Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Giving the Brain an Opportunity


10/25/23 Prismacolors in Uglybook
10/24/23 unfinished

My sporadic portrait practice continues in different media and approaches. Earthsworld’s seemingly endless supply of portrait reference photos makes it too easy to try a new medium or idea with a portrait. Sometimes I just want to feel productive when I’m tired and would rather eat chips while I view silly YouTubes. All of these shown here were late-night works of the latter type.

All were made from Earthsworld reference photos except the first one (above), which has an interesting process story. Christophe Swijsen, a French cartoonist and caricaturist, is the tireless moderator for the Facebook group dedicated to artists who are fans of working from Earthsworld portraits. Every day, he selects and posts an image from Earthsworld’s vast catalog, and group members respond to his challenge by sketching the selected reference and sharing in the group. The group is such a fun, inspiring collection of wildly different styles and skill levels.

9/11/23 Prismacolors in Uglybook
On the occasion of his birthday, Christophe posted his own selfies and challenged members to draw from them! It was late, and I was tired, but I couldn’t resist honoring Christophe with a portrait. Unfortunately, all of the images he offered were taken in the shade with flat, mostly consistent lighting on his face – the hardest kind to draw. Although I knew it wasn’t ideal, I gave it a shot anyway.

The next morning when I was going to share it on the Facebook group, I realized I was dissatisfied with my tired, half-hearted attempt the previous night. That same week, I was working on sketching from memory in Kathleen Moore’s class. I had been thinking about how different the experience of drawing is when I don’t have a reference to observe as I draw. Instead of going back to the reference photo of Christophe, I just gave stronger contrast to the sketch where I thought it should be, even though it wasn’t in the photo.

10/4/23 AmazonBasics colored pencils in
Field Notes Streetscapes sketchbook

I know many painters use reference photos only as inspiration and a point of departure, and eventually they stop looking at the reference while they turn their painting into something that is much more than a copy of a photo. But because I’d done nothing but draw from direct observation for so long, it is taking me a while to learn not to depend so exclusively on my eyes. I should give my brain more opportunities to show that it knows what to do, even without having something to observe. This isn’t much, but it’s a start.

Since I’ve just wrapped up InkTober (final post coming soon), this is an ideal opportunity to again acknowledge France Van Stone, whose online courses in crosshatching a year ago gave me the confidence to take on portraiture like I never had before – and gave me the skills to keep right on going beyond InkTober. Even when I’m not crosshatching, the principles she teaches still apply. I think about them with any medium or technique. 

9/15/23 Derwent Drawing pencil in Uglybook

10/29/23 Bic ballpoint in Moleskine sketchbook


  1. I think your brain gave you very good guidance for completing Christophe's portrait. The second image 'lifts off the page'. Congratulations!
    ~ David Miller

    1. Thanks, David! Every now and then this old brain comes through. ;-)

  2. As I've done more sketching from memory, I've been amazed at how many things I have no idea how to draw even though they may be simple things I see all the time. But I noticed I could conger up more simple relatively accurate sketches to document my days for my #INKtober practice. And when I defaulted to drawing from an item in front of me, like a bottle of beer, it soon went horribly wrong! Oddly enough, I think I lost my concentration with the item in front of me. And as always, the more you do something, like draw from memory, the better you get. I love those last two portraits of yours.

    1. I have the same experience -- my mind goes blank even with simple things I've looked at many times! It just goes to show that we are not truly seeing unless we completely focus. Drawing makes us do that, but when we don't have our eyes to rely on, the brain has to do a lot more work observing to retain the details.


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