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September 2013

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How to draw a portrait...

...no, this isn't exactly a how-to post, more of a thoughtful rambling about the process...

I recently bought Sarah Simblet's beautiful book called, appropriately enough, The Drawing Book.  I've LOVED looking at the work she included, her own and others, both Old and new Masters.  That's where I saw the Hans Holbein drawing that reminded me how much I love his portraits, and inspired me to try yesterday's portrait of Kevin.  (You can see the Holbein, small, on the book cover below at center left.)

You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/2lbu64 or just search for her name and The Drawing Book.)



Anyway, my point is that she and many of the other authors of drawing books I own offer suggestions on how to see and draw people, specifically, in this instance, portraits.  Simblet suggests seeing the head in sections, including the cranium, a rounded triangle for the face, the throat and the neck...other authors use other formulae, but all are intended to help us see, to help us simplify forms.

For some reason I find the techniques less helpful than I might wish, and I don't really know why.  When I try to use them, or the ones where you "measure" the placement of the eyes on the face or the length of the nose or position of the pupils or ears, I end up with something too homogenized, too stylized.

When I draw a portrait, I seem to look for lines and angles and planes and relationships in the specific face I'm drawing.  Not the ideal, just the shapes that are there, and the angles.  I'll often line up my pencil along the bridge of a nose in order to help me firm that line in my mind, or pay attention to how perspective affects the face.

As I've often said when writing about art, everything is just shapes--one subject is not really that much harder than another, it's just about shapes and their relationships.  (And of course how light and shadow help explain those shapes.)

Often, I do goof a bit when doing portraits--my chief failing is that I tend to get the eyes a little too close together, when drawing a face straight on.  I'm aware of that and try to watch myself, but I still do it from time to time!  (Maybe that's why I like profiles so much--just one eye to worry about.*GG*)  (Nah, really it's that profiles are so distinctive, so individual, and besides your subject doesn't seem as nervous when they're not staring right at you!)

Still, it's interesting to find how different my results are when I try to use the traditional drawing-and-seeing aids like those ideal measurements or Simblet's guidelines.  I ended up with a generic human, not a specific one...

I've been drawing for over half a century...and I STILL need more practice.  Good thing it's one of the delights of my life...

Comments

Good info, thanks!

And, when LJ or other sites get cranky about long links, I use http://tinyurl.com/ to make shorter ones that'll work. (This is also handy for email posts to lists, when the link would have to be cut & pasted to work.)
Thanks, girl, what synchronicity! I was JUST thinking of you, and trying to find your blog with your paintings from England! HELP, give me the URL again and I'll bookmark it! You've got so many websites (as do I!) that I hadn't found it yet...

And yep, I use http://tinyurl.com, too, don't know why I didn't think of it!
I haven't put anything from my recent UK trip online, yet. But, I've put my three latest paintings at my new (back to my real name) website, http://www.eibhlinmorey.com/ at the Paintings section. (That's all that's at the website, so far.)

Those paintings are also shown--in-progress and completed--at my Aisling.net blog, http://www.Aisling.net/blog.htm

Thanks for asking!
Good for you for resuming your original name! (If mine were that lovely, I'd do likewise, but Cathy Johnson is SO white bread!*GG* I use it where I have to, because it's got a degree of recognition, but I like Kate MUCH better...)

Thank you for both links, I've bookmarked them now! It was the blog I was thinking of, and I can't remember how I got there before...
And by the way, at the time I tried to comment on your blog, but it's not set up to take other than Blogger IDs. >;(