player in creating this piece - everything needed to be adjusted according to its position within the grander image. I also layered some semi-transparent images to give an illusion of depth and complexity. Two examples of this are the wispy clouds and cobblestone ground.

After much tweaking, the final product came together successfully without any significant challenges. Thank you for letting me share my latest artistic project with you! If you'd like to see more of my work, you can join me on Facebook and Twitter.

Keen to see the finished artwork? You can! It's now in my Artworks gallery.

Check back soon to see how my next piece comes along!
April 2, 2013

Foraying in Ink: Part I

| Tags: ink, illustration


I began to draw with ink seriously several weeks ago when commissioned to create a steampunk image. I've since found the medium to carry many wonderful characteristics that I'm keen to share with you.

Drawing with ink: Is it much different to pencil?

For the most part, yes. Sketched lines cannot be erased, so a different drawing process is required. I've been drawing buildings and so drawing the basic scale work with pencil first. After this, I lightly ink in a basic outline of the subjects while determining how each subject should interact with its light source. Then I use cross-hatching to create shadows and other various techniques to form textures.

What if you make a mistake?

I freak out. After that, I either think creatively of ways to incorporate the mistake into the artwork or, if possible, glue paper over the top and re-draw part of the image. My ink buildings lend themselves well to having paper glued over mistakes because I'm able to align seams of the paper with edges of walls. It's easy to break a building up into panel-like sections. This would be a lot more difficult for organic shapes, such portraits or figures. If the mistake cannot be incorporated into the artwork or covered up entirely, into the bin everything goes.

Illustrating with ink

Clearly, it isn't news that ink works beautifully to illustrate with. Hatching and cross-hatching are typical and effective techniques for covering space and creating depth illusions. Like how shading occurs naturally with a pencil, hatching occurs naturally with an ink pen. The nib scratches the the surface of paper in a way that is conducive to short, quick strokes.

Digital manipulation

Due to the fact that ink drawings are typically line-based, they are more easy to manipulate digitally than, say, pencil or charcoal drawings, which are shade-based. Line drawings are simple to cut, duplicate, flip, rotate, morph and render seamlessly. Ink also looks great when sections of a drawing have been layered and each layer treated individually to create effects. This is what I'll be doing to my current drawing once all of its ink components have been completed.

Here's a summary of my experiences of learning to use ink:


Ink works well to create detail and a classically-inspired style of drawing. Hatching allows for large areas to be covered quickly, while white space tends to look very effective contrasting with ink's grim blackness. Ink pen technique evokes a certain gestural style that is unique to the medium and enjoyable to create. Opportunities to digitally enhance the ink image are endless.


Nothing can be erased! Working with ink requires significantly more concentration than other mediums. Especially, I've found that tiredness is an impetus for a ruined artwork. Nibs have a short life span and are easily broken. The amount of ink in the nib which ends up on the paper is almost always inconsistent. Whether or not a rogue blob shoots unexpectedly onto the paper is completely indeterminable.

Ink is temperamental and challenging, but its creative possibilities certainly make it worth experimenting with. I'll be posting my completed ink artwork in my Artworks gallery in coming weeks.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter? I am! Follow the links and join me there to see regular updates and behind-the-scenes photos.

January 14, 2013

Kicking Off 2013

| Tags: new year, new work


Throughout December, I took a little break from my own serious artwork and focused primarily on seeing the year out in terms of work and a spattering of sketches. Now that I'm rejuvenated and refreshed, I've begun work on my next graphite piece - a detailed illustration of an old, weathered verandah taken over by clutter, pets and potted plants gone to seed. It's an image of rusty tools, timber slats, lazing cats and luscious plant life.

My plan for this piece is that it be visually stimulating so that its viewer enjoys the experience of searching through its brimming trove of subjects. I also intend to put a great effort into its compositional qualities - to create realistic and evocative qualities of depth, perspective, detail, texture, contrast, shadow and light.

I hope to create a piece that you will enjoy. I am about to spend a week on a retreat, but hope to keep you up-to-date on my progress every few days at my Facebook page.

November 19, 2012

'Birdwoman' Progress Shots

| Tags: new portrait, birdwoman, process photos


Birdwoman is an understated beauty who blends morbid power with exquisite femininity. I began drawing her in late 2011 but set her aside until October 2012. She traveled with me across the Tasman Sea in a blanket of bubble wrap in the off-chance that I would be inspired to finish her. In truth, I had lost the motivation to see her completed and was disappointed at being unable to find an end-goal for the hauntingly provocative features that I'd created for her.

