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Skin Texture in Graphite: A Tutorial

Wed Mar 1, 2017, 12:00 PM by J-Cody:iconj-cody:

Community Week

Hello! I'm Jessica and I love people. More importantly, I love faces! They are so fun to draw and paint. Expressions and all those little nuances that go along with it can really bring a piece to life. This tutorial will focus on skin texture in graphite pencils. A good portion of the tips in here can also be used for charcoals.

All of this is based on my personal experiences and isn't the only way to create skin texture. It is just what works for me. I'm basing this tutorial assuming the knowledge of light sources and anatomy are already figured in. Enjoy!

Tools That I Use

  • Paper -It's what we build our foundation upon. Make sure it isn't made of sand
    • Depending on how you want the outcome to look, the quality of the paper matters. Different weights and types will give you different outcomes. Personally, I love using Strathmore Bristol for all my graphite portraits because it is heavier which means I can work it a bit more and it is also comes in smooth which allows me to have a smooth gradient of graphite. Since the tooth is minimal, there are no ridges or bumps in the graphite shading unless I want there to be.
  • Pencils -Finding the range that works for you
    • Depending on how you want to shade your work, you'll need a range of pencils. I use Faber-Castell graphite pencils ranging from 6H to 8B. I recently purchased the 9000 series, but I used studio pencils for a majority of what is in my gallery and they work well.
    • The higher number in the H, the harder and lighter it is on paper. I use a 6H for sketching because when I go over it with my Bs, the line will disappear. Watch out for pressing too hard on the paper especially with these pencils because they will leave lines even after you've shaded over them. For the first layer of skin, I apply a light layer of 4H
    • The higher number in the B, the softer and darker it is on paper. It is also easier to smudge around. Use a scrap piece of paper under your hand to prevent unintentional smudging.
  • Erasers  -You are going to need one or several
    • One of my favorite erasers is the dust free eraser from Faber-Castell. It picks up graphite well and the 'dust' clumps together in large sections so there isn't any actual eraser dust. This is great for removing large sections of graphite.
    • Kneaded erasers are fantastic because you can bend them to your will. I use kneaded erasers when I start to add texture to the skin. Most of my kneaded erasers are dedicated to my charcoals now because I fell in love with the eraser below
    • Tombow Mono Zero eraser. An art friend of mine recommended this eraser to me. Its a mechanical eraser that is very thin. Perfect for details. You can always cut an eraser to a point and get the same effect. I just prefer the mechanical because I'm lazy.
  • Blending stub (Tortillion)/Q-tip -Blend....and blend....and blend some more
    • Blending stubs come in different sizes, but I generally use the smallest for the details and texture in skin. Anything above small details will get a Q-tip, chamois/paper towel. There has been a few instances where I've pressed a little hard with a tortillion and created a dip in the paper. Thankfully it all worked out as "added texture" to the skin. :WINK WINK: Unintentional issue is now a bonus.
  • Chasmois/Paper towel -It rubs the paper on the skin or else it gets the hose again
    • A chamois is perfect for picking up a little graphite and spreading it smoothly around. Great for portraits of children because of how soft and silky their skin is. I often use a paper towel for large sections where I don't feel like using a Q-tip. I've used cheap paper towels and name brand paper towels. You can blend with both, but I prefer softer paper towels. I've even used a Kleenex.
  • Sharpener -Points are a plus
    • Make sure you have one that sharpens really well. If the wood of your pencils is suddenly flaking when you try and sharpen your pencil, you may need to replace it. Since most sharpeners are cheap, don't worry about replacing the blade, just get a new one. Other sharpeners have replaceable blades.
  • Little Extras
    • White gel pen or white acrylic pen for when you need that super white but no matter how hard you try, you can't erase enough to get it the original white. When drawing your line art, it is always a good idea to notate where your ultra whites are so you can avoid shading over those areas, however, sometimes this doesn't work out and life happens. Always have a backup plan aka gel pen/acrylic pen. 

Different Skin Textures

Because the longer you live, the more wear and tear you have on your skin.

Babies and children are typically have a very smooth texture. Almost butter smooth. Adolescences and adults have more laugh lines, visible individual pores, cracks, and creases. Elderly have a good deal more of these.

Since the area around an eye can be a hot bed of texture, we'll focus there. Once you get the basics on how to apply the texture, you can texturize all over in varying degrees. 

