Simple Tricks to Improve Your Portraits

jonathan_silver_97When you feel inspired to create a unique portrait that captures the essence of your subject, it really helps if you have a few techniques to guide you.  Whether you might like to paint, photograph, collage, sculpt or draw it helps to immerse yourself in simple light sketches as a place to start.

Although every face is of course different, and our faces change as we age, there are some rough proportions that you can use as a guideline to help you create more realistic portraits. It also gives a great guide if you are feeling nervous about trying a portrait!

Start with the eyes!  If you take a piece of paper and draw a line horizontally and vertically through the middle of the page you can then line the eyes up so the horizontal line runs through the middle of the eyes.

To finalise the placement of the eyes you can divide the page into 5 vertical segments, the left eye will then fit neatly within the second segment and the right eye will fit within the fourth segment, along the horizontal line you have already drawn.

Now you have a place for the eyes on your face, really study the shape of the eyes.  Gently reproduce them, not too much detail at this stage – you can always come back for more!

To place the mouth draw a faint line 1/8th of the way from the bottom of the page.  The centre of the lips should run through this line.  The end of the lips should line up vertically with the pupils in the eyes.

Remember when drawing the mouth that the top lip will usually be darker than the bottom, as the top lip will be slightly in shadow and the bottom lip will catch the light.

The bridge of the nose starts between the eyes and will curve out and upwards to the eyebrows above the eyes.  The bottom of the nose can be lined up along a horizontal line drawn on the bottom quarter of the page, although this can vary as nose lengths differ.  The edge of each nostril should line up with a triangle shape from the outside corner of the eye to the top centre of the lips and the width should be equal to one eye width.

The tops of the ears should start at the eye line and the bottom will be at the horizontal lip line.

Hairlines vary dramatically! As a guide you could try lining the hairline along the top ¼ line of the page.

The above proportions will vary for each person you draw so please do keep observing your subject and working from their unique proportions, but we find that using these guides can be a useful way to gain an understanding of portraiture.

If you are recreating from a still image, then your light source will remain the same, if you are drawing from life, this will alter the longer you draw throughout the day! – It can be useful to very lightly mark out the areas where shadows fall on the face, particularly with the nose!  If you look at pencil portraits, the noses, lips, jaw lines etc all are made up from tonal variations in light and shadow – so gently begin with these areas.

Changing Angles
Now you have thought about the facial proportions from ‘front-on’, these can be altered slightly according to the angle you are capturing the person from.  Please see the clever diagram below for a rough guide of where to start.  Remember, start with very light guidelines.

Portraiture Inspiration For You!
Why not pop along to the National Portrait Gallery in London:  Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery:  Or visit the Whitworth in Manchester!

Remember we have lots of lovely life drawing and creative drawing classes in all three cities too if you’d like to learn more!

As always, we’d love to hear how you are getting on, wishing you creativity!

Authors:  Becca Scofield & Jennifer Fleming

Artwork above:  David Hockney’s portrait, sketches adapted from Kristen Janes.

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