Self-taught artist pencils portraits

By Dale Short
Posted 4/3/16

It starts with a thin, curving pencil line on the white surface. Then another, and another. Before long, the strokes become the recognizable outline of a face. And with the addition of shading from a broad stick of charcoal, …

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Self-taught artist pencils portraits

Posted

It starts with a thin, curving pencil line on the white surface. Then another, and another. Before long, the strokes become the recognizable outline of a face. And with the addition of shading from a broad stick of charcoal, the contours of the cheeks and the chin take on a look that’s almost three-dimensional.

The art of drawing looks simple, but learning the process take years. For Melanie Evans of Jasper, the desire started in fourth grade, when she won first place in an art competition. She still has the original crayon-colored forest scene: sunshine, blue sky, a yellow butterfly, and in the foreground Bugs Bunny leaning against a tree reading a book with the title “How to Grow Carrots.”

“I had an uncle who could draw,” Evans says, “and I enjoyed watching him doodle. He’s the one who put the pencil in my hand and I started really liking what I could do.”

But that gift lay dormant for years, and her life path took a different direction than art school. It’s only recently that she’s begun seriously exploring artwork again.

“When my kids were little I’d draw them cartoon characters,” she recalls, “and they’d say, ‘Wow, look what Mom did!’ But it was less than three years ago that some people happened to see me drawing and they told me, ‘You’ve got to do something with that.’”

What she’s done is a portfolio and a Facebook album with copies of family portraits she’s created on commission as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, and other occasions. One image shows a man kissing his granddaughter on the cheek at her wedding. “It was the last photograph she had of the two of them together,” Evans says, “so she wanted a drawing of it for the wall. I love the emotion in it.” Word has spread online, and Evans has begun getting commissions from as far as out of state.

Projects done just for her own satisfaction range from faces of Marilyn Monroe to Elvis to Princess Diana.

“The most intimidating subject for me was faces,” she says. “I had tried it and it was like, man, I can’t do this. But one night I sat down and realized there are a million videos of techniques and tips on YouTube, so I started working on how to do faces.”

It’s easier to draw portraits of her friends and family, she says, “Because I know their expressions and their personalities.” But most of her work is done from photographs. But not just any photographs: “I’ve had to turn down several jobs because the only picture is blurred or not well-lighted. I just tell them they wouldn’t be pleased with the results.”

Do clients ever asks for portraits that transform their wrinkles and receding hairlines, or make a nose smaller?

Evans laughs. “What I hear the most is, ‘Make me look thinner!’ But they’re just joking. Which is fortunate, because you want a picture that really looks like you.” She hasn’t drawn from a real-life model yet, though it’s something she’d like to learn. “The biggest drawback for me from not having a formal education is that I haven’t been exposed to a lot of those things. There are people in the videos who can turn out a piece of work in an hour, while I spend an average of 12 or 14 hours. But faces take a lot more detail than a live figure drawing.”

Though she’s enlarging her repertoire into colored pencils, the medium of painting doesn’t appeal to her: “I think it’s because I have more control with a pencil.”

Does she have a favorite piece? “I’d have to choose the Princess Diana,” she says. “When I was in my teens I was fascinated with her, and then she passed away.”

Her newest fascination, though, is a series of large drawings of a woman’s eye. “I think of it as my selfie,” she says.

Dale Short’s email address is dale.short@gmail.com