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Why the Soul Sketch Project? First, I think I’ll blame the Mona Lisa.

Anyone who has ever tried to do a study sketch of the Mona Lisa quickly develops an appreciation for Da Vinci’s grasp of how to play with chiaroscuro. He manipulates that light and shadow effect to produce the famous enigmatic smile. Turns out, that microexpression is extremely difficult to reproduce. Until you try it, for you, the Mona Lisa will likely be a rather nice drawing of a lady with a mysterious smile. Big whoop.

We can also lay some blame with Benedict Cumberbatch. One day, I was watching an episode of his turn as Sherlock Holmes. There was a moment in the episode when he turns away from a window and a mischievous smile flashes across his face. That smile is prompted by his landlady’s reaction to a wall peppered with bullets. (Great scene, by the way.)

Wow: I had to draw that look!

Inspired and energized, I marked the timestamp of the video and replayed it. It was fleeting, and the expression was difficult to capture in a screenshot. I had to play it at very slow speed and then pause it at the precise moment of expression.

I quickly discovered the expression was even more difficult to draw. As with most of my drawings and paintings, the final product doesn’t live up to the actual moment captured by my mind’s eye (result shown above).

The most interesting part of the chiaroscuro effect, at least to me, is that you can sketch for days and the portrait will look frustratingly freakish and unnatural. Then, suddenly, a few tiny pencil strokes and erasures finally replicate the subtle light and shadow that makes up the expression effect you’ve been trying to recreate.

That’s why, since the Sherlock sketch, I have been obsessed with capturing those moments on paper. I hope to get as close to replicating that moment of pure personality as I possibly can. And, you can help!

If you would like to be a subject of one of my sketches in my current project, please visit the Soul Sketch Call for Participation page for details. This is an ongoing project, with no submission deadline.

In the meantime, let’s create—and let’s Be Mused!