Tag Archives: study

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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Not giving up, and trying to do the best you can

20 Apr

Drawing can be plain awful and just frustrating at times. However, I know from personal experience those are the times I need to continue drawing and go through the process of reaching the next level. The reason I’m frustrated is often because I have reached a plateau I simply need to break through to advance. I think If you give up and accept you’ll never draw any better than this, you’ll never give yourself a chance to find that crack in the ceiling that enables you to slip through and reach the next level. I think this is one of the reasons why learning how to draw is so personal and no learning methodologies exist that are applicable to all. It is a highly personal journey with highs and lows. Other people can only give you advice, but never tell you how to do something in any exact manner. You simply have to find out for yourself what works for you.

So I had problems with the pose of this woman in number 66 of Drawing Unknown Faces. Her head was tilted slightly backwards and I tried to drawing some help lines on an egg-like shape standing on its pointy side, which a head can be seen as. However, how do you find out which direction the egg is pointing? D’oh, by looking which direction the pointy side is going, or, in other words, which direction the chin is pointing. This obvious notion was apparently oblivious to me when I started making the following sketch. This was not how the reference photo looked. The chin pointed in the wrong direction.

Drawing Unknown Faces, part 66 (3)

Fourth try, and this time I had figured out most of this pose and drew a pretty good representation of the reference photo, although the anatomy of her face still puzzles me. I really have to study that anatomy book by Christopher Hart.

Drawing Unknown Faces, part 66 (4)

So in evaluation it didn’t make the kind of sketch I had in mind, but I guess it will have to do for now. Some poses are just hard to draw, that’s for sure.

That is all.

Why am I having such a hard time drawing unknown faces?

20 Apr

I was wondering why, at times, my faces turn up so distorted and unlike the photo I’m using as a reference. To study my flaws, I decided to draw a simplified version of a sketch, with broad and straight line pieces. Here’s how a face turns out when I just start drawing without any plan.

Drawing Unknown Faces, part 66 (1)

So I should be drawing big shapes first and fill in the details later. So I tried that in the next sketch.

Drawing Unknown Faces, part 66 (2)

It turns out that I don’t have enough basic knowledge about how to draw the human face. Not that this is any surprise to me, but actually it should have prompted me to study human anatomy earlier. I’ve been slavishly drawing these “Unknown Faces” for much too long. I should have realized much sooner than I’m in need for some superior knowledge.

So I’m going to do that for a while, dabble in human anatomy, trying to figure out how to draw this woman more realistically. I know that’s not what art is supposed to be about, but there is the urge in me to do something beyond artistic expression, to become a craftsman at drawing, and not just someone who expresses his emotions and inner thoughts in a visual form.

That is all.

Study of Spock from Star Trek 2009

1 Apr

I clearly am a novice at drawing faces. Drawing Spock of the upcoming movie Star Trek (the eleventh in the sequel of movies) proved that once and for all. I drew the eyes too high among other things, which is a good indication that you’re a novice draftsman.

Of course, I shouldn’t be too surprised, because I only started drawing in January of this year, so I can’t really expect to be able to draw as good as someone who has been drawing faces for years and years. I should cast my hubris and accept my humble role as a newbie at drawing.

So, how about my sketch? Well, here it is, with all kinds of notes added to it. I hope it’s not too technical for you.

Study of Spock from Star Trek 2009

Spock is looking straight at us, but his face is a bit rotated in the horizontal plane (to his left, our right). This causes some foreshortening in the face. Furthermore, the horizon isn’t at eye-level (the level of Spock’s eyes), but slightly below his eyes. I guess this is for cinematic effect, making him larger than the observer (that would be us), somewhat bigger than life.

Anyway, here as some rules of thumb I found in this face:

  • space between the chin and top of the upper lip is 1/4 of the height of the head
  • space between the chin and lower eyelid is 1/2 of the height of the head
  • space between the chin and bottom of the nose is 1/3 of the height of the head
  • space between the bottom of the lower lip and the top of the upper eyelids is 1/3 of the height of the head
  • the line through a mouth corner and the edge of the pupil at the side of the nose is vertical for each side of the face (provided the person looks forwards)

I tried to find a rule of thumb for the inner eye corners and the nose, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple rule, probably because the corners of the mouth and eyes are more or less in the same horizontal plane, while the nose sticks out of this plane. The same applies to the parts of the lips that stick out of the face (because of the teeth pushing them outwards). I guess that means you have to eyeball (read: draw blind) those features.

Before I attempt a drawing of Spock, I should look into the anatomy of the face, to check if what I have found isn’t too anecdotal, but applies to most adult people.

That is all, for now.

How to digest new stuff and ideas

13 Dec

When I was in university college, as a freshman, I was taught how to learn, how to ingest study material. It was largely concerned about memorizing stuff. How do you get facts into your head and keep it there for as long as you need it there?

The idea was to do repetition, work your way through a text, and repeat it after a few days or weeks. The questions in the textbook were to ensure you had understood the theory behind the text and had enough of the facts stored into your memory to reason about the subject you’re studying.

We learned about skimming, going through a text fast, only remembering key words and phrases. This was to get a quick overview, some idea what the text was about, without getting lost in the details. You also had to make sure that the text was complete, or if you perhaps needed additional text or information, in order to fully understand the text. If you did, you had to get hold of those additional texts first, before you continued to the next phase.

Next, there was the detailed reading, where you tried to understand what the author meant, what his or her reasoning was. At this point, you needed the supplied questions, to test if you really understood the subject. Either those questions were in the text, or at the end of a chapter. You dealt with the questions as they were supplied by the author of the textbook. Also, the chapters were to be read in order.

Finally, there was a third reading, where reading in order wasn’t mandatory, but rather reading according to subject matter. With that I mean that you took notes, transcribing your thoughts, what you found interesting, and –most importantly– what you didn’t understand. Here either the additional texts, or the index of the textbook were recommended. If you didn’t understand an item, you could look it up in the index or use the references in the notes for additional reading. Anyway, you were in the “dissecting stage” of the reading. All doubts about clarity of the text and the reasoning by the author should be gone after this stage. If not, you should ask your tutor or professor next time you attended college or the practicum.

Now in this third stage, you had to be a critical reader. The idea was that you’re supposed to foster the independent mind, the creative thinker inside yourself. That imaginary person should be able to write down new ideas that withstand the critique of fellow experts in the field. In order to prove something, you had to prove that the opposite of what you claimed was false. So, the intensive third reading required you to do a lot of what-ifs, judging alternatives to what the author proposed in his or her text.

Luckily, young adolescent minds tend to think like that, not accepting anything, unless it is proven to be true, without reservation. It’s when relationships deepen (later in life) the obligatory compromises creep in, and this kind of black and white reasoning is blurred in everyday life. You experience by trial and error that some things are better not discussed if you want to maintain a relationship. Relationships are mostly about what is not said, then about what is being said to each other. It cements the trust people have in each other.

Inquisitive minds aren’t so trusting. They take nothing for granted. This attitude should be applied to study books as well. New ideas are often prompted by people that aren’t yet familiar with existing ideas. Some of these bright young minds might be arguing that other ideas might be just as valid, or even more valid. In science that means old ideas are either supplemented or replaced by new ideas. Of course, the ideas have to be tested in the real world, because ideas are only ideas, and reality doesn’t always act according to human fancy.

But don’t take my word for it how to best acquire new knowledge and ideas. Find out what works best for you. Rules about learning aren’t set in stone. They are just rules of thumb, methods that seem to work for most situations. Perhaps you have found or developed superior methods, or methods that are better suited for your situation. By all means, don’t hesitate to use your own rules if they work for you. And perhaps you could spare some of your time to enlighten other people with your insights. I’m always curious of new methods of speed learning.

I’m eagerly waiting for comments. Bring it on, people! I love it when proven wrong. That is when I learn something about myself and the world around me.

That is all.