After a year spent working on other projects, I finally unwrapped her and was soon able to determine her concept, her purpose and her compositional structure. In fact, the concepts that I originally planned for her had hardly changed. Rather, the change was in me - I was now able to communicate these concepts in a way that I couldn't have managed before.

After making some adjustments to her face and hair, I was able to draw the fabric and bird with a much clearer understanding of the feelings that I wanted my Birdwoman to convey. This wasn't to say that this second phase was easy - far from it. I struggled to persevere through the final weeks of drawing much like I always do. But I am very pleased to find that, between 2011 and 2012, I have matured considerably as an artist and am motivated to continue drawing with narrative-driven concepts like those that I have used for Birdwoman.

Here, you can see photos of Birdwoman's progress from beginning to end:

If you connect with me at my Facebook page, you can follow behind-the-scenes of my next major work when I start it in the last week of November.

October 30, 2012

Creative Women's Circle

| Tags: creative womens circle, tess mccabe, julie paterson


This week, I attended Sydney's first 'Creative Women's Circle' seminar held in the 107 Projects building, Redfern. Around 50 women from the creative industries gathered to hear Julie Paterson speak on her career as a designer, printmaker, textiles specialist and business owner. As director of Cloth Fabric, she gave great insight into why she and her products are relevant to both Sydney and Blue Mountains consumers. Julie touched briefly on her processes for product development and some elements of her business model.

The main point I that took away from this seminar was the need for a personable manifesto. It should be a statement that embodies the impetus of what I do. Ideally, it's a story of history, cultural background, personality, creative growth and the kind of sentimentality that makes an artist relevant to her audience. Give me a week or so to draft it and I hope to soon be sharing my story with you!

October 4, 2012

Drawing Techniques


I'd like to share with you some of the techniques that I use to create finely detailed drawings. I'm aware that, unless you can actually see the artist working, there is often a barrier that separates audience from artwork because the audience is not able to see how the artwork came to be. I wonder if having this knowledge would increase or decrease the audience's appreciation for the work.

Perhaps you can answer that one for me.

Here's a section of my current drawing - a graphite piece drawn on smooth illustration board. What you're looking at is part of a woman's back, her shoulder blade and the outline of her arm.

The fabric forms a surreal impression of ruffles and a veil (to the left). These show a very smooth texture, which takes a lot of effort to achieve.

Here's an explanation of how I work with graphite.

Firstly, I cover an area with shading in single direction. Notice the difference between the shading on the right and refined ruffles on the left? Most of my time goes into refining the work so that every fibre of the board is filled in with graphite.

Next, the section is shaded in the perpendicular direction, like cross-hatching.

After this, it gets smudged. Circular motion, straight motion, with tissues, q-tips and paper stubs. I then strip away graphite with a kneaded eraser to give a rough idea of where light reflects on the subject.

Over time, this process will be repeated many, many times and each repeat will be more focused on creating finer detail. So, after working over the same section eight or so times, it becomes very refined and almost blemish-free.

Here, I've begun the same process to create new ruffles. At this stage, everything looks crude but it is only the armature of what is to come. When each section reaches its final stage, I usually work with only a pacer (mechanical pencil) and paper stub to fill in every last gap between the fibres.

Soon, I'll be able to share this same section with you in its completed form.

See you back here soon!

August 27, 2012

'Fire In Her Eyes'

| Tags: hyperrealism, new portrait, fire in her eyes


I have very happily completed Fire In Her Eyes, a portrait in extreme close up that explores what I would term "aesthetic super-sensations." It was most certainly a challenging project, but one that allowed me to extend my skills both technically and conceptually.

For those interested in the process of drawing, I would like to share with you these following images. They depict the many subtle and most-certainly-not-subtle changes that occurred as the piece transformed over time.

After looking through these photos, I strongly urge you to head over to the Artworks page. There, you will find high quality images that faithfully depict the craftsmanship that I employed to create this artwork.
Visit my Behance portfolio to view these images in larger scale.

July 24, 2012

Behind the Scenes

| Tags: tutorial, behind the scenes, art studio


This post looks at the environment that I work in and tools that I use when drawing.
I hope you enjoy it!


