Hot! How to Draw with David Nestler-Lesson 11


Since last issue’s lesson on composition, we’ve begun to stray from the original flavor of this series, which has been to focus on drawing techniques. But the completion of a great sketch isn’t always how well you draw eyes or your technique. There are plenty of other ways to enhance your drawing or painting that have nothing to do with the size of your pencil. But this isn’t about Viagra, it’s about “contrast,” and not just the dark/light thing. Contrast can be used to isolate and enhance, as well as detract. Planned out prior to execution, contrast can be used to optically steer a viewer’s eye towards a certain part of a drawing… or even away from it. “Isolation.” ”Monochromatic Tone.” These are just a couple terms we’ll explore in upcoming issues. Oh, and don’t bother looking these terms up in your art instruction books. I’m making them up as I go along. Makes me sound smarter. But I will explain what I mean.

For now, let’s look at the dark/light benefits of contrast. There’s nothing wrong with a nice soft sketch. Take a look at Fig. 1 & 2. Simple, soft, very nice. Not a whole lot of punch to it, though. Now take a look at Fig. 3 & 4. Stark, crisp. Definitely a lot more dramatic than the previous two. And it’s nothing more than making your darks darker, and your lights lighter that gives you that drama. That’s contrast. It’s just a smaller range of tones.

Now, who’s to say this is appropriate every time? It’s not. Contrast is just another tool. If my photo reference depicts a girl with light-brown hair wearing a tan shirt laying in the sand, there is no contrast. And my drawing probably would not benefit by adding any. But if my photo reference is of some punk rock/goth/raver chick with coal-black hair and skin the color of 2% milk… you get the idea.

Remember, there are lots of tools and techniques available. It’s great to know them, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them. You pick and choose, when to use a certain tool or technique. But the bigger your arsenal, the better your options. And the better the execution.

Now, let’s take a look at a more extreme use of contrast. In Fig. 5, Robyn’s got great eyes and lips, and that’s what I want you to see. So I’ve eliminated almost all mid-tones and really boosted the lights and darks to the point where it’s almost solid black and white. A little dramatic, but still makes for a dynamic piece, when completed. And all I did was boost the contrast.

Planning out a piece is as important as drawing it. Dissecting your photo reference allows you to pick and choose your tools and techniques, as it applies to your reference. It’s all about what to focus on and what’s most important.

Contact Dave at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *