Why anatomy is important for drawing faces

21 Apr

Browsing and reading through Bridgeman’s “Complete Guide to Drawing from Life”, an important passage of text caught my eye:

In drawing, one must look for or suspect that there is more than is casually seen. The difference in drawing is in what you sense, not what you see. There is other than which lies on the surface.

So, if you want to draw a portrait you need to have an idea, or a conception, of what you’re looking at. Simply drawing what you see will not be very productive, certainly not when perspective comes into play.

Based on my recent experience with drawing faces I can only underwrite this idea that you need to have a deeper understanding of what you’re are drawing than merely observing what is visible in a photo. Even tracing the photo will not lead to a satisfactory result. If you don’t know what to trace and (most importantly) what not to trace, your drawing will look like a jumble of lines and hardly a portrait made by a skilled artist.

So study it is. I would like to have avoided this, because it means I can’t draw as much as I would like to. The benefit will be, though, that my art goes to a next level. At least, that is what I hope it will.

Now Bridgeman explains that you only see a face without perspective if someone is looking straight at you, with his or her eyes at the same level as your eyes. In short, most of the times you will be looking at a head in a perspective view. This ever present effect of perspective on the head and face is why you need to know how perspective is changing what you see.

Though perspective changes directly what you see, there are things that don’t change, that remain the same. These are the masses of the head, the big blobs of bone and flesh the head is made of. You need to have a mental picture of these big (three-dimensional) masses, which –in proportion– remain the same, from which ever angle you look. After you’ve established these, you may refine your mental image with the planes of these masses, the near-flat surfaces you can clearly see in the head. As a last refinement you can picture the rounded parts of the head, where the shape of the head is curved.

The trick is to integrate all these notions (ways of looking at the head) into a mental image. This mental image can be seen as the blueprint for the standard head. With this blueprint in mind, you look at your model and try to find where he or she deviates from it, and use these observations to make a drawing of an individual head. It is a step-by-step approach which should help you to quickly put someone’s portrait on a piece of paper with a likeness that grows with each further refinement in your drawing. Of course, it will take a lot of practice to become efficient at it. In the beginning, you will need a lot more time than someone who has done this for many years. Even so, both the novice and experienced artist should be able to create an image that bears some degree of resemblance to the original (i.e. the person whose portrait is being drawn).

There is much more to this approach by Bridgeman on how to draw the human head. If you’re interested I suggest you read Bridgeman’s excellent book on drawing from life. It is a bit academic and not everyone will appreciate this style of learning. Apparently, I need a more thorough and well-considered learning method than the more loose (and less cerebral) approach by Christopher Hart. The learning curve of the academic approach is steeper and may hurt your brain at times, but I guess in the end your understanding of the matter will be much more profound.

Both approaches are valid, though. I guess it depends on your personality what book you prefer. Even so, both books underwrite the notion that you need to understand what you see before you can draw it.

That is all.

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