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How I draw a custom family portrait

I am asked often how I draw my pictures. 

Simple version . .  paper and pencil are my best friends. 

More detailed version . .  

I wish I had studied graphic design, I have even thought about taking a couple night classes at the local tech school. If you have any experience I would love any input or suggestions! Even if you don't have experience, throw something out there, I'm open to anything. 

One thing to my advantage is I have grown up around computers. Quite literally, my parent's basement looked like a computer lab. I always had a computer in my room to tinker on and and I'm quite sentimental about macs. 

My tools are, like I said earlier, paper, pencil, nice pen (the expensive $4.00 kind that are hidden away from my little children), my macbook and a stylist. My older brother gave me a stylist and it was awesome. But even though I have tried I can't get the detail the same as I can on paper and pencil. So I only use the stylist when I am editing on the computer.

When I get an order I ask for descriptions but sometimes the descriptions come as "mom, dad, blond daughter and son." hum . . . that doesn't help me draw the family, so I have started to ask for family photos and it helps TONS. I look at the photos and still ask for as many details as they can give me, the more the better and then I try to fit in as many as I can. 

This example comes from Megan in Australia. She sent wonderful pictures of her family that helped. She wanted her horse in the picture, their adoptive lamb that thinks he's their dog, her son loves super hero stuff, cute little girl and their sheep dog. 

I start off with paper and pencil. Yep, old school. I draw the heads and try make sure the picture looks symmetrical. I got ahead of myself with this picture. and drew the whole horse first. Usually I sketch everything and then add detail. Dang cute horse, you distracted me.  

Once I figure out where I want everyone then I start adding detail

I add faces last. That always makes the picture come to life.

Then my least favorite part. After all this time I still get shaky hands when I pull out the pen. One wrong move with the pen and it doesn't look as good. I have to make sure no one is eating cheerios at the table or even running past me to make the table bump. So that usually means I whip out the pen late at night when the babies are sleeping.

Then I erase the pencil marks and scan the picture into my computer. My scanner is just a simple Cannon ip _____. A simple scanner, copier, printer. I'm guessing a better scanner would scan better, or are they pretty much the same?

From there I insert the picture into Sketch Book Express. It's a program I found that I like for now. I lose some of the quality of the picture when I insert the photo. Hum . . . I would love to try something different. This is where I would love input on a different program to use. I feel very limted with this program, but now that I am use to it I haven't looked at any others. 

In this program I can enter colors with the click of the mouse. People often stress over asking me to change a shirt or hair color, but that is probably the easiest change. This is where I secretly pull out my awesome little sylist to help shading. If the children see it they go bananas asking to use it. 

From there I insert the edited picture into The Print Shop 2. This is an old program, something I have used probably since high school but I love it. It is more for cards, but I like to use it to center my pictures and add text. From there I can export the picture in several formats, jpeg, png, pdf, and a few more.

Here is the picture exported in jpeg. I e-mail the file to my client/customer and then they can print it from home or send it off to be printed at a print store. (It doesn't have this grey background, but for some reason all my pictures on blogspot have this grey back ground. hum . . . )

And here is an awesome picture in a frame on the wall.


Here are my struggles. Once I draw the picture with pen it's really hard to change details, like make a person taller or even change a hair style. I have to go back to the original physical drawing and sometimes I can draw a change on top of the original picture, scan it in and then edit it, but sometimes I have to draw the whole picture again. So my tips to customers are to give as many details as you can, I'm never offended when someone sends a paragraph of details or 10 pictures of their family. The more the better. 

Another struggle: I've already mentioned this, but I would love to learn to use different programs. I would love input on different programs and tools you have tried and like. 

How long does an average picture take? I would say