Tracing paper sketch of "Troubled man in the Comforter" drawing

Many students and others have asked me about what goes into creating one of my drawings. I’ve been asked this enough times that I thought I would develop an article to describe my process. One of the most common questions I’m asked is…

Where Do My Ideas Come From?

The answer is I’m not really sure – they just seem to pop into my mind. I normally have three or four drawings percolating at any given time. I am a very visual person so sometimes I will see an image online that helps give birth to a concept. Such was the case in my recent drawing entitled “Troubled Man and the Comforter”. I embrace universal themes in my work, and I was thinking about the various times in life where we feel anxious, lonely, and depressed (owning my own business for several decades provided many of these “opportunities” for me). People have different ways of coping with life’s darker challenges, and I often take comfort in my belief that there is a caring God who sustains me through troubling times. This is what I wanted to express in this piece.

In the Beginning – Gathering References

Ex Libris bookplate
Ex Libris bookplate

While I was mentally processing the beginnings of this drawing I began to imagine a man sitting under a thorn bush. I often use thorns to represent life’s trouble and pain. One of the images that helped me envision what I was trying to express was seeing a small Ex Libris bookplate image. This simple graphic inspired the arched thorn bush that would surround and encompass the troubled man. Next I needed a figure reference…

A Modern Day Morgue

When I started my career as a commercial illustrator in 1981, I and all the other illustrators I knew continually clipped images out of magazines, or shot Kodak Polaroid photos for reference material. These reference materials were called an illustrator’s “Morgue”. (Good reference materials were so important for illustrators that for a particular Saturday Evening Post magazine cover Norman Rockwell drove to flea markets in three different states to find the perfect oriental rug to complete his assignment!) Back in the day I had a large (analog) file folder full of various clipped images and photos sorted by category: Men, Women, Children, Family Life, Animals, Natural World, Trees, Water, Automotive, Military… you get the picture.

Figure reference
Figure reference

Today there is an unlimited supply of reference images at my fingertips. I have a private board on Pinterest marked “Art References” with over 500 images. So, (getting back to the figure reference I mentioned above) I located an old lithograph of a man sitting in generic clothing who seemed to have the correct body posture for my drawing. Never simply copying an image, I decided to elongate and narrow the man (especially his legs), and make additional revisions to suit my drawing.

Anatomical reference book
Anatomical reference book

After getting the overall body situated the way I wanted, I decided to remove his shoes in lieu of bare feet. For me, figures with bare feet represent people connected to the earth (the natural world). Besides Pinterest, I have a number of figure reference books left over from my illustration days so I just searched until I found feet in the position I needed and drew them on the man.

Model's head reference
Model’s head reference

Next, I found a head that I liked from a European fashion picture. While the model’s head is narrow and brooding I decided to draw my figure with his eyes closed. I also decided that the man would be thrusting his hands into more thorns. Sometimes when we are in pain we isolate ourselves and in some strange way feel we deserve the pain we are experiencing, often to the point of self-inflicting additional pain. So I turned once again to one of my figure reference books and found two separate hands that I could position the way I wanted. Because I didn’t want all doom and gloom as my message I added a white dove nestled in the thorn bush with his gaze directed toward the troubled man.

Dove reference

The biblical representation of God’s presence on earth is his Holy Spirit, often in the form of a white dove, sometimes referred to as “The Comforter”. With my initial tracing paper sketch complete I was ready to begin my final drawing. By the way, because of the complexity of the images I drew the man separately from the thorn bush as shown in the masthead image above.

Transferring the Image

Transferring a sketch
Transferring the image

I work out all my anatomical and other issues on my sketch so once I’m happy with the final image I need to transfer it from my tracing paper to my Lokta paper. Although you can buy commercially produced transfer paper, I prefer to make my own by taking a blank sheet of tracing paper and completely covering it on one side with graphite. Instead of a pencil, I use a 2B compressed graphite stick in order to cover the sheet completely as well as more rapidly. I then saturate a cotton ball with Bestine Solvent and Thinner and rub it all over the graphite I have just laid down. The Bestine seals the graphite so it doesn’t rub off unless you apply pressure by way of a sharpened pencil point. Think of it like carbon paper. You take your original tracing paper sketch and carefully tape it into position on your final drawing surface. Then you slide your transfer paper (graphite side down) between your two sheets and simply trace your sketch onto your final drawing paper.

Finalizing the Drawing

Final art in process
Final art in process

When I’ve finished transferring the sketch I have a very light image on my Lokta paper. Next I begin to create the final line art of the drawing. But I don’t simply draw a line and that’s it. I use a very finely sharpened mechanical pencil and draw a dark, very thin line and immediately afterwards draw another very thin parallel line next to it. I then fill in between the two lines. This allows me to control the thickness of each line I lay down. I am not by nature a particularly patient person, but for some reason this rather precise and time consuming process suits me. After all the line work is done I consider adding tone. All my drawings are made with a 2B mechanical pencil, white charcoal pencil, and terracotta pastel pencil. For this particular drawing I decided that limited color would work best. I colored in the dove and the flesh tones of the man with white charcoal to highlight the connection between the human and the divine. I’ll leave it up to the viewer to decide what the outcome is. Does the man turn to the divine for strength, or does he continue to suffer in his own isolation? I know how my story line plays out.

Final artwork – "Troubled man and the Comforter"
Final artwork – “Troubled Man and the Comforter”

See more about this drawing here.


David Hile Fine Art logo
  1. This was a wonderful step by step explanation, Dave. Over the 45 years of my teaching career we had many artists come in and demonstrate. I learned something from each one, and I learned a few new things from you. So the taught has become the teacher. I am very proud of you, your work and your life. Gary Wilson

    • Thank you Gary. I still carry skills I learned from you and Ted to this day. You were the reason I became an artist. As always, thanks.

  2. Thank you for the explanation of your process. I can relate to it a lot. I compile pictures of elements in the work and put them together in new ways, it may be a drawing or a mixed media print. Got to talk with you at Tom Rosenblum’s one evening

Leave a Reply