Last week I was giving an art lesson and one question that popped up was how to create highlights. It’s something I’ve been asked before during workshops, so I thought I’d share the methods that work for me.
1. White Pencils. This is very effective when you’re drawing on a toned sheet of paper. Not all white pencils are created equal though. My favourite is a creamy Derwent Chinese white drawing pencil that I’ve worn down to a stump. The pigment is rich with plenty of coverage. Regular pencil crayons like the Faber-Castell Polychromos, are harder and the whites don’t cover so well.
For the most opaque whites, nothing beats pastel pencils. The white pigments aren’t blended with waxes and remain in a very pure state. Because pastels sit on the surface of the paper, they are vulnerable to smudging, so it’s a good idea to spray the drawing with a protective fixative once complete.
2. Sharp Eraser Edge. I use this approach when drawing on white paper. I’ll take a sharp craft knife and slice into a hard white eraser to get a clean edge. I’ll then “draw” with the eraser which lifts off the graphite and gets right down to the white of the paper.
3. Metal Stylus. This technique is a good way for depicting veins on a leaf or tiny hairs. Basically, you press into the paper with any metal tool that has a blunt end. Knitting needles work nicely. The resulting indentation keeps the paper pure white when drawn over with a pencil. The only shortcoming to this approach is trying to conceal any changes you might decide to make. If you need to fill any of the lines, you can apply diluted washes of black paint with a fine tipped brush.
4. Brush and White Paint. I like using white gouache when I’m adding highlights with a brush. White acrylic paint also works. As for the brush, choose a round brush that tapers to a fine point, that will give you the most control . I often use a Rigging brush size #1.
There is also the option of buying a bottle of white ink and applying it with either a brush or a dip pen. Some white inks are really dense and are used by comic book artists for making corrections to their ink drawings.
All these techniques can be done separately or combined together, there’s no right or wrong way to apply highlights. Determine which method is most suitable for your drawing and have fun!