A Strong Foundation by Philece Roberts

The following article was written by artist Philece Roberts.

I have always been taught the importance of a strong foundation is essential in everything you pursue. When it comes to art, for me that foundation is drawing, no matter the medium of the final piece.

Being that I am a portraiture and figurative artist, a strong understanding of proportion, perspective, light and shadow is important in accurately achieving someone’s likeness. Even if absolute realism isn’t the goal. It’s really easy to change the entire look of a person by nudging a shadow too far one way, or placing a highlight in the wrong position. With drawing you’re able to simplify these aspects without the distraction of colors and truly focus on the shapes that are essentially the foundation of a drawing. The light and shadows that play together like building blocks, to create the features of a person’s face.


A solid foundation also requires proper materials. Materials that are as versatile as the art that I create are hugely important to my practice. When I want a soft, smooth finish to my drawings, I work on Strathmore 400 Series Smooth Bristol. For heavy contrast, I use Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media Paper. It has bit more tooth grabbing the graphite, creating beautiful darks that I love, while maintaining a smooth finish. All of my studies and concept drawings are done on those two. For my tea stains and paintings on paper, depending on the amount of texture I want for the final piece, I use Strathmore 400 Series cold press Watercolor Paper and 400 Series Mixed Media Paper. I create my graphite work with a 2b mechanical pencil for sketching and tiny details along with 6b to 9b soft graphite pencils. I paint primarily with acrylics and watercolors, and love mixing mediums.

Though formally trained in graphic design, I am self-taught as a fine artist, so there’s been lots of trial and error along the way. In design school I had a professor that would say “you must learn the rules before you can break the rules”. Almost 15 years later, I still carry those words with me and though this gem of advice was given in a design class, I have applied to so many parts of my work. Study, practice, start strong and then...explore!

The result of this advice and my practice is a body of work that is a fusion of realism and imagination, immersed in my love of numbers and geometrics, my love of nature and all things organic. My background in graphic design undoubtedly inspires my use of line work, the organic flow of my tea stains is a nod to nature, the natural flow of life and the parallels that I continue to explore between nature and femininity. All of these elements come together in my work to tell the stories of the faces that you see emerge from each piece.

I adore the intimacy of portraiture and figurative art, especially the eyes. When you spend hours, days and sometimes years up close with every dip and rise of a person’s face, you become so familiar with them, even if it’s someone you have never actually met. Every stage of the process reveals another detail about the muse. The way one corner of a mouth is delicately turned upward, the way someone’s shoulders sit slightly uneven, the love, peace, and pain that flows from their eyes.

Eyes are like a beacon to the soul of a person, to the heart of their story, with every inflection unique to them. It’s the main reason why eyes are always my starting point with every piece. Anchoring the piece with the eyes which is yet another way I like to create a strong foundation, to blocking out shadows as the image begins to emerge. Watching that person come to life right before you, when you lock eyes with the subject and their energy comes through, is a beautiful, powerful and humbling feeling.

My earliest memories of art always brings me to laughter when I think of how I visually differentiated gender by drawing men with square heads and women with circle heads. But my favorite things to draw and paint were landscapes, seascapes, and animals. As a teenager I fell in love with fashion and at this point I rarely bothered to draw more than what was needed to showcase the clothing. Who needs a head, hands, or feet when it’s about the fashion?! As a teenager people would ask why I didn’t draw/paint people more. My response every time was, “who wants to sit and stare at a face for hours? That’s boring!”

Now here I am, with a body of work that is predominantly portrait work and with an abundance of respect and admiration for it and the faces I have had the honor of creating. I'm really glad that even though I thought it was boring way back then, I never stopped drawing and never stopped practicing faces. Now in my 13th year as a full-time artist, I couldn’t imagine anything else being the foundation of my art!

Go back