When using a reference while working in graphite, I always change it to a black and white so I focus on the tones and textures instead of the colors. You can also play with the contrast and brightness to get the desired affect.

As always, I start with my lineart.

Building The Foundation

1 by J-Cody 2 by J-Cody
3 by J-Cody

The first picture is a graphite foundation in 4H. Some people draw little circles, some hatch, some bypass and go straight to a softer lead, and some people use a brush with graphite powder. I laid down a 4H hatched layer all around which I blended with a Q-tip and a chamois. The next picture is a blended layer of 2B in the shadows. Generally, I prefer to work from left to right in small sections (I'm left handed) from start to finish in each section, but that is not necessary. Its just a quirk I have. Once I have a solid foundation down, I can start to think about textures. In the 3rd picture, I hatched 4B into the shadows to give the drawing enough tone to begin the textures.

Marking It Up

After getting the basic shading with a consistent light source down pat, it is time to start to texturize. I get a bit leery of this stage because it goes from smoothly blended to "what are you doing?" The reason why I'm reluctant in this stage is because at the beginning of the texture, it doesn't look like much and seems a bit hopeless. Have faith though! If you don't quit, you'll succeed....sooner or later. Just keep working it.

5 by J-Cody

I started with a 2B for the marks because it can be sharpened to a fine point and it's easily blended. When marking the skin, it is helpful to remember the shape of the flesh and bone beneath it because that will dictate your marking pattern. When using a reference, it is a bit easier because the direction of the skin creases is already there to see. Since the eye I'm drawing has a reference, I use the deepest winkles and creases as points of references to base the rest of my marks from so I get a more detailed and realistic outcome. 

7 by J-Cody

I continued marking and blending with a 3/16 blending stub until the section I was working on is on par with texture marks and directions of the reference. In the picture above, I used a 4B graphite pencil to darken the marks. It looks pretty messed up still, but you can start to see how I'm building the drawing layer by layer.

11 by J-Cody

When lines aren't really lines. I consider it like a feathered look and a bit raggedy at that. At this point, I start blending in circular motions over the feathered winkles and marks. I'll continue using a circular blending motion for the rest of the skin in each layer.

News flash! Erasers Aren't Just For Fixing Mistakes

They can be used for drawing too! I use an eraser almost as much as I use a pencil. They are great for lifting graphite to create texture. Depending on the subject, I even prefer pulling up graphite instead of laying down graphite for the shading. An important item to remember when lifting graphite to be consistent with the light source.

13 by J-Cody

Here I start lifting graphite with a kneaded eraser and my tombow zero eraser.

18 by J-Cody

After lifting some graphite from the highlights, its time to shade individual creases. Although I had a reference, I went with the flow on this piece and only used the reference as a guideline.

19 by J-Cody

Above I blended the shadows down and lifted for more highlights.

20 by J-Cody

I kept going until I felt the entire skin tone had balance to it and the shading was consistent with the light source.

The finished product

To be honest, I almost quit half way through. My household came down with multiple cases of sickness multiple times and I'm still fighting off something even now, but I pushed through to the end and I'm almost happy with the results. :)

Working Man's Eye by J-Cody

What I took away from this was better than a finished eye. It was realizing as long as I don't quit, I'll succeed. Evenually.

I hope this has been of some use to you and if you decide to use my tutorial, I'd love to see how yours turns out so please share!

Add a Comment:
GregoNZ Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2017  Hobbyist
Really awesome tips, is interesting with your blending methods. I have learnt a lot :) 
J-Cody Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2017   Traditional Artist
I'm glad I could be of some help. There is still a lot to learn and perfect, but I'm working on it. :)
model88 Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Well done! Dare I ask how long this took (and I know it is different for everyone but I want to know about how much undistirbed time I should set aside)
J-Cody Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2017   Traditional Artist
Thank you. The drawing took an hour and forty five minutes, but the size is 5x7 so its isn't that big. I wasn't able to complete it in one sitting because I draw in my free time which is often spaced out quite a bit.
model88 Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! That is helpful and encouraging. 
J-Cody Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2017   Traditional Artist
My pleasure. :)
Drawshmellow Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is just epic
J-Cody Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2017   Traditional Artist
I hope it helps in some way.
Add a Comment:

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