The Art of Slow An inquiry into the process of perfection and progress; or, How to draw stuff

GOAL: A beautiful, realistic, wall-worthy black and white smooth tone portrait in graphite.


  • Camera (see part one)
  • Human subject for portrait
  • Laptop and access to photo editor like Photoshop
  • Printer (at least black and white) and (eventually) source photo
  • Tracing paper: Strathmore tracing paper, smooth surface, 300 series “better,” at least 9x12 inches, mine was 11x17 inches
  • Bristol board: 96 lb, at least 9x12 inches in size; mine was 11x17 inches; have some extra Bristol Board handy for testing out shading and to put under hand
  • Graphite drawing pencils ranging from at least 2H to 2B
  • Ruler (24-inch metal T-square)
  • Kneaded eraser (can be used whenever) and white eraser (don’t use for smooth tone)
  • Sharpener
  • Exacto knife and cutting mat (9x12 or larger)
  • Artist's tape (preferably white)
  • Optional: Access to light box or transfer paper depending on how you want to transfer
  • Workspace: Flat surface or drawing board and good lighting for smooth tone



1. Camera // Grab a camera with good resolution, one where the printed photo will not be fuzzy. I used Nikon D5100 with a 35 mm lens, or you can also use a good phone like an iPhone 6.

2. Subjects // Find several subjects to photograph. Finding three friends makes it easy to have several options to choose from for the final photo. Make sure they are wearing nothing too complicated to draw like an elaborate necklace or an extremely detailed scarf, but also be ready to take the challenge of a couple of accessories in the picture.

3. Location // Find location with a blank wall or background and good lighting. We found a stairwell with indirect afternoon sun.

portrait setup
  • Lighting: For a black and white portrait, you need high contrast and shadows for a good range of values, but make sure the photos is not too over or under-exposed, meaning no absolute white spots and no completely black areas with no detail. I used a white poster board to light up the left side of my subject’s face, but this is not necessary if the lighting is already good and contrast is needed.
  • Posing: Make sure to get straight on pose and profile pose at least because easier to draw for beginners, but also keep in mind that portraits are most flattering when the face is turned away from the collarbone.
  • Number: Snap a bunch of photos of each subject, making sure you have enough to choose from.
editing in Photoshop

4. Editing // Choose the most portrait-y and well-lit, contrast-y photo. Upload best to laptop and open it up in Photoshop. Edit to black and white by adjusting the levels, curves, and contrast. Crop to head and shoulders, then export as a jpg.

5. Print // Print your exported and edited jpg photo. I printed mine in color so the photo would come out as I edited it without any printer input. The paper size should be 8.5x11.


1. Box on Tracing Paper // On the tracing paper, draw a 5x7 inch frame for your portrait using a ruler.

2. Box on Source Photo // On the source photo, draw box around the very outer limits of the head. Try to include the subject’s hair in this box since you will want to draw it in the final portrait, and make sure the bottom line runs along the bottom of the chin and the top line along to the highest point of the hair.

two boxes

3. Measuring Technique for Contour // Draw all outlines of the portrait using the measuring technique.

  • Proportions on Source Photo: Using the pencil and your thumb on the pencil, measure the proportions of the outer box for the head that you drew on the source photo. Find the proportion of the width to the height. Does the width go into the height twice? Or does a quarter of the height fit three times into the width.
  • Proportions on Tracing Paper: Turn to the tracing paper’s 5x7 frame and choose an arbitrary length of measurement that will fit proportionately within the 5x7 box. Basically, find a width and height that is proportionately the same as the source photo’s box, but because of the length of the new line you choose (the line that makes up these proportions), this box will fit within the 5x7 frame. You might have to cut off some of the bottom of the photo depending on how comfortably your box fits, but since the box contains the absolutely necessary aspects of the photo – the face and hair – you should be fine.
  • Draw Face Using Measuring Technique: Use the concepts of proportions to draw the face. Maybe the width of the hair in one area fits five times into the width of the entire face. Keep in mind that facial features have defined measurements that are pretty much consistent throughout all humans, and you can use these set proportions to help check whether your drawing is accurate.
the height is nearly 3 1/3 times a quarter of the width
  • Eyes: Work on the eyes at the same time to keep them symmetrical.
  • Mouth: The bottom lip curves slightly out and down at the ends.
  • Line Darkness: Make sure the lines you draw are light enough to easily erase for correcting and dark enough to see when tracing.
  • Check Accuracy: Snapping a picture of your contour next to the source photo can help you better compare the accuracy. Also ask others for outside input since they can often see it more objectively.


tracing paper, traced Bristol Board contour, and source photo

1. Prepare: Prepare the Bristol board paper by measuring out a 9x12 rectangle bordering the edge. Then, within that rectangle, mark out the corners of a centered 5x7 rectangle where you will transfer your portrait. Do not draw out the borders of this rectangle because you will simply shade the portrait up to an imagined border between the corners and have it stop there to make the picture more elegant. I recommend waiting to cut out the 9x12 paper until you’re done with the project because it’s easier to tape down the bigger paper while shading or clip it to a drawing board, and it keeps the edges neat.

