Bill Higginson: Drawing with Dry Media
Australian born, Bill Higginson is an artist who has ventured through many mediums to acquire the skills and ability to evolve his highly detailed art. At a young age Bill found himself a survivor of cancer, something that changed his point of view on life forever. He knew life was fleeting and that he had to pursue his passion. In this pursuit, he has developed specific techniques that can be applied to numerous mediums and in a variety of styles.
From inside Bill’s imaginative studio, watch as he demonstrates how he draws stunning mountain landscapes in 3 different mediums. Learn his approachable techniques for drawing scenic objects in Graphite, Coloured Pencil and Pastels and walk away with tips that will help elevate your art, no matter your subject or style.
Watch Drawing with Dry Media above or read the full exclusive article below for more details on how Bill approaches graphite, coloured pencil and pastels.
Interested in some of the products Bill uses?
Derwent Graphic Pencils
Strathmore Bristol 400 Pads
Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser
General’s Kneadable Rubber Eraser
Prismacolour Coloured Pencils
Mungyo Soft Pastels
Gioconda Pastel Pencils
Strathmore Pastel Paper
Krylon Workable Fixative
Drawing with Dry Media
Graphite is Bill’s favourite medium to work with. Because of this, he has developed specific techniques to help extend the medium beyond what may be initially thought achievable. To begin with, tape and mount the paper to either a drawing board or table easel. Choose a reference photo and have this in visible sight. A reference photo is recommended because the general shapes and textures will aid in drawing a life like scene.
Layout a good range of graphite pencils so there is a variety of weights to draw with (2H, H, 2B). Bill prefers to use Derwent Graphic Pencils because of they are high quality and the set of 12 offers a good range of pencils for beginners to get familiar with. Using a smoother paper like Strathmore Bristol 400 Smooth will make blending easier as the paper has less tooth to hold the graphite with.
The first step in creating a landscape is to begin with laying out the sky. Take a graphite pencil (2B or 3B) and gently sand the graphite onto a piece of sandpaper. Take a small soft cloth and dip it into the powered graphite that is on the sandpaper. This soft cloth will lay down a light tone of graphite which is nice and light for a clear sky. Gently spread it across the area of the page, working from top to bottom and using a back and forth motion. Continue until the tones have blended together with the cloth.
To create soft and fluffy clouds, Bill uses a Kneadable Rubber Eraser to remove the graphite in the sky, using the whites of the paper as his clouds. When working with graphite is a good idea to keep in mind that you will be erasing the brightest whites into the image. Look for areas of the sky where the blend is a bit rougher and apply the clouds to these areas to hide the blend of the sky.
Begin by drawing the general shape outline of the top of the mountain and the rock formations with a 2B. In using a pencil, the angle in which it is held gives access to points and surfaces of the pencil. For bigger areas use the flat of the pencil and for smaller areas, use the tip of the pencil. Continue until all the major rock formations are drawn to where the mountain touches the ground.
A Blending Stump is used to soften the edges of the rocks and to create the mountains shadow in the snow. Apply ample pressure when blending with the side of the stump and for the detailed areas (like the ripples in the snow) use the tip of the stump. The tip of the blending stump can also be used to define and create new lines with the graphite already on the paper.
Finally use the Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser to create sharp highlights along the edges of the mountain. Use the stump to further blend these edges to remove the sharp lines between the graphite and erased area.
Lightly shade in the trees into the background of the landscape, not focusing on any particular tree. By doing this, the grain of the paper will pick up the graphite and leave small white speckles, which will look like snowy trees in the background. Switch to a darker pencil (like a 4B) when moving into the foreground trees. This darker tone will separate the trees from the background, creating more detail. The 4B is a mid-tone pencil, so by switching to an 8B the depth of the trees will be pushed back. Working from top to bottom in an 8B will also create the shadows at the base of the trees.
Tip:“In drawing I like to use a golfing analogy to explain the different weights of pencil. A golfer has a full set of clubs, but technically they can get around the course with a 7 iron. It’s very much the same thing for a graphite artist. I have a full set of pencils but I can easily get around the course with one pencil, I just have to change the amount of pressure I apply. It is a lot easier to change the grade of your pencil then it is to constantly apply different pressure, so use the advances available to you and learn the range of your pencils.” – Bill Higginson
There are two techniques for drawing the snow in the trees. The first is similar to the highlights of snow in the mountains rock face. Erase to reveal the whites of the paper for the snow using either a Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser, or to speed up time use an Electric Eraser.
The second technique requires a Stylus, which can be found in the sculpting section at Opus. This tool is used to etch and scar the paper, and by drawing with the stylus, the whites of the trees (branches, trunk, stump, etc) can be etched into the page. Draw over these etched areas with graphite to reveal the inner white untouched by the graphite. This technique gives you more line control then the eraser would. However, this is a permanent technique because once the tooth is etched in it will not pick up graphite.
Snow on the ground can be drawn using the same technique as the sky. Seeing as ground tends to be rocky, you can apply this layer in a rougher way then the sky. The stump can be used to further shade and define the graphite, similar as an eraser can be used to create the white highlights.
With the graphite for the snow on the ground laid out, use the blending stump to draw out the edges of the riverbed. The plastic eraser can be used to erase in the highlights you want to keep in the drawing.
