Kelly Smith: Skulls with Elegance

If you have been following my project so far, you may have come across how I visually broke down Sabine Pieper’s technique in my blog post: Sabine Pieper: The Face. I am taking this technique of dissecting the illustrator and applying it to my second inspiration Kelly Smith. I used the piece Vixen, from Smith’s personal portfolio as I feel that I need to get a grasp of how she sketches the features and I also like how this piece uses mixed media.

Image taken from: 07/01/15
Copyright: 07/01/15

I began by sketching the image with soft graphite pencils working between a HB, 2B and 4B to achieve depth and shading. It was very different from how I am used to sketching, I had to use the pencil lightly and make sure it had an effect, but not too dominant. It can be difficult to draw eyes when the face is turned to the side so I made sure to take this into consideration when mapping out the face.

My sketch of Kelly Smith's piece: Vixen
My sketch of Kelly Smith’s piece: Vixen

After drawing the face I added in the paint by hand, from previous experience of using acrylic paint I noticed that the rough raw edge of these brush strokes looked as if it had been achieved by hand painting. Although I love Photoshop, nothing makes me feel more creative than getting to work with acrylic paint! I used a massive paint brush as I wanted to achieve the harshness that is seen in Smith’s work. To achieve this mix of heavy and lightly painted areas I went between two methods: ensuring there was a lot of paint on my brush and wiping off any access paint.

I scanned in the image and opened it in Photoshop, I noticed that the shading on the cheeks had a certain texture that did not look as though it was achieved by hand sketching, I experimented with paint brush textures and found that the Triangle Pastel brush matched perfectly. I selected a light grey colour and lowered the opacity so that it did not over power the sketch, I then highlighted the cheek bone to shape the face.

I also used Photoshop to drop colour into the lips, to do this I used the Magic Wand Tool and selected the area inside the lips, I created a new layer and selected a colour. I used a standard circle paint brush for this and lowered the opacity slightly as the transparency creates a natural build up of colour. I used a dark colour around the edge of the lips and in the centre to shape them and a touch of light purple, to give the impression of a touch of shine.


To bring out the eyes in this piece, I used Kelly Smith’s technique of layering. To do this I opened the original hand drawn sketch in Photoshop and dragged it into the coloured piece that I was working on using the Move Tool, this automatically created a new layer. I used the Magic Wand Tool and selected the white area in the face and pressed delete. I was then left with the pencil sketch and I lowered the opacity and set in place over the existing piece, I think this technique is genius, it is a great way to maintain hand drawn features as they can easily loose their detail when editing in Photoshop.

I really enjoyed breaking down this piece with the mix of mediums, it has definitely brought to light how different elements can come together in one illustration. I feel like I really got to grips with the techniques used to create this piece, if I were to do it again I would spend more time on the shading. Hope you have enjoyed this break down.

Stay posted for more on Kelly Smith…
Emma ♥


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