2. Transfer: Choose one of the following three ways to transfer your drawing on your tracing paper to the Bristol Board.

  • Light Box: Tape (artist’s tape) your tracing paper to the light box, then tape your Bristol board on top of the tracing paper. Make sure the 5x7 box on your tracing paper matches up with the 5x7 corners marked on the Bristol board. Turn on the light box, trace the portrait onto the Bristol board lightly, then remove.
  • Manual Trace: Shade the back of your tracing paper using a soft graphite pencil in the B range, then tape your tracing paper onto the Bristol Board paper, matching up the 5x7 box on the tracing paper with the 5x7 marked corners on the Bristol Board. Lightly trace over the lines of the portrait, then remove the tracing paper. Erase any smudges from the graphite.
  • Graphite Transfer Paper: Place a piece of graphite paper between the tracing paper and the Bristol board in the same way detailed above and then lightly trace over the portrait. Erase smudges.
carefully dab eraser over transferred drawing

3. Erase: Put aside the tracing paper, and erase the portrait transferred onto the Bristol Board until the lines are barely visible by dabbing with kneaded eraser.

4. Check: You can compare this Bristol Board transfer once again to the source image to make sure lines look accurate and proportions are correct before shading.


1. Lighting // Make sure it’s good and even and doesn’t create any shadows under your hand that make it hard to shade properly. Incandescent lights are nice and neutral. I had two moveable lamps to even out my lighting plus the big room light if needed.

2. Where to Start // Suggested that left-handed work from right-to-left to prevent smudges and right-handed people work left-to-right. Keep a piece of scrap Bristol Board under your hand to also prevent smudging and provide a place to test smooth tone and pencil values before starting different sections.

smooth tone shading close up

3. How to Do Smooth Tone Shading // Smooth toning involves a small/imperceptible circular motion with the pencil with the goal of laying down layers of graphite that avoid any kinds of pattern or irregularity and any grooves or marks in the paper itself. You want the graphite to be only on the surface. Constantly sharpen your pencil and try not to erase. If you need to erase, dab with a kneaded eraser but don’t smear it because it will make it extremely difficult to lay down more layers of smooth tone. For hard edges, do not draw an outline. Instead, working with very faint lines you transferred, shade right up to that light line and then switch values abruptly, essentially creating a swift turning of shadows. This will create the natural illusion of line without the artificial line itself. For a more gradual or soft edge, smooth tone consistently and evenly with gradual change of values. DO NOT use any kind of blending process such as a tortillion or even your finger. TIP: Squint your eyes to see where the darkest darks and lightest lights are.

Process of Smooth Toning Hair
  • Process: For most of the drawing you will want to lay down a smooth layer using a value around the 2H graphite pencil first, then add the darker values on top. Be very careful to keep highlights very light and to be confident on the darks because sometimes, if you lay down too many layers of graphite, it’s actually hard to get that section as dark as you want it to be.
  • Pencils: Change your value by changing your pencil, not by pushing harder because that will make dents and grooves in the paper. Use the 3H, 2H, H, or HB pencil for lighter values and background layer. Use the HB, B, or 2B pencil for darker values.
  • Hair: You will want to smooth tone the general values of all the sections, work towards the darkest values, and then approach the details which you will lay on top at the end. Be very to keep the light parts with highlights a lighter value throughout the whole process and don’t be afraid to go dark with the dark parts. Be mindful of subtle value changes within the dark parts though. Use a very sharp pencil for the fine individual hairs after you have done everything else.
  • Face: Remember to smooth tone evenly before laying down sharp-edged details. Shade both the eyes at the same time for consistency. It is crucial to keep the catch light (the white spot on the iris) completely white or a very light shade. Letting it get lost greatly reduces the dynamic and realistic feel of the portrait. Don’t shade objects like the mouth and nose from what you think they should look like; instead, be very careful to follow the source photo as accurately as possible. For the mouth, the darkest part is in the middle between the two lips. Watch where the light hits the different facial features and preserve these light spots carefully as you shade.
  • Neck and Clothes: Make sure the neck is very smooth and the shading turns consistently from one value to another. Don’t be afraid of patterns on the clothes because it shows the contour of the shoulders.
kinda sorta halfway done...

4. Meanwhile // Listen to 4 episodes of Food Network and try not to accidentally watch them instead of watching your shading; go through 3 sermons from David Platt and take notes on the side of your Bristol Board; then explore 6 types of hour-long Christmas playlists including Christmas dubstep; talk nonstop to your roommates every time they walk in the room either because you desperately need outside interaction or because you want to annoy them out and continue your quiet solace; and then calculate what percent of your life you will have spent on this drawing by the time it’s done. If you’re having trouble with this, never fear – I did it for you; it’s 0.00006% Now call your mom and tell her about how you’ve been on aesthetic overload for the past eight hours and forgot to eat dinner. See this as a sign that you have at last achieved the status of a Great Artist.

gotta love math :)


1. Clean Up // Check to make sure you haven’t forgotten any details and have a full range of values as depicted in the source image. Erase any smudges, extraneous lines, corner or border marks, etc.

2. Sign // Sign your name somewhere near the bottom of your portrait.

3. Cut Bristol Board // Cut your Bristol Board paper to its final 9x12 size, being careful to not smudge the drawing. Place the paper on a cutting mat (at least 9x12 in size), use a T-square ruler and run your Exacto knife along the marked edges.

4. Cut Tracing Paper // Mark out a 9x12 rectangle on a sheet of clean tracing paper and cut to size using the method above.

5. Cover Bristol Board // Use artists tape to neatly tape the tracing paper to the Bristol Board portrait by taping along the very top, half in the front and half in the back. Trim the edges of the tape to the Bristol Board size.

6. Smile and Say, “It is finished.” Now get some sleep.

aaaaaaaaand curtain
Created By
AnnaClaire Schmiedel



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