For this exercise, you’ll use your imagination and the skills you’ve learned to draw someone you’ve seen momentarily – or not at all. Perhaps someone you’ve seen on the bus or in a shop? Or you might create a portrait of a fictional character based on a description in a book.
This exercise should prompt the question, ‘What is a portrait?’ Should it show something more about the person than mere physical characteristics and, if so, what? How difficult is it to create a portrait of someone from a chance meeting or completely from the imagination? Make notes in your learning log.
Meet my version of Harry Hole the Norwegian detective who is the main character in the Jo Nesbo series of books.
Harry is a bit on the edge, sometime alcoholic, sometimes brutal, but (usually) always super effective and with a predilection for Doc Martin boots.
One thing not accurate in my image is that the Boiler Room is actually in the basement of Oslo police HQ, not, as I have it, on an upper floor looking out over, well Oslo police HQ.
Drawn on 40x50cm 250gsm oil painting paper in oil pastel.
I have been re-reading the Jo Nesbo books again and this may, or may not, be what Harry looks like, but in the books he likes to dress casual and loud and has a particular taste in footwear. I imagine him with a full, though slightly receding, head of spiky blond hair as it fits his image in my mind. The link with the Boiler Room is that this is where his cramped office is located – divorced from the upper echelons on the floors above, tolerated, ignored if possible, but usually called upon when things go pear-shape. The Boiler Room is also where some who have worked there with Harry end up being killed on the job. That’s the back-story of Harry Hole in a nutshell. Have I captured the essence of it in this drawing? Only he knows!
The portrait is much more than the figure and features, it’s also about the attitude, the story, the psychology, the mood of the sitter, amongst other things. The same can be said for the drawer or painter – what are they bringing to the dance?
Create two interesting images of your own face. You’ll need to think about the pose, measuring, tonal variation and lines and marks. Don’t worry about producing an attractive or accurate likeness; the aim is to create a believable face with the features in more or less the right place.
Look at yourself in a mirror and quickly draw several five-minute studies of your face, neck and shoulders. Slightly adjust the angle of your head to avoid a disconcerting straight-ahead stare.
Keep moving your pencil around the drawing and don’t be tempted to concentrate on just one area at a time; this will inevitably cause an unnatural and tight image. Study the whole of the face and keep working in shadows and lines until the features begin to emerge within the three-dimensional form of the face and head. Remember that there are bones and muscles beneath the skin and that you’re positioned within a spatial and physical environment – a room or some other place. Add a few marks and lines to suggest this, but don’t go into too much detail. The focus should be on the face.
As already mentioned, avoid drawing a closed outline of the head. This often serves to trap the features inside its oval form and any mistakes in measuring will be hard to rectify. Instead keep your marks and lines loose and fragmented; this will allow you to make changes as you work. Try to create several small studies that improve your ability to capture realistic features. Remember the earlier mention of ‘waves’ and think how repeated lines can add vitality and movement to a still image. The face may be still but there is always a hint of movement beneath the surface.
Before you start, consider the angles or movement of your head. Think about whether to look straight ahead, down, up or slightly to one side. The imaginary vertical line that travels through your nose will indicate movement if it appears to be off centre.
Start to build in the loose shape of the features. Keep it simple – don’t get caught up in small details. Don’t worry about a likeness at this stage. If you get the shapes and angles more or less right the personality will evolve.
Consider the hair as it surrounds and drops into the facial plane. Work in the positive and negative shapes and don’t get involved with drawing individual hairs.
The face is made up of basic shapes and angles influenced by the bone and muscle structures beneath the skin. Try to think about these as you draw but don’t be too obvious in sketching basic forms.
Use tonal gradation to indicate three-dimensionality. Describing the shadows on the facial plane will give the head a sense of solidity.
The darkest shadow on the facial plane is within the eye sockets at either side of the nose. The shadow under the nose is lighter. Again, avoid rigid outlining unless you want a cartoon effect.
Once you’ve completed a full self-portrait, take a break before revisiting the image and consider how it might have been better. Do the proportions, angles, tones, etc., work? Note down your thoughts to help you when you begin work on your second self-portrait. Look at it in the mirror and see if there are measuring issues. Look at it upside down and from a distance. This helps you see with different eyes.
