How to Draw Photorealistic Art

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The drawing pencil is an often over-looked art tool. Typically reserved for quick sketches or practice, the power of the pencil and drawing can be startling. Easy and fun to work with, the pencil has versatility, mobility and expression. With subtle effects, deep shadows and fine detail, the pencil is able to create drawings that are nearly photo-realistic. As with all tools, the pencil is only as good as the artist wielding it. But with careful practice and observation, it is possible to create stunning works of art with little more than a few pencils and a sheet of paper.

  • Our brains are designed to memorize symbols in order for us to communicate and perceive our world, so it's best to think in patterns of shapes not symbols. When a new artist tries to draw an object, their brain will attempt to use the symbol for that object. The reason that most children's drawings look so similar is because of these symbols, something that many adults never grow out of.

  • Perceive what you see. Develop the ability to look at an object and observe the fine details. Isolate small parts of it and observe the simple shapes that make up an object. Very complex subjects can be captured with perfect detail if each basic shape is tackled one at a time.

  • Practice contour drawing to develop the connection between your hand and your eye. A contour drawing is done by drawing an object without lifting the pencil from the paper until the drawing is complete. Let your eyes trace the lines of your subject, allowing your pencil to follow along. Contour drawing can also be done without taking your eyes of the subject, which develops a very strong connection between your eyes and your hand.

  • Learn penciling techniques. To be able to create a photorealistic drawing you need to have complete control over your pencil. There are several pencil techniques that create different effects on paper. Experiment with different marks to see how they can create different textures on the page.

  • Develop effective smudging technique. Tools such as a paper stump or a tortillion will help smooth out pencil marks and create different shades on the page. Use smudging sparingly, as over usage can make a drawing look amateurish. The result should be subtle.

  • Use the eraser as a drawing tool. The eraser can do much more than just remove mistakes; it can lighten areas and create effective bright highlights, such as light playing over hair.

  • Work with values such as light, color, texture and size, instead of lines. Objects in real life rarely have lines that define their shape. If you use lines as a guide in the beginning, be sure to blend them into the drawing by sinking them into a darker shade or erasing them completely.

Tips & Warnings

  • Practice observing and sketching everything you see. It takes time to develop the coordination between your hand and your eye to be able to create photo-realistic drawings.

References

  • "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain": Betty Edwards: 1989
  • "Secrets to Realistic Drawing": Carrie Stuart Parks, et al.; 2006
  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images
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