You’re in the middle of drawing a pencil portrait, confidently filling out the shadows and adding detail when… BAM. Your own hand betrays you, and a giant smudge mark appears. Many of us have been there; I know that I have. With a medium like pencil, it is incredibly easy to smudge a drawing, both while you’re working on it and after you’re finished. So you want to know how to prevent pencil smudges in your pencil portrait – or any pencil drawing for that matter? The following are techniques that I use to prevent pencil smudges in my own artwork.
How To Prevent Pencil Smudges – Technique 1: Keep your hand away from the drawing itself.
Most importantly, whenever possible, work from left to right across your paper – if you’re right-handed, that is. For you lefties out there, just do the opposite and work from right to left. You want your hand to be as far from the bulk of your drawing as possible. The base of the palm of the hand that you use to draw and the side of that hand along your pinky finger are your smudging arch-nemeses. These are the areas that most often are used to steady your pencil as you draw, so they end up resting on your paper.
As the drawing progresses this becomes more and more of a problem because the graphite of your pencil is not permanently attached to your drawing paper, meaning that when you rest your hand on the drawing without thinking to steady yourself, you will come away with a thin film of graphite residue in the mirror image of whatever you are drawing. If you catch this slip right away, just wash your hands thoroughly with soap making sure to remove the pencil markings, dry your hands completely, and then continue with your drawing.
If you don’t realize what happened right off the bat, soon you will see a faint copy of your drawing in the next place where you happen to set down your hand. Either that or you might forget that your hand is resting on the pencil drawing, slide your hand slightly to get a different angle with your pencil, and then end up with a pencil “skid mark.” Not ideal. Moral of the story: NEVER set your hand down on top of your pencil portrait. If you catch yourself with it down, pick it up cleanly without sliding it and wash your hands well. Always make sure that you that have a great eraser handy.
How To Prevent Pencil Smudges – Technique 2: Use a protective sheet of paper.
If you’re like me and you can’t help resting your hand to steady your pencil, there is still hope. All you need is a clean sheet of paper (regular printer/copy paper works great, and it’s cheaper than drawing paper too). Place this sheet of paper carefully on top of your pencil drawing next to the area that you plan to work on. Now you can feel free to rest your hand to your heart’s content with this layer of protection between you and your pencil portrait.
A word of warning: The no sliding rule still applies. Hands are not the only things that can leave skid marks, so, when moving your protective sheet of paper, be sure to lift if cleanly up from the drawing and place it back down gently in the new area. Also make sure that you check the back of the paper from time to time. Since small amounts of graphite particles can stick to the paper as well, you may need to replace it with a fresh sheet periodically.
Bonus: Since I draw pencil portraits from photos, I use a printout of the image that I’m drawing as my protective sheet. This way, I keep my pencil portrait smudge-free, and I can refer to the printout as needed for details in the drawing. It’s a win-win situation.
How To Prevent Pencil Smudges – Technique 3: Apply fixative* when the drawing is complete.
If you have completed your pencil portrait and worry about post-completion smudges, you may want to apply a fixative – a spray that provides a non-removable (so test it on a sample drawing first!), colorless, and completely transparent finish to your drawing. The fixative sets the graphite and helps to seal it, limiting the amount of residual graphite particles.
There are many different brands of fixative, which you can find at your local art supply stores or online, so test out a few until you find one that works for you. Never spray fixative on a masterpiece until you’re tried it on a sample drawing (in the same medium on the same type of paper) first – the spray won’t come off after it goes on, and you need to know how much to apply, whether the brand will discolor the paper that you’re using, etc.
*Note: Fixative is not always necessary and can alter the final look of your portrait, so consider before use. If you are going to mat and frame the drawing right away, it may not be needed.
There you have it – a smudge-free pencil portrait is only moments away when you follow these simple rules. My last advice: Always remember to be on the lookout for little smudges before they grow, keep a good eraser handy, and check your hands periodically for signs of graphite; your pencil drawing will only be as clean as your hands.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thecampbells/