I am going to let you in on a secret: the idea that a decent artist needs an array of expensive tools to create a masterpiece is a myth. Follow my step-by-step guide to a technique I like to call ‘art laid bare’ and see for yourself!

WARNING: This process may elicit feelings of panic until you see the end result…

Tools required: 

  1. 1 HB pencil
  2. 1 piece of paper (I opted for cartridge paper as it tends to retain the graphite well).


Step One

Marlon Brando outline

Marlon Brando outline (I blocked in some of the shadow too)

  • Once you have selected the portrait that you want to draw, roughly map out the body positioning but don’t fill anything in yet. If you make a mistake do not, I repeat DO NOT reach for a rubber. This is the first stage of the ‘art laid bare’ process.
  • It is important because it forces you to trust your artistic instincts and time is not wasted by shaping and re-shaping and re-shaping your drawing before it even has facial features. This is where the HB pencil comes in handy because it keeps the lines light so that any mistakes you have made are not glaringly obvious.
  • I also like how this technique prevents you from creating a complete replica of the subject of your drawing. I copied my Marlon Brando drawing from a photograph but it has become a pencil interpretation of the picture rather than an imitation. Don’t worry if the picture is looking a little bare at the moment, we will fill it in gradually.


Step Two

Marlon with his facial features lightly sketched out.

Marlon with his facial features lightly sketched out.

  • Now you can add the facial features, it doesn’t matter if these are not in exactly the same position as the photograph – chances are, your initial mapping out in step one is not exactly the same as the photograph either. As long as the facial features are in proportion you should be absolutely fine.
  • Creating a likeness in a drawing is less about copying the precise positioning of the eyes, nose and mouth and more about capturing an expression and a mood.

Step Three

  • This is where it gets a little trickier with an HB pencil (still doable though). Think about where the light is hitting your subject and focus on filling in any areas of shadow. This is where you can start to try to capture the expression of your subject – I concentrated in particular on Marlon Brando’s eyes and eyebrows.
  • If you are experiencing rubber withdrawal, remember that you can always re-shape areas of your drawing slightly by going over the lighter outlines with your pencil. Art is malleable and can constantly be re-formed. Doing this with a rubber completely erases what was initially on the paper,
    Marlon with his face and hand fully shaded.

    Marlon with his face and hand fully shaded.

    however by keeping these original outlines, you are building multiple forms onto your paper, creating something with more life.

Final Steps

The finished product. Adding in details like t-shirt creases are time-consuming but worthwhile if you want the portrait to look realistic.

The finished product. Adding in details like t-shirt creases are time-consuming but worthwhile if you want the portrait to look realistic.

  • This is my favourite part. You have free rein over your drawing so continue with the shading however you see fit! As long as you think you have managed to capture the expression of the subject and you can see a likeness then this is where you can really put your own mark on your drawing.
  • I wanted to bring out the intensity of the facial expression and also capture some of the mood of A Streetcar Named Desire (I was drawing from a photograph of Marlon as Stanley Kowalski in the 1951 film adaptation of the play) so I added plenty of shadow to the picture. Light and dark is one of the play’s central themes so I had fun playing around with the contrasts.

Well that’s it from me, best of luck with your stripped back drawings! Do let me know if you are having any difficulty following my guidelines. I’d also love to hear from you if the art-laid-bare technique worked for you and if you would use it again.

Natalie 🙂

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