For the second image position yourself differently, and try using a different medium and approach. If the previous version was in pen and ink, try charcoal or conté.
The following page gives an indication of the basic proportions of the features in relation to the head, bearing in mind that all our faces are different and rarely symmetrical. If you weren’t happy with your first image, follow these guidelines for your second attempt. Compare the two self-portraits you’ve produced and make some notes in your learning log about what you did differently and how this affected the final outcome.
• Which drawing materials produced the best results? Why? • Does your self-portrait look like you? Trying showing it to some friends or family members. • How difficult was it to move on from sketches of individual features to a full portrait?
2B pencil sketches of myself in a mirror. Everything is kind of in the right place I think, but doesn’t really feel like my face – more focus needed.
For the first self-portrait I wanted to go larger so chose an A2 sheet of 200gsm fine grain/heavy weight paper. Drawing my self portrait, from my image in the mirror, while standing using a Pitt graphite block stick I began by lightly shading in the features of the nose first, working up to the eyes and then down to the mouth while all the time working on the other facial features around the central focal points. Once the nose, eyes and mouth were set, I placed the ear and then added darker shading where required. The smock top I was wearing was sketched in last. Finally, I added some very light conté dust brush marks to the deeper shadows of the face and also the right-hand background panel to give some contrast.
This was a much better rendering than the preparatory quick sketches. It took just over an hour to complete and overall I am fairly happy with it.
Drawn on an A2 280gsm canvas block sheet, my second self-portrait took an angle from the other side. I used POSCA marker pens to block in the background and the smock top and coloured ink and waterbrush for the facial features. I drew a rough outline of the head shape and once the background was completed I then proceeded as in my first drawing – starting with the nose, eyes and mouth while at the same time marking in features around (ear, neck, hair). It took some time and several runs of layering the ink, both wet-on-wet, and wet-on-dry, to try and get the colouring and shading about right for a sixty-two year old male with diabetes and high blood pressure – a bit chubby and the eyes don’t half seem intense, hey … that’s me – and my wife agrees, which is a wee bit worrying, joking!
This self-portrait took a couple of hours (waiting for stuff to dry and some reworking). All in all, I’m fairly satisfied with this effort as well, and together the two self-portraits are the best I have managed to produce, so far.
I am reasonably happy with both drawings. Using graphite block stick for the first self-portrait allowed me to get my mark making down on paper relatively quickly, and I enjoyed working to the larger scale that I did with the three preparatory sketches – they seem small, mis-shaped and not very satisfactory in comparison.
I enjoyed using the graphite stick and finger for rubbing.
The second self-portrait obviously took longer to complete, but again I enjoyed using the marker pens and ink. As to ‘best results’ in terms of drawing materials used, I feel that I am fairly comfortable with both sets of medium.
Rather than select a preference, my main observation is that capturing the essence the eye and what lies behind it remains a troublesome aspect – I think in both self-portraits the eyes are kind of scary, staring, fixed, almost lifeless and not actually a natural part of the facial features of this person – me?
Look at people (including yourself ) in the flesh, in magazines, TV and other places and study the individual features. Practise drawing these in your sketchbook, a couple of pages per feature – different kinds of nose, eyes, ears, lips, chin, hair, eyebrows, etc. If it helps, use an enlarging grid to scale up a found image. Bear in mind that tonal variation, hatching and curved lines help model the form of facial features in the same way as they do in a still life or landscape.
When you feel fairly confident, draw an entire face. Don’t worry if your lines and marks overlap and become untidy, and don’t erase your mistakes. These workings and re-workings are part of the thinking process and show your tutor that you understand where you went wrong and worked to put it right.
I again made use of 360⸋ DVD life models from Virtual Pose 3: the ultimate visual reference series for drawing the human figure (Chakkour, 2004), as well as various images from the web. Apart from one or two wobblies, I think that overall I have captured the facial forms and expressions fairly well.
The full face sketch was a challenge, but I am pleased with the way it has turned out – rugged, well lived face. 2B pencil in a variety of mark makings – lines, shadings and finger rubs.