The Structure of a Portrait

Matea 1

Drawn on the “back” side of Canson Mi-Tentes. The texture is much smoother.

I said I was going to paint more this year.  And so I started… sketching!  What can I say?  I do think that experimenting with different tools and mediums adds to what I do.

And I am still working on simplifying.  There always seems to be a monkey wrench somewhere in the mix.  My latest focus has been getting my meal plan down.  That whole food thing takes way too much time.  Unfortunately not eating is not an option.  Just when I thought I had it down, my daughter, who as a toddler would have mysterious rashes that would come and go, sometimes in a matter of hours, developed rashes that were not going away.  Through the process of elimination I determined that wheat was the problem.  After three days of eliminating wheat, her rashes were practically gone!  Unfortunately, I felt like I was cooking all of the time.  I finally feel like I have a handle on it.  The good news is that I have two new favorite recipes from America’s Test Kitchen; Oven Fried Chicken & Beef and Black Bean Taco Dip.

To fulfill my need to create I put together a “traveling studio” complete with colored pencils, Canson Mi-Tentes paper and photo reference – if I should want to use it.  I felt the need to draw people.  Not just people, but babies.  Babies, believe it or not, can be harder to draw than adults.  Have I told you that I like a challenge?  Babies have different proportions and their features are much softer.  It can be hard to maintain that “baby” feel.  When I draw kids, they usually end up looking older than they should.  Hopefully I’ll become really good at drawing babies, then I will do better with the bigger kids.

Baby 1

Drawn on the “front” of Canson Me-Tentes Paper. This side has a lot of texture.

I wanted to share a few tips for drawing portraits.  Make sure that the features line up with each other.  The best way to do this is to lightly draw in the structure lines.  Don’t worry about those lines showing through later.  They will become part of the drawing.  As you draw in the eyes, nose and mouth, keep checking to make sure that everything is still parallel with each other.  Keep checking to make sure that an eye hasn’t drifted out of its socket.  Even if everything is lined up at the beginning, as you shade to create form, features can start to move out of alignment.


Structure Lines

Structure Lines

Once I was doing a drawing where I put down a line and decided that it was wrong.  I erased it and redrew it.  I erased it and redrew it again.  So I decided that it must be right after all.  Was it right?  Was it wrong?  I don’t remember.  What I do remember is that I came away with the idea that no line is right or wrong until it has a relationship to something else. So throw out that eraser.  It will help you so much.  Think of your eraser as a tool for adding highlights, not for erasing “mistakes.”

Once you have your structure lines in and you feel that they accurately indicate placement of features, think about drawing in the bone structure.  This is very important – when you draw something on one side of the face, draw the same thing on the other side.  When you draw in the brow bone on the left side, immediately draw in the brow bone on the right.  This will help you to maintain the alignment and size of the features.  When you draw one eye in its entirety first, it is very difficult to get the other eye to match.


Face Sketch 2


Face Sketch 3


Face Sketch 4


Face Sketch 5

Keep working back and forth from side to side until everything is in place.  And remember, as you shade to create form, features can start to move out of alignment.  Keep checking.

Science by itself is about numbers, and it’s about measuring things.  It’s very important but it’s very dry.
James Balog



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s