|9/29/22 30-minute exercise. Bic ballpoint in Stillman & Birn|
When I took a portraiture workshop with Gary Faigin a few years ago, a key takeaway was that portrait resemblance is based on larger, overall shapes like the planes of the face, relative positions of features, and the proportions of those features – not the details of the features themselves. Although I don’t sketch portraits often, those principles have stayed with me, and I have tried to apply them whenever I have.
The big issue is that if I don’t notice that my proportions or relative feature positions are off during initial block-in, I will proceed to fill in details of the features, and it won’t be until I’m finished that I suddenly see the problem.
The exercise shown here, a 30-minute portrait from France Belleville-Van Stone’s “dirty” crosshatching course, is an excellent case in point. After the previous 20-minute assignment, 30 minutes seemed downright leisurely, so I took my time blocking in the main proportions and double-checking measurements. I thought they were accurate. Then I went to town on facial planes and individual features, which were so interesting on this man’s face. When I finished, I was pleased with my result – until I held my drawing up next to the photo reference and realized that the whole face is too short relative to its width. Even the chin is too short.
If you isolate an eye or the nose or the lips, you might say I captured a pretty good likeness, but would this guy’s mother recognize him? She might, but she’d also say there was something off, and she’d be right.
On the upside, I think my range of tones is improving, and I paid attention to messy crosshatching instead of messy hatching, which is more my habit. I also put away the Bic Velocity pens and went back to Cristals. I still had to wipe the tip constantly, but I didn’t get as many of the big ink drools that the Velocity gave me on the previous exercise.
|Reference photo by @Earthsworld on Instagram|
Incidentally, looking back at my blog post about Faigin’s workshop, I was reminded of this quotation from him: “If you want to learn to draw portraits, the worst thing you can do is to practice by drawing from photographs.” Because I have little experience drawing portraits from photo references, I thought these exercises would be challenging, and they obviously are (as this whole post is about). But it is so much easier to draw from photos than from real-life faces in front of me (even my own in a mirror). It’s clear to me why Faigin would say we learn so much more from life drawing than from photo references. These exercises feel like I’m simply “copying” from one flat image to another. I’m not saying that’s an easy task, but it’s much easier than drawing a three-dimensional head. Drawing from photos is ideal for learning a specific technique like crosshatching, but I know what kind of practice I really need if I want to improve my portraiture.