Serendipity! I stumbled on artprof.org and this lesson on portraiture just as I’m starting this series. Some reflections as I inked… I approached this drawing very much as a relationship between two figures. I did NOT start with the eyes, nose, and mouth (I had to think about that when Prof. Lieu asked in the video). I did it just like I did the succulent or the cow (posts to come). I go from big forms to small. So maybe I did learn something in Drawing 101.
Also, I’m excited to translate from picture to sketch to ink to watercolor. It’s like Sr. Sheila teaching us how to write a term paper — making notes, making notecards, and writing from there. I like the distance from the original, the opportunities to inject some sort of unconscious translation or stylization. It reminds me of how I had to plan out my printmaking projects.
Some portrait artists to note:
Jordan Casteel. Great interview with the artist where she talks about her twin brother and representing Black men. Really big paintings. Yale and Harlem School
Faith Ringgold. She fights for women artists in the art world — we want 50% at the Whitney Biennial. Art is a visual image of who you are. That’s the power of being an artist.
Alice Neel. Love her quirky portraits — the proportions are all wrong, the perspective, the expressions!
Mark Tansey. A Gagosian artist. Monochromatic — like ONE c0lor! Huge paintings. Example: The Key — a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve getting kicked out of Eden.
Top 5 Portraiture Mistakes
- Stressing about likeness and accuracy. There’s emotional baggage associated with portraits (versus still lifes). It affects you emotionally.
- Starting with the eyes, nose, mouth. Building the hair, neck, shoulders around the facial features. Those are details and take up very little of the portrait. You should start with the things that take up the most mass. Think about it like a sculptor. You would not start with the eyeball! Start with the structural stuff. The three most important structural elements of a face: the zygomatic arches, the mandible, and the ear — they all connect. It’s like a little intersection. Anatomy is connect the dots. Once you know the basic structure. Even at sketching stage, look at the big things — the slouch, the shoulders, etc. Don’t add those later.
- Drawing the details too soon. Simplify the form and establishing the structure. Details are like sprinkles on a cupcake. Bake the cupcake first otherwise you don’t have anything. Details without structure will fall apart. They should be the last 5%. 95% should be building up form, thinking about shadow, lighting, anatomy, structure. Drawings don’t even have to have detail to be successful. Not the pupils, the eye socket!
- Drawing exclusively from photos. Train yourself to draw from life and that makes it easier when you draw from photos. Build a foundation of drawing from life. Do quick casual sketches (like of your family). 5 minute sketches. Keep it fresh. Make it surprising to yourself — not what you expect.
- Drawing the hair last. You lose the mass of the hair. It’s part of the structure. It’s part of someone’s personality. If you work with it without that mass for so many hours and hope that the personality is going to come across. You end up like they have wigs on. Artificial, like you can just peel the hair off the head. Get the hair in there early on. A portrait isn’t eyes, nose and mouth. You have to work on all of it as a cohesive thing. The chin matters just as much. The way the person holds their shoulders or neck.
Seven: initial sketch and reference photo
No shortcuts! I’m becoming aware of my tendency to punt something down the field…
I’ll deal with that later. I’m going to stop doing that because it just aggravates the problem later. I’m going to deal with it now, assessing whether I am happy with the execution of this piece right here in the sketching stage before I move on — are the expressions the way I want them? The hands? Etc. I will not assume I can fix it in the painting stage.
This is where the translation from a photograph to artwork happens so am I happy with it? I’m not projecting and tracing. I’m actually drawing — intentionally. I don’t want it to look like I traced it. I want something to happen in between those two states. Do I like the translation?
Also at this point, do I have enough data so that I can paint it well? Do I need to add more cues that will help me later?
There’s something wacky going on with the right hand. Re-drawing that before I ink.