For sketching, I like to draw on watercolour paper with dark pencils (6B or 8B). I like how the paper adds a fibrously rich and organic quality to the drawing. For hyperrealism, however, I need the paper to have as little impact as possible on the final image. I originally used very fine paper, but found that several weeks spent on any given artwork would cause the paper considerable damage. So I switched permanently to illustration board.

I’ve been using acid-free, Crescent board, which is hot-pressed to create a smooth, uniform surface. I bought stacks of the stuff at Gordon Harris before leaving Auckland, which is lucky because I haven’t yet found a Sydney supplier who stocks it.

Drawing stuff

Here is a brief itinerary of my main drawing tools. As far as pencils go, I don’t favour any particular brand: the good ones all do the job. However, different brands do possess different qualities of tone (some are bluer, some are browner), which is worth being aware of when switching pencils mid-work. I hate sharpening pencils because of this:

Kneaded erasers are like big lumps of non-sticky Blu-Tac, and I find them to be invaluable drawing tools. Not for rubbing out mistakes, but instead for creating reflections and highlights. I also like to use blending stubs, which are long sticks made from tightly rolled paper. They work well for blending small areas that contain fine detail. Q-tips and cotton buds are also good blenders, but are more suited to larger areas that require less precision. For really large areas, I just smudge lightly with a rolled up tissue.

I find that graphite pacers can be quite handy. Once shading has been done and the artwork is whittled down to its final stages, I switch from pencils to pacers in order to create fine details and textures. Of course, pencils can serve this purpose just as well, but require an insanely frequent amount of sharpening. And I hate sharpening pencils…

I used to draw a lot with charcoal and now don’t use it nearly as often as I should. On smooth, crisp paper (think office paper), charcoal glides deliciously onto the page and captures a lot of gestural motion. In fact, two of my favourite portraits are drawn with charcoal – one of Jim Henson and the other of Charles Cheswick from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There are around 15 sticks of charcoal staring at me mournfully from a side-pocket of my desk. Maybe now is the time to pick them up again.


This is a nice desk.


I'd like to briefly discuss some of the books that influenced my thinking when I studied music composition, and which continue to influence my work now as a visual artist. I spent a lot of time analysing music in the context of Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s creative mythologies. In terms of creativity, their ideas shed some interesting light on the workings of the subconscious. While I don’t subscribe to the a priori hypotheses that underlie their ideas, having a general understanding of archetypes and symbology has helped me to be more aware of the subconscious and its role in creative practice.

Practically speaking, my absolute favourite book is the little orange one sitting on top of van Gogh’s letters (pictured below). How To Draw Portraits by Charles Wood was printed in 1951 and became mine by way of Arty Bees, a second-hand bookshop in Wellington.

The poor wee thing is battered, torn, yellowed and short enough to read cover-to-cover in under an hour. Nonetheless, I’m crazy about its handsome 1940s illustrations and simplistic manner of speaking. Wood writes in first person and instructs his reader on topics such as drawing materials, lighting, hands, faces, characters, poses and clothes. He speaks without academic overtones; rather, he describes the process of drawing as though teaching it to a friend.

Mind food

I get through a fair chunk of audio while drawing. Sometimes it inspires my creative thinking, while other times it serves just to keep my mind ticking. I like listening to music, audio books, lectures, travel guides, sound tracks and radio shows. Some favourites include The Wind In The Willows, Sherlock Holmes, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Goon Show, Joe Hisaishi soundtracks, talks from Village Church, travel guides by Rick Steves, and astronomy lectures from Foothill College.

(The ones that I’m not so willing to admit are all seven Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry, Billy Birmingham's The Twelfth Man, and the entire discography of the Bee Gees).


There’s nothing too special going on here. I use Photoshop to grid and greyscale my source images, and also to fix levels when I’ve photographed my drawings. I don’t digitally enhance my images: I just counteract any degradation that may have occurred during processing.

Next time

Well, that’s about all that sums up my tools, resources and working environment. I thought  that my next post may perhaps be on the drawing techniques that I’ve adopted in recent years.

In the meantime, I welcome and appreciate any comments or advice that you may wish to throw at me (via Contact). Also, I welcome you to hook up with me on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Behance. We’re all creatives and we’re all in the same boat - open dialogue can only be a good thing!