Another Art Book: The Realism Challenge by Mark Crilley

I was browsing online and this book popped up: The Realism Challenge by Mark Crilley.

I looked at it and the preview pages and it seemed interesting because he often uses coloured pencil, graphite, and watercolour together, which I also like to do. He surprisingly uses gouache to brighten white highlights, even in graphite drawings, so they really pop. Having done a couple of sketches where I was drawing a white object on white paper, I thought this might be useful.


He has some short YouTube videos of his process, so I watched them. Due to my interest in collecting playing cards, I found this one fascinating.

Mark also draws Manga and has a couple of how-to books for that, and what I liked about his general approach is that he gets realistic folds and shadows and colouring, but they are not so photorealistic that you can’t see it’s a drawing or painting.

I like things to look realistic but not to the point where you can’t tell if it’s a photograph. I find that sort of realism pointless. It’s the small deviations and imperfections of the hand of the artist that make art interesting. Plus, different materials give a different look, from rough to soft, from pale to vibrant, you can draw something several ways and it’s gratifying. Mark is practiced at sketching from life, which is what really makes his studies sing, and I can always use practice for drawing.

I have spent the last five months doing weekly sketches on my Manner and Material blog with a couple of friends. We have been having such a good time, but last week I really noticed how much better my eye was at drawing accurate initial sketches. This week I sat down and did the sketch in about 20 minutes, and it was accurate. They don’t all turn out like that but I’m forging on slowly to get back the skills I used to have. We all know that practice is necessary, all the art books in the world won’t help unless you sit down and practice, and practice using different materials.

It’s like a mountain when you’re out of practice, you climb and climb and feel so lame because you can’t get anything to look right. I’ve heard other artists speaking about this too, so you need to persevere through the duds and build those skills. What we usually find the most frustrating is the remembrance of how we used to draw when we WERE in practice. It’s like being a marathon runner and then not running for years and finding when you try to run that you can only walk short distances. It takes time to recondition yourself and it’s emotionally painful and requires mental discipline. There is no way around it.


It turns slowly, but it does get better. Mark Crilley’s book has many tutorials that you can draw along with and yet retain your own style. I’m looking forward to that.



This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Another Art Book: The Realism Challenge by Mark Crilley

  1. Hi, I found the video interesting too, but tend to agree with you that exactly rendering something is a bit pointless and sterile. But I’m interested in botanical art and there is a lot of super realism in that field – not sure what I will do about that when I eventually get started (I’m just practising at the moment). I definitely agree with you about the practice, I’m thinking that my accuracy has really improved (on good days) with the daily drawing project. It is nice see results and I guess that is making you as happy as it is making me. Best wishes (off to do my daily sketch) – Sue

    • JJ ColourArt says:

      I think there is a balance between realism and sterility that I’m aiming for. I know what the botanical art milieu is like, and I look at some of the old-timey botanical illustrators–the guy who drew on Cook’s expedition for instance, and they are accurate but definitely not into the ultra-precise photorealistic botanical drawings of today.

      I bought a book on sale once that had examples of all kinds of botanical illustration–not just Rédouté, and they allowed for personal style.

      One of my favourite English illustrators of old, Thomas Bewick, allowed for personal style and artsy-ness while still producing accurate examples of animals and plants.

      Oh Sue, there is no doubt that your accuracy has improved. You always did phenomenal botanical drawing, but these life drawing sketches and rooms and furniture and such, are getting equally good.

      Yes, it makes me very happy to be seeing some accuracy. Still a way to go but it’s coming along better.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s