Nobody taught me how to draw. Not really. Not even formal art school training.
Fantasy drawings, including oodles of fairies floating about on butterfly wings, have littered my desks and bedroom floors since childhood days. Back then they were the mainstay of my fantasy artwork. I wish I’d saved all those early pencil drawings. What a gallery collection they would make.
These days drawing fairies serves as a preliminary step before I begin to paint in color.
To pin down my fantasy ideas, I draw with either a black or sepia pencil on paper (or the digital equivalent). I use no color while I draw. The mere act of sketching stimulates an avalanche of ideas and it isn’t long before I fill a stack of paper (or digital files) with scribbles.
As I sketch fairies, I roughly shade the forms to show the interplay of light and shadow. Many of these drawings never go much further. It might sound strange but I’ve never felt that this step in the creative process is a burden. It’s always a delight to mess about with a pencil and paper, and I can’t imagine a pastime more enjoyable.
And when you marry drawing with my favorite subject matter, fairies and fantasy creatures, you’ve got the perfect recipe for creative bliss. Well, my kind anyway.
The fairy sketch included above is such a preparatory tonal drawing.
Here the use of lines define the fairy’s mass and cross-hatching with a pencil models the form. It’s a good example of how I explore possibilities for future fairy paintings.
Cross hatching is a throwback from my early years when all I had for art materials was pencil & paper. Although a painstaking technique, hatching produces art with a delicious textural feel that is difficult to create with other methods.
Using a pencil, an artist always has the safety net of a trusty eraser. Made a big mistake? Just take a step back by erasing and then move on.
Not so when drawing with pen & ink; it allows no errors. Whatever mistakes happen cannot be erased. The artist must either repurpose those aberrant strokes or abandon the work entirely.
As a young man I had some enlightening experiences with such mess-ups. On several occasions after a drawing glitch, I abandoned sketches in despair. I didn’t throw them out, thank goodness, but instead shoved them into a draw. A year or so later I came across them again and suddenly saw new possibilities. Those weren’t messed up lines at all. They were a new, inspiring direction I could take.
Such is the world of art and creativity.
When planning a new painting, I focus first on the fairy’s body, dress, and wings. The background details come later. I find this the most efficient approach and use it exclusively. If I succeed in capturing the essence of the fairy I’m after, I’ll then use the sketch to take the idea further.
And when I do decide to move on to a painting, I’ll create many more drawings to block in the whole scene. Once I’ve got the rhythm of the work pinned down, I’ll continue refining the drawings. This is where I incorporate my earlier fairy drawing into the background sketch.
The final layout drawing is the result of many previous steps, each sketch working out a particular visual challenge. Some pin down the masses of the entire scene, some concentrate on defining just one particular area. I’ve been known to obsess over the fairy’s wings for days at time, redrawing them multiple times till everything is just right.
Here’s a list of things I might try to pin down as I sketch:
- Draw Fairies
- Forms – body, wings, dress, hair
- Clothing – shape, texture, patterns
- Hair – style, flow
- Draw Backgrounds
- Flora – nature, flowers , trees, leaves, grasses, bushes
- Landscapes – mountains, forests, fields, oceans, river, skies
- Miscellaneous – wands, sparkles, animals, creatures, people
- Color ideas as they occur
But in the end I’m left with one harmonious whole, the final drawing I’ll employ as an outline for the full color painting.
You can see more fantasy sketches in the gallery: Fairy Drawings