How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal
Black beauty The veteran animation artist shares his techniques for drawing with charcoals, and presents a selection of his impressive artwork
Animation artist Nathan Fowkes shares his techniques for drawing with charcoals.
As well as being a concept artist for the animation industry, working for the likes of DreamWorks, Disney and Blue Sky, Nathan Fowkes is also an art teacher who’s won the hearts of the wider art community through his blog, where he posts a lot of his work. He draws on all these varied experiences in this guide to charcoal portraiture.
The book contains some fine advice, beautiful art and plenty of original touches
This book is not so much a linear ‘how to’ guide to charcoal drawing as a broad overview, outlining the basic principles and concepts you need to understand in order to master the discipline, documenting the author’s own processes, and adding lots of tips and insight along the way.
Nathan begins with an exploration of some suggested materials and how to use them, via walkthroughs that outline his own processes. The next section is based on four major roadblocks he’s observed in his students. Inspired by this, he sets four challenges based on these concepts of practice, time limits, value limitations and perception, to get these obstacles out of the way from the get-go.
Nathan then outlines what he sees as the fundamental building blocks of charcoal portraiture, namely structure, clarity with artistry, the values of light and shadow, the design of edges and composition. There’s also a chapter on common mistakes.
The final 70 pages of the 182-page book is more or less a gallery of drawings. Though Nathan’ work is stunning, this feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, taking up space that could have been given to some formal exercises, or step-by-step tuition. The book’s blurb promises “in-depth tutorials and valuable exercises”. In truth, it doesn’t deliver on this.
Overall, How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal contains some fine advice, beautiful drawings and plenty of original and welcome touches that pass on the benefits of Nathan’s classroom experience. But on the whole, it feels a little unfocused.
To conclude, if you’re looking for a formal study guide or reference work, then you may be disappointed. But if you’re seeking to supplement existing knowledge and be inspired by a leading expert in charcoal drawing, then this book is still packed with impressive art and useful advice.
On the left, Nathan demonstrates the misinterpretation of light; on the right, he corrects the image.
Here, Nathan explains how to give a good head of hair a tangible, three-dimensional structure.