Night's Breath - The Progress

I’m so pleased to have finally finished the drawing I started last year of a raven fledgling. I captured the photo of this handsome fellow while on a walk around Mud Lake last May.  The drawing ended up being quite a bit of a challenge for me, and my frustration with it is why I took so many breaks from it and, ultimately, why it took me so long to finish.

Funnily enough, I suspected even before I started it, that I’d have trouble with this drawing. I wasn’t concerned at all about my ability to render the bird — I’ve done enough birds at this point that I feel fairly confident about drawing feathers. It was the background I was worried about.

You see, I wanted a particular type of background — one which was not actually in my photo. Rather than the sunlit confusion of thick foliage depicted in my photo, I wanted to render a grey day with tree trunks shrouded in a subtle mist. I thought I could just use the picture in my imagination to render the background. Ugh! I’m obviously not as good at rendering the things I picture in my imagination as I thought I was! LOL Thankfully, despite my frustration and disappointment, I didn’t give up and, finally, my stubborn perseverance led me to decide to go with a little different scenario than I’d originally imagined.

Rather than the misty, grey day I had imagined, I decided to go with a dark, misty night. Fortunately I am very happy with the results…even though I got there in a rather roundabout way! 😀

raven drawing

Night’s Breath
Graphite Pencil on Strathmore 300 series Bristol SmoothPaper – 16 ” x 20″
Original Drawing For Sale (matted & framed): $400 (CAD)

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I thought I’d share my process in the hope of inspiring others to persevere when they run into problems with their drawings not living up to their expectations. I’ve explained my steps under each progress photo below.

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raven drawing - work in progress

I started on the branch using a 9H to indent the lighter areas of the bark, then made the darker shadows using HB and 2B (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

I completed the branch (deliberately did not do area around the foot). I softened the branch by brushing over it with a soft brush to subtly blend (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

I knew the background would be the challenge for me in this drawing (as opposed to the bird), so I tackled it first. The background trees were done using 4H and 2H (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

I tried doing some large faded foliage/leaves (4H) in background … but was really not liking how it looked (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

I started filling in the background with 4H using very soft pressure in circular strokes to get a smooth blend.
I started the bird’s head so I would know how dark to go in the background. You can’t see it, but the light areas on the bird (ie: feather veining) have been “scratched” into the paper using a sharp 9H (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Several sessions later, most of the background has been filled in with 4H using soft pressure and circular strokes. I have also used a “dirty” stump to scribble in some darker shadows to indicate leaves, trunks, etc.
I still was not happy about the background. It just wasn’t living up to the vision I had in my head. So, I decided to leave the background as it was for the moment and work more on the bird.
Used very sharp HB and 2B for darks of bird. Lights done mainly with a 6H and a 9H (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Continuing to work on the bird. The light veining on the feathers was scratched into the paper with a sharp 9H, then gone over with sharp HB, 2B and 4B. Darkest areas of feathers are the 4B (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Continuing to work on the bird using the same process as above (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Continuing to work on the bird using the same process as above (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Continuing to work on the bird using the same process as above (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Continuing to work on the bird using the same process as above.
Very pleased with the bird so far … but that background was REALLY bugging me! (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Feathers done! Just the foot left to do on the bird (click to enlarge).

 

raven drawing - work in progress

The background was bothering me so much that I abandoned the foot and tried to fix the background by scribbling in some bushes at the bottom.
UGH!! What a mistake! I hated it even more!!!  LOL What to do, what to do?? (click to enlarge).

 

At this point in the drawing, I was so disappointed in the background and so discouraged that I put the whole thing away and didn’t look at it again for a few months! LOL

 

raven drawing - work in progress

One day I got an idea, so I dug this guy out of storage and did something with this background that I always warn people against doing: I completely erased the background and started over!
I used a kneaded eraser to lift as much of the tone from the background as I could, then went back in with a white vinyl eraser and scrubbed everything except the main branch and the bird right down to the white of the paper. Of course, this drastically changed the texture of the paper…it was no longer perfectly smooth. But, since I already knew I was going to go back in with graphite powder, for this purpose I didn’t need the paper to be perfectly smooth.
After erasing everything, I rather roughly sketched in the background trees again using an HB pencil, then used a stump to blend and soften them. Then, using a large, round, stiff bristle brush, I patted and brushed and scrubbed graphite powder around the edges of the paper and softly brushed it toward the lighter  centre to blend, trying to give a sort of misty atmosphere. Then I dabbed with my kneaded eraser to give some faint leafy highlights, and softened again with a soft brush (click to enlarge).

 

Ahh! Starting to look better! I was SO relieved! I really feared I might have ruined it and would have to throw it in the bin!

 

raven drawing - work in progress

Now that I knew it wouldn’t end up in the garbage, I took the time to finish the foot using a 9H to scratch in the highlights and an HB for the darker areas.
Once the foot was done, I used my clickable thin vinyl eraser to pull out highlights on the trees in the back and added more “leaves” with the kneaded eraser. Also signed it under the main branch, then put it aside for a day to look at it … and decided I still wasn’t thrilled with it (click to enlarge).

 

I wanted it to have more drama, so I added more graphite powder, building up the darks bit by bit and redoing highlights and leaves with my erasers until finally, finally, I was satisfied (click to enlarge).

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At long last I was happy with my results and, as seems to be usual for me, I learned a lot during my process. I hope others can learn from my process too 🙂

2 comments to Night’s Breath – The Progress

  • Rosie

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your journey through this drawing. The bird now looks great in his environment. Very spooky! I know I always have a huge stress over backgrounds (also those feathers) but I will try some of your techniques, like the scratched in lines and pencil over. All I need now are some good photos and i’ll try using harder pencils alongside my soft ones for more contrast. Thankyou again!

    • Thanks so much, Rosie…I hope it’s been helpful for you. I found it was a real game changer for me once I started using the harder pencils to indent. I look forward to seeing your work in future! 🙂