Conan (Sketch)

February 10, 2021

Conan Sketch Image

I almost called this one “I hate plaid.” I chose the reference photo because of his smile, which is very ‘him.’ I didn’t even think about the shirt. Nolan’s shirt was basically a black blob, so it was easy, but I’d done Fiona’s shirt before and that one had a bit of detail.

Plaid? Eh. Just a few lines.


Well, the rest came out pretty well, I think.

Let’s pick it apart.

  • Shadows, again, were a struggle, but this time mostly because the reference photo just didn’t have much in the way of them. I ended up exaggerating them a little to give the sketch more depth. I’m not sure if that’s something that’s needed for sketching in general, or if I’m just not sophisticated enough yet with my sketching techniques to capture the kind of subtlety needed for more even lighting conditions.
  • Hair was an issue, as usual. Whereas Nolan’s hair required attention to the details of each curl, Conan’s hair was more about texture. I made some original attempts to do each piece (mini-lock?) with detail, but that ended up looking far to piece-meal. It was also very time intensive. In the end, criss-crossing my strokes did a whole lot better job at mimicking the look, especially in the shorter parts. Even the longer parts were done largely this way, albeit with longer strokes. Some of the key features were done with more detail (the parts that stick out).
  • Yes, that stray curl was in the reference photo. It took me many tries to get it right.
  • Features came out really well this time. I’m definitely getting better. Oddly, I had very few issues with the nose.
  • The mouth I had to do some work on. Conan wasn’t just smiling; it was a kind of half-smile grimace, where he pulls his lips back. Again, very him. I captured some of it, but not quite the entire expression. There was a little less smile and more grimace in the original. That said, I’m pleased I managed to reproduce what I did. It was not easy.
  • The bottom lip pops just a little too much.
  • Eyes came out well. Those are definitely his eyes. I was also refining their shape right up to the end. Literally, last night I was tweaking them. It still amazes me how sensitive humans are to the shape of eyes. Impossibly small changes can make a huge affect in how we perceive a person’s look. They’re really important. I need to pay more attention to people’s eyes.
  • Yes, there’s something in his ear. It’s a hearing aid. When Conan was born, they had to give him antibiotics which ended up damaging his hearing (tones in the verbal range sound muffled to him).
  • He somehow ended up looking slightly older than the reference photo. It’s like I sketched him more as he is now than then. It’s weird. I dunno if I was doing is subconsciously, or whether it’s simply hard to get age right when sketching. The young especially can be difficult as the proportions of their face change subtly, but consistently over the years.
  • Plaid… err, let’s make that a separate section.


I almost didn’t do it. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, which made me doubt whether I should (no one would know). But it was also something I’d not done before and the challenge enticed me. If I knew what a pain it would be, I might not have done it.

I did first what I normally do: rough sketch; don’t worry about accuracy; just get the outline in; then refine later.

First off, it’s hard to sketch multiple parallel, wavy lines. Ugh. At some point after erasing for the hundredth time, I got frustrated and just drew the damn thing; I’ll refine them later.

Refining, though, turned out to be even harder. For one, there’s two techniques for drawing a line:

  1. Draw a single line, slow and stead, carefully. But the line ends up wobbly, spaced not quite right, wavy in all the wrong ways, and often with uneven coloring (depth, uh… how hard you press).
  2. Draw small quick strokes. Spacing, size, and even coloring come out much more even and accurate. But, there’s now all these individual stokes that somehow need to become a solid line.

In either technique, refining is a pain. Solid strokes have to have their color evened out and their edges smoothed. Even then, the spacing where the lines diverge from parallel is really hard to correct. It’s hard to shift a line like this in refinement. Also, the overall color shifts are hard to correct. Consider: each crossing is a different color. If one line is incorrect over the crossing of a dozen small perpendicular lines, you’ve got over a dozen little boxes to correct, each with their own color correction.

Small quick strokes create half circles at the ends of each stroke. Those things are anathema. Plaid has square edges, not circles. So I spent an absurd amount of time smoothing those out while not ruining the plaid squares. I ended up creating my own brush, a square one, I could use to get into the edges. And because the brush was square, I had to angle the pencil perfectly to align the brush. It took a week for my back to recover.

The end result is okay, I guess, if you don’t look at it closely. The front of the shirt is the best. It seems to follow the curves of the shirt well. The arms… not so much. I’d redo them except I don’t think my back could take it.

Next time I do plaid I intend to:

  • Create the shadows first. Originally, I drew the lines and added the shadows later. But the shadows could be really good guidelines for how the lines are supposed to be wavy.
  • Use the small quick strokes, but a whole lot more and not as a rough sketch. I wonder if I can do so many of them, all extremely light and stacked, that the effect would be for the ends to disappear. Dunno, but it’s worth a shot.
  • I considered using the square brush to draw the lines, but I’m pretty sure it would result in disaster for my back and shoulder. Otherwise, I’d get a bunch of jagged/angled ends that would probably be worse than the curves.

Overall, I’m pleased. It does look good, and I think I’m steadily improving, which is a big part of the point. I learned new techniques and produced a sketch of my son that I can be proud of.

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Sketch Album