Once ready to move into the water, turn the artwork on its side. Place a small piece of glass where the river meets the mountain and look into the glass. You will notice the reflection of the items you wish to draw on the glass, so simply mimic what you see in the glass into the water. This technique is amazing for realistic reflections as it is already distorted and flipped by the glass.
Use a clean edge of the plastic eraser (an X-Acto Knife can cut off the dirty edges) and gently pull the eraser down to create the illusion of reflective water. Turn the eraser to a clean side again and horizontally erase the ripples in the water. Balancing these two techniques will achieve realistic and glass like water.
The techniques for coloured pencil are similar to graphite pencil in that great detail can be achieved. However, now our minds need to shift from working in a monochromatic colour palette to the full colour spectrum. Working with coloured pencil (Prismacolour Coloured Pencils in this case) is an easy step into colour when coming from a graphite background. This is because most of the techniques in graphite can cross mediums and be applied to coloured pencil.
The main differences between the two mediums is now erasing is not an option for creating whites and removing mistakes. This means the tone of paper used is essential as it is the main white of the drawing. Just like any work of art, planning and a reference photo are essential when working in coloured pencil to help eliminate the chance of making a now non erasable mistake.
The first difference is the sky and clouds are done at the same time. In coloured pencil, the white of the page become the brightest whites in the drawing so the clouds need to be left out and the sky coloured around them. Bill suggests using white coloured pencil only to blend colours and soften edges within the drawing because it will not apply a bright white tone over top of another colour.
Drawing the mountains in coloured pencil is the opposite to how it is done in graphite. Instead of erasing the highlights and snow to create the shadows within the mountain, the shadows are now drawn in around the areas of snow. This darker tone will contrast with the whites of the page (the snow on the mountains) and helps in balancing the other colours within the rocks of the mountain.
The trees in the background can be drawn in the exact same way as in graphite. Using the tooth of the paper, shade in the trees and use the exposed bits of paper to divide the trees and to act as the snow. Again, the stylus can be used to etch in the highlights of the the tree branches and trunk. See the next step for techniques on how to draw the snow on the trees in the foreground.
Seeing as the eraser cannot be used to create snow, the stylus becomes a great tool for randomly etching the trees in the foreground. These etched in marks will become the snow on the trees once the tree is drawn over top of them. This technique eliminates the need to draw each bit of snow individually and can be used throughout the coloured pencil drawing.
Pastel is the closest medium to paint out of the three demonstrated by Bill. Now we move from detail oriented mediums to a more looser approach. The workstation is set up in the same way as before, yet Bill suggests laying a piece of newspaper below the drawing to catch the pastel dust that falls as it is used. The paper should also be switched to one that is made for pastels, like Strathmore Pastel Paper.
Mungyo Soft Pastels will be used for most of the drawing seeing as it covers a large area and the colours available blend together beautifully. Gioconda Pastel Pencils can be used for fine details and are a great option for those artists who wish to translate techniques used in both graphite and coloured pencil to their pastel drawings.
The begin, simply start blending the colours of the sky right on the page. Use the longer side of the pastel to cover larger areas and really work that pastel into the tooth of the paper. Different hues of blue can be mixed together with your fingers or with the white pastel. This now almost becomes like mixing paint on a palette. Bill uses his fingers a lot when using pastel to blend, move and shape the pigments on the page.
Fluffy clouds can be applied overtop of the pastel used for the sky. In a circular motion, gently draw in the clouds with the tips of the pastel. Over time the tooth of the paper will become full and the clouds will stop staying on the paper. This is when Krylon Workable Fixative comes in handy as it can be sprayed overtop of the areas that the clouds should be. Once dried, the workable fixative creates a new surface for the pastel to be drawn on and allows for bright white clouds.
The use of warm and cool tones are used to achieve sunlit mountains in a scene. These two tones divide the sides of the mountains that are lit or in shadow. On each edge of the mountain, consider the direction the main light source is coming from and place a warm (yellow) tone on the side facing the light source. Soften the warm tone with white and then apply a cool tone (light blue) on the opposite side of the yellow. Soften the blue with white once more and where the two colours meet, place a darker blue along the edges to create contrast, depth and shadows.
Place a darker tone of green in the areas for the trees, ensuring that the area is properly filled with pastel. With the corners of the pastel, lift up to create nice thin lines for the peaks of the trees. Switch to a darker toned Gioconda Pastel Pencil and begin playing with the details in the tree. The base colour laid out before now acts as the greenery of the trees and the Gioconda creates the shadows and overall outline of the trees.
Drawing snow is much simpler in pastels as the white pastel can be used over top of the other colours. Apply soft snow patches within the trees with the edge of the pastel stick and use the Gioconda pastels to define and make the snow pop. The snow on the ground should be blending with colours that represent the shadows of the scenery and should be built up the same way as in the sky.
Sketch of the shape of the river bed with Gioconda and at the top of the river bed (where the water meets the trees/mountains) place horizontal lines of the same hues found directly above the water. Generously work these colours down the water, ensuring that it is the same size of the reflected scenery above. Place small ripples of water with a white pastel where needed. Now at the top of the river bed where the pastel was first put down, using your finger to pull down on the pastels to fill up the water bed. This pulling down motion gives the illusion of reflective water and is a good technique to consider in other works with water.
For more of Bill’s artwork visit his website at www.higginsongallery.com.au