One of my favorite hobbies used to be life drawing in pencil. Portraits were especially fun, as it's kind of cool to start from a blank piece of paper and slowly build up to an actual person that people can recognize.
When I was in high school, I did a number of pencil portrait commissions just for fun. Somebody would bring me a photograph. I'd use an overhead projector to blow it up to the size needed. After that was set up, I'd trace over the lines of the image on a piece of good-quality drawing paper. Then I'd spend the next couple days of free-time building up the darks and carefully blending them to the lights until the portrait took shape. I'd then deliver the portrait to the client, collect my $20, and go blow it on comic books.
This story would be so much cooler if I could inject a photo of one of my portraits here but, alas, I don't have any. You'll just have to trust me that I was pretty good at it.
Now, a lot of people... especially "artists" who have no idea what they're doing... look at a pencil portrait and say something like "Well that doesn't look so hard! All they did was trace a photo! I could do that!" And they're not entirely wrong. Most times, it is tracing.
At the start.
But what distinguishes a crappy pencil portrait from a great pencil portrait is what you do with that tracing. It's how you choose to define your lights so that the darks can pop. It's how you choose to define your darks so that the lights can shine. And it's how much you allow the shades of gray to mingle in-between.
It's all about definition.
I've seen many a pencil portrait where somebody has blended too long, too hard, and ended up with a big mess of gray. Their portrait lacks contrast. It will look boring and flat no matter how perfectly rendered, because the necessary darks and lights which are needed to create definition and add excitement are missing.
There's something to be learned from that.
Entirely too many people are trying to drag us into a flat, boring world where nobody pops or shines and everything is reduced to a murky gray that lacks any definition and excitement. They want everybody to look the same, act the same, and feel the same. The exact same as they do, of course, and there's no room for anybody to be different. Or even tolerant of those who are different.
And what fun is that?
I want my world filled with as much definition... as much diversity... as possible.
Because one day the person trying to shine who is being dragged into the grey could be you.
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Great post, Dave. I like the analogies in this, related to pencil drawings, but also applied to other aspects of life.
This is why I like being remembered as a technicolor explosion of vomit! 😉
I can’t do a pencil drawing…