Tuesday, January 4, 2022

DIY Avatar


12/22/21 Polychromos and Prismacolor on Strathmore Bristol Smooth 

If you’re on Facebook, you know there’s an app that will enable you to design an avatar for yourself by the Mr. Potato Head method: You start with a generic, genderless template, then pick eyes, nose, mouth, hair color, body shape, etc. as desired. During a bored moment, I tried it, but I didn’t like the result. After wasting 10 minutes of my life on that, I struck myself upside the head and said, What am I doing? I don’t need no stinkin’ Facebook app . . . I can draw this avatar myself!

From there, the process was more interesting than I expected. First I studied the avatar that Facebook had generated for me (below) as well as those of my friends. I started recalling things I’d learned in Taylor Dow’s Observational Cartooning workshop about how cartoon characters are developed. Some cartoonists design a whole cast of characters based on a template they create with minor changes in features. I started to see how Facebook’s app was doing something similar.

The avatar I made with Facebook's app

As a basis to work from, I used the photo of my face that has been my Facebook profile image for a while now. I made a quick sketch based on the “Hi!” avatar image shown above. (So the 10 minutes I thought I had wasted weren’t a waste after all.) Then came the fun part: Colored pencils!

Rough sketch

But which pencils and which paper? I gave that some thought, too. To emulate the flat, digital look of the Facebook avatar style, I chose my smoothest drawing paper – Strathmore Bristol Smooth. With that choice made, I knew that Faber-Castell Polychromos would pair well with it to give me the untextured look I wanted.

For the initial contour line, I used a Blackwing non-photo blue pencil. Then I completed most of the drawing with Polychromos. When I thought I was done, the white hair washed out with a white paper background, so I realized some background color was needed – the purple starburst.

As I was coloring the starburst, I thought about the drawing method I had mentioned in my recent review of the Blackwing extra-soft core graphite pencil: It’s easier to achieve a smoother, more consistent result if I start with a harder grade and step up gradually to the softest grade (explained in more detail here). Although I use various degrees of hardness and softness in colored pencils for specific reasons or effects, I don’t usually think of layering based on the graphite method just described. By that point, I had applied a solid base of several layers of hard Polychromos to the smooth paper. I pulled out a soft Prismacolor in a similar hue and applied it over the Polychromos. Although I often mix pencil brands, I’m not sure I’ve ever applied Prismacolor over Polychromos for this smooth, flat result. They are an effective pairing: Hard, oil-based Polychromos covers as much of the paper’s minimal tooth as possible, and soft, wax-based Prismacolor spreads pigment quickly and efficiently without having to be concerned about paper coverage. I’ve heard some artists say that applying oil-based pencils over wax-based can be troublesome, but vice versa gave me no trouble at all.

So this silly, rainy-day drawing turned into a useful technical exercise for learning more about colored pencils.


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