Video transcript
Art Bites - Portrait painting with Neil Tomkins and Digby Webster - 01. Start with a sketch

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NEIL TOMKINS: Hey, I'm Neil Tompkins. I'm a visual artist. I'm a painter. And I mostly focus on landscape, but I do like portraits, and still life, and things like this.

I have been painting for many years. And today, we're going to be going through some approaches to portrait painting. So yeah, I hope you enjoy it.

And I'm working here with my friend Digby. And Digby's also an artist. Say, hey, tell them a little bit about what you do, man.

DIGBY WEBSTER: Hi. My name is Digby Ernest Webster. And I've got Down syndrome, and I'm an artist. And I'm based in the West. And I draw some - and actually, I do to my own artwork at home in my own studio. And I'm very happy to be friends with Neil, because Neil for me is one of the true friends of my life.

NEIL TOMKINS: Hey, Digby. Cheers, man.

DIGBY WEBSTER: I love you very much. You're welcome. So, I just like meeting friends, new friends.

NEIL TOMKINS: Yeah, Digby and I, we started working together a little while ago.


NEIL TOMKINS: We're both individually painters ourselves and have our own practice, and paint every day, and do our own thing. But we started collaborating together a little while ago on a bunch of murals and - yeah, just taking a painting and upscaling it.

And then that sort of developed into - we started chatting about this idea of doing a portrait of each other for the Archibald. And then when we started painting the portrait for the Archibald - when it was finished, it very much seemed like it was a collaboration. And so, that was how it led to coming together as one piece and hanging in the show.

So, we're going to be working on some portrait painting today. And to begin with, we need to sketch. So, we start with our - the beginning stage would be working with, say, a pencil or something like this, some charcoal, charcoal stick. And to begin with - yeah, or the pastels to begin with.

And this gives a better example, with pencil and here with crayon oil stick. Yeah. And so yeah, you can say this one's coloured. This one's black and white with pencil. And it begins - this one here is the beginning to lead to this one here with colour.

And here's my example over here, this funky face here. So, you can see the pencil work here, like this one here underneath, and the colour over the top. So, we start with black and white with our materials. So, what do you want to work with, Digby? What do you think, man? Pencil or crayon?

DIGBY WEBSTER: Pencil or crayon, yeah.

NEIL TOMKINS: I'm going to give charcoal a go. So, we start off by drawing - generally I'll start in the middle of the page with a nose.


NEIL TOMKINS: And I'm going to do the nose like that.


NEIL TOMKINS: And you put a little, maybe a little - so, start with a nose. And I put a little mark there, like this bit here, just above the lips. And then, I'll put in a mouth.

And then, where do my eyes go? So, look like here. And sometimes it's good - what some people do is they'll just put some basic lines in, here and there. And that can be a good place to start.

And then we put our eyes in. Charcoal is fun. I like working with charcoal. So, there we go. We've kind of got the basis, there.

And then, once we get that basis in, then we need to make the shape of the head. And it can be any shape, really, because we're not working from a mirror or from someone next to us.

You can if you want. You can work from the person sitting next to you. Or if you have a mirror in the classroom, you could work on a self-portrait. So, that would be doing a portrait of you.

But anyway, then we move into the shape of the head. And I'm going to give it a big, round head, like that. And then there we go. Now it's starting to come together.

DIGBY WEBSTER: I will do the eyebrows. Then do the eyebrows kind of fuzzy, and -

[music playing]

DIGBY WEBSTER: So, the first thing I did, the eyebrows, the nose, the mouth, and the eyes, and the whole head. That's got that - stays.

NEIL TOMKINS: Great. And then, so, once we've got our shape in, we can start to put in details, and colour, and start to play around. So now, we've just laid down our basic shapes. We've gotten down all of the features - nose, eyes, mouth, shape of the head.

So, what I'm going to do is start to put in some details. And working with charcoal, it's a little bit different to working with crayon and pencil. Because see, you can see that when I start to touch it with my finger, it'll blend out, which might look like, oh no, I've smeared it. No, that's OK. We can use that and play with some shadow.

So, that's what I'm going to do now. And see, this line here, which I put in to get the shape, maybe we don't want that anymore. So, that's when we get our eraser out, and you can just erase that little bit there.

And you can do that pretty much with all of the bits that you don't want like that. And if we want to put in some - I'm going to put in some ears on mine. You like the ears, Digby?

DIGBY WEBSTER: That is sick.

NEIL TOMKINS: Woop. So there's some ears. And what do ears look like? Kind of like that.

DIGBY WEBSTER: That's cool.

NEIL TOMKINS: So, there's some ears. There we go. And we put in some more details. Just put in the line of the mouth there.

And maybe I want to change that nose a little bit so I can put in some eyebrows. So, now he's got - nose is open, and can put in that shape there.

So, a good thing you can do with charcoal, got some little sticks, here. Yeah. You can just grab it this way and rub it on the paper like this. See?

And instantly he's got blushing cheeks. You can rub it out a little bit and blend it, and it starts to come together. Maybe we put in the shadow.

So, what we're thinking about is, when you're doing a portrait, is where's the light? So if, for instance, on this picture, the light is coming from here.

So, this side of the face will be more shadowed than this side. So, it means we put more charcoal on this side, and then we rub it in a little bit if you want. What do you reckon, Digby?

DIGBY WEBSTER: I like it. It's cool.

NEIL TOMKINS: Yeah? Cool. Awesome. So then say there's a little bit that you're like, oh, this shadow doesn't go there. There's no mistakes with any art, really. There's not really any mistakes. I always think it's just layering.

So, I might look at a little bit here and go, oh, I'm going to rub that out or I'm going to give that bit there a bit of shape, maybe up there some shape, too. Rub it with the eraser, and look, we start to get these shapes coming back into it.

And here, look at this ear and go, that should be in the shadow. So I can just rub that in, like that. So, that's the good thing about charcoal.

But, I guess working with charcoal, it will always blend and spread. If you look at my hands, I've got charcoal on my hands now. So, if I touch my face, it's going to get on my face. And if I touch the paper too much, it's going to get on the paper.

So, I don't know if your teacher has some sealer, you can use some sealer. But otherwise, just be aware of that. And then when you work your next layers in with the paint or whatnot, some of the charcoal might disappear, or change, or move a little bit, and that's OK.

OK, so here's what we've been doing. And so, on my one here, I've just been adding in a little bit more shadow and rubbing it back and using the eraser to cut in again and bring out some of the lighter sections. And then I put in all the hair here, so he's got hair now, and some eyebrows, and some of those little details to bring my portrait character alive.

DIGBY WEBSTER: I just put two yellow eyes - two yellow colour in the eyes. I'm just now doing the, maybe, vibrant green teeth, at the moment. So, I've done one sample here. So, I might colour all the other ones in the same colour.

[music playing]

For his face, it has this feel of an artist like Salvador Dali - his head of a rhinoceros I just draw his shape of his face and his long nose. I like it. It's cool.


DIGBY WEBSTER: I love the black and white one over here.

NEIL TOMKINS: Yeah, I was kind of -

DIGBY WEBSTER: I'm liking this one a lot, because of these really cool colours going on there.

NEIL TOMKINS: Yeah, I was trying to copy it, like do one in black and white -

DIGBY WEBSTER: - and one in colourful.

NEIL TOMKINS: - and then, yeah, one in colour and just play with the colour and just see how they -

DIGBY WEBSTER: You coloured him with a green beard.

NEIL TOMKINS: Green beard - he's got like, I don't know, a yellow brow and -


NEIL TOMKINS: - rosy cheeks.

[music playing]

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