Robert’s Drawing Approach

To create strong and solid value contrasts and fine detail, I layer graphite with the different grades of pencils in a continuous tone technique. This technique does require a great deal of time and patience but the results are very rewarding.

The drawing below, “Brodie,” is a drawing that was commissioned several years ago and is one of the drawing demonstrations in my book “Draw Realistic Animals, Wildlife, Pets & More.” You will see in the following progress images the layering continuous tone technique in action and the results that come from using this technique.

Graphite drawing of a dog on a sofa by artist Robert Louis Caldwell

Brodie sketch

The first step is to sketch out the subject starting off with the large shapes first and then dividing those large shapes into smaller ones and those into smaller ones, eventually capturing the subject onto the drawing surface. At this point, you could continue to work on the drawing, adding more values and creating details. This is the process that new students employ or the sketch can be transferred to a new drawing surface.

I transfer my sketch to a new surface, which is Arches watercolor paper, 300lb, hot press because the paper is cotton-based and does not work well with any erasing.

To see my approach, "my mental mindset," to the initial sketch, watch my “Pulling back the curtain” video below.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 1, the sketch

Pulling Back the Curtain of Details

"A mental mindset"

Redefine the basic structure of the subject

With a 4H pencil, redefine some of the basic structure of the subject so that you don’t lose it as you work on the background. Block in the eyes and nose because they are the focal point of the whole drawing.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 2, start with light va

Establish the background

Lay in the base layer of the background with a 4H pencil. The chair is going to be dark, and you want some texture to come through. Crosshatch quickly with a bit of an aggressive quality. Be careful not to press too hard though, or you will crush the tooth of the paper.

When laying in these base foundation values, retain the general shapes that either describe the environment or subject matter. In this case, you may want to put in some temporary outlines for the chair.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 3, a little darker

Add the second layer of value

Using a 2H pencil, start to push back the shadow areas with the second layer of value. At this point, you may want to continue with just the basic crosshatching technique. Rotate your paper continually so as not to create any unwanted patterns in the pencil markings.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 4, darkening up shadows

Establish the base values of the fur

The background has a really good base at this point, and the chair is beginning to look like a chair. Start back to work on the dog, establishing the base value of his fur with a 4H pencil. Then add another layer of value with 2H pencil. Fill in some of the dog’s markings on its backside as well. Do not go into detail at this point, although you should pull out some directional movement of the fur on the tail because it’s longer than the rest of the dog’s fur.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 5, shadows darkened more

Establish base values of the chair and add details

The back leg of the dog has an edge that is almost backlit. To capture it correctly, use an HB pencil to push the values behind it so that you retain the white of the paper. Go back in with a 2B pencil and start to really push the dark value in the crease on the left of the chair. This will end up being the darkest part of the drawing, and that rich deep dark will help you judge the rest of the values in this piece.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 6, start back on the fur

Build up the eye and nose

Keeping the point of interest of your drawing in mind, reestablish the dog’s eye and the darker creases of the nose.

Use an HB pencil and take your time. Look closely at your reference. Ask yourself what shape you are looking at, and which direction the line is going. The questions you ask yourself greatly affect how you approach your drawing.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 7, the nose and eyes

Build up the dog’s head and continue adding value.

Start work on the dog’s head by applying a layer with 4H pencil. Add another layer with 2H pencil on top of that. Just continue building up value at this point; don’t try to establish any detail. Switch back to a 4H pencil and fill in the darker areas of the lighted fur, then go into the white area of the fur to build up those subtle value shifts. Take your time on the lighter areas, because what you lay down at this stage are the basic finished values that you want to be left with at the end. Keeping your pencil sharp and slowing down your crosshatching is the key at this point.

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 8, textures on the head

Build up the foreground

Once you have built up a good base of values on the head, move to the foreground objects, the front paw, and the tennis ball. The tennis ball is relatively simple because it’s a sphere with a matted hair texture. The front paw is basically a cylinder turned on its side. Start in the shadow area with a 4H pencil and then add a layer with a 2H pencil on top of that. Build your core shadow area and follow the jagged edge that the underlying bones and tissue create. On that edge, start to pull out the negative shapes of the fur that create the lighter hairs. Remember to draw the negative spaces created by the lighter fur/hair (positive shapes).

Artist Robert Louis Caldwell drawing approach, stage 9, more details

Darken the negative shapes and add details to finish

Darken up the negative shapes in the background so that they help pull the highlighted areas of the arm of the chair, giving depth to the drawing. Then darken any of the shadow areas you feel might need more depth, like behind the dog’s head to separate the head from the cast shadow on the arm of the chair. Use very sharp 4B and 6B pencils for those rich darks. Sometimes a 4B will add that richness the drawing needs and really push the contrast in a piece.

Since the hair on this dog is medium length, your pencil lines should match the length of the hair and go in the direction of the fur. With a very sharp 2H pencil, work from the dark areas into the lighter areas, creating negative spaces between the strands of lighter fur. Then use an HB pencil to darken them up as needed.

The black of the dog’s nose with the white fur around it is a high contrast area, so you don’t want to create a harsh line between the two. You want a nice gradual shift between the very dark nose and the white fur. Layer in 2B pencil and then 4B pencil over that. Tighten up your crosshatching at this point. The back-and-forth motion of the pencil should be only around ⅛”. Darken up the nostril with a very sharp 4B pencil.

The finished graphite drawing of a dog on a sofa by artist Robert Louis Caldwell