Jessica Alba.

Inspiration, inspiration ... well, actress Jessica Alba was in Sin City which is one of my favorite movies, and though it never made it to Dark Side of the Soul I did draw her as Nancy Callahan from one of the movie’s posters/wall-papers (it didn’t turn out very well.) Then just recently I watched the short lived Dark Angel series, and she reminded me of a short-story character I have floating in my head so, once again, it was time to expand my digital picture library and doodle because, apparently, that’s what I do—have ideas for stories, find pictures to draw, then ignore the story.

This is kinda-sorta my second attempt at this photograph. I started one render sitting in Kang’s, an Asian Bistro, which is one of my favorite restaurants that I frequently visit and doodle while dining. And while it’s not poorly lit, it is far from ideal drawing lighting (dim, mood setting, atmospheric, kinda night clubby), and to make matters worse, my source was a picture saved to my phone so every so often I would have to tap the touch screen or watch the screen go dim then dark. Despite the circumstances, I thought it was progressing along fairly. It ended up in my car with the intention of being my dining doodle, that is the doodle I would work on while relaxing, visiting with my friends who own the place, and enjoying their endless sushi. Well, something happened to that plan. You see, I have a super power. I keep my windows rolled down all year long, every single day ... except when it rains. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But if I leave my windows down twice a year, that will be precisely the two times it rains. Always.

So, I could have continued that drawing even though the paper was kinda crumpled and distorted after its exposure to the elements but, frankly, I’m not entirely sure where it is. You’ll notice there’s been a distinct lack of new renders on Dark Side of the Soul this past year, and that’s mostly because A. my drawing has slowed down due to other activities occupying my time, and B. I can’t seem to finish any of the damn things. At work, I have a whole drawer full of stuff I’ve started but never finished. At home, in addition to my mountain of sketchbooks, I have a growing mountain of doodles on printer paper that reach a certain point and then get abandoned. Granted, almost all of those are non-sourced, imagination-only, personal clichés I’ve only hit about, oh, seventy-six-ish times here at Dark Side, but, whatever.

This render was done entirely at work on lunch break or after hours waiting for traffic to die down across about two weeks, so I’d estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to ten actual drawing hours, much of which probably could have been eliminated if I used art pencils instead of TUL 0.7mm advancing lead ones which are actually pretty badass for technical drawing (still not as good as Uni-Ball Kuru-Togas.) And the paper, of course, is scrap plotter paper that measured about 9X12 which gave me a chance to test drive my new HP wide-format scanner/printer which replaced my POS Dell all-in-one (seriously, don’t waste your money on Dell printers. Take my praise of TUL and Uni-Ball with a grain of salt, but heed my warning: Dell printers suck.) But I digress ...

Anyway, I wanted to start writing about this drawing before it was 100% finished, so I snapped a picture of it with my camera phone and used that as a placeholder and it looked effin’ horrible. Not kidding. The slight angle at which I held it to avoid casting a shadow meant that perspective would apply—things closer appearing larger and things farther away appearing smaller—and holy hell did it make my drawing look all screwed up and misproportioned. That and the phone gave the render a slight fogginess, for lack of a better term, I think because of the amount of graphite on the paper which reflects light and really screwed with the lens. It was so messed up, I couldn’t write about it. So once I finished the drawing, I scanned it at work with the giant refrigerator-size Kyocera TASKalfa because my home HP wasn’t fully setup ... and I wasn’t impressed with the image quality (still had a slight haze) so I went ahead and finished setting up the HP. I dunno why, but Hewlett-Packard scanners just seem to give me cleaner, crisper, scans out of the box that are closer to the original drawing. Again, take the praise of HP and the criticism of Kyocera with a grain of salt and remember, Dell frickin’ sucks. But I digress ... again.

I wanted the background to interact with the figure a little bit, having her legs disappear into the darkness, and the effect is kinda there but I just could not get the mechanical pencil to lay down and keep down that dark of shading across that big an area and I’m apparently too stupid to not just settle for a smaller value range like professional artists. As for the subject, I knew the shirt was going to be a pain in the ass for self-evident reasons, and I saved it for near last because the white wouldn’t hold out with me shading the rest of the image, smearing the graphite over the pristine, spotless top. The final touches were trying to get the background dark enough along the top and bottom, but right before that was strategically erasing the wrinkles in the shirt to get the white highlights.

This drawing is unique in that I used varying degrees of blending depending on the desired texture. Hair was completely unblended to get the individual strands, of course. Denim being a coarser fabric received virtually none; however, I shaded them first so they did receive inadvertent blending because I don’t raise my hand off the paper like I should while working on other regions. Her leather belt was fully blended to eliminate all pencil strokes. The first wave of background shading was fully blended to give me a solid gray ghostly base, but after that I wanted the tightly packed and tidy pencil strokes to be visible. Her skin was a deliberate hybrid where I shaded it and then went back over it with a makeshift tortillion just to subtly take out the more pronounced pencil strokes, but not get rid of them completely. And lastly, the top is a mix of blended pencil, pronounced lines, and eraser stripes. And you know what? I really like the look and contrast of the different styles.

I really really like it.

It has almost a photorealistic quality in places. I mean, I’m not going to delude myself into thinking it’s perfect—it’s not. For one, I don’t think the face bears enough resemblance to Alba mostly because I drew it too narrow. I also screwed up the number of ties along her top, her right arm is a little too far out from her body, her torso’s a hair too short, belt buckle is too small, and if you really want to get nitpicky I oversimplified the wrinkles in her blouse and jeans. However, skin looks like skin, hair looks like hair, and fabric looks like fabric occupying three-dimensional space with depth, volume, and texture.

More so than grid transfers I did back in 2011 ... and this was free handed.

—Jay Wilson