Saturday 8 August 2015

Reference drawing: Portraiture Tips and Advice

Ever since I can remember, I've always been the "artistic one" in every group I've been in. In high school I distinctly remember being given extra time on drawing assignments because I was so dreadfully focused on the detail that before I knew it, my deadline was there and I had only but drawn the eyes on what was supposed to be a portrait of a role model in modern society. Whoops. The life of a perfectionist. 

I've always had a passion for art in general, but when I got older it grew into more of a passion for portraiture and drawing-from-reference. It's always been a talent that I've had, and whenever someone asked me "How did you draw that?" (shoutout to my fellow artists who never know how to answer that question) I would always say "Uh... what do you mean? I... I just... drew it?"

I was never good at the advice-giving, and it wasn't until college and various drawing classes that I really learned a lot about drawing (and how to "teach" it) from my professor. It amazed me that it was never about showing someone how to do something, or making them do something differently; it was always about showing people how to work with what they've got and improve upon their existing strengths.

Today I thought I would share what I've learned over my various years of art classes and what I've learned in my own experience drawing. I'm going to use my current work-in-progress drawing of Elizabeth Taylor as an example. You can click on the photo to enlarge it, if you wish. (It'll show a lot more detail enlarged).

1. Picking your reference
The first step to drawing anything from reference is, obviously, picking the right reference photo. You want something large and high quality. If you're replicating this photo you want to get as close to the detail as possible, and you can't do that if you're needing to make up/fill in parts on your drawing because they're not clear enough in the reference photo.

Once you've got your reference photo, it's always a great idea to bring it over to a photo-editing program and turn down the saturation so that it's black and white. A huge part of realistic drawing is being well aware of the positive and negative space on your paper, and that is much easier to see when the drawing is monochromatic. If a space on your photo is black, it's going to be dark on your drawing. If it's white, you leave that part empty. Everything else in between can be shaded.

2. Easy does it
The biggest tip I can give for starting off is this: Light-handedness is everything. An important thing to know is that everyone is different when it comes to the general weight of their hand-writing or drawing. Some people are rather heavy-handed and tend to just dig right into the paper, and some people are a lot lighter with their touch. You'll know which one you lean more toward. 

Here's the thing: Light-handedness is important for drawing because it takes a lot of light-to-dark shading that you build up and build up. If you start with a heavy hand, there's not much left to shade. You must be able to leave room for mistake and to do that, you need to be as gentle as possible with your hand strokes.

It's not a bad thing to be heavy-handed. Using the right pencils to match your needs is the key to this. Any standard drawing pencils will typically range from light to dark, and you just need to go with the one that counteracts your "weakness." If you're heavy-handed, stick with light pencils (in the B range). If you're light-handed (almost too much so), use something in the H range. If you find you don't fit strongly into either category or you feel you have a good handle over the weight of your drawing, standard HB is fine.

3. Outlining
This, in my opinion, is the most important thing, and the first thing to get done before anything else. Your outline is what sets the tone for the rest of your image. Getting the facial structure drawn properly and marking where everything goes (features, etc) is very important. It might also be a good idea to mark where the darkest shadows are on your paper, along with their shape, as it'll help you out later on. 

A tip: Bring your reference drawing over to a bright window, place it under your paper, and make marks. Assuming you're drawing to the same scale as your reference, this is a really easy way to make sure you get your proportions right. Trace the outlines of the shadows, mark your features. Get your outline. And draw it lightly! As you can see on my drawing, the outline is clearly there (wobbly, but there) and I have a clear idea of where everything is/is supposed to be. It gives me a look at the larger picture to keep me grounded when I'm focused on the detail. It's easy to get off track and start losing the larger picture. Having your outline will keep you organized.

4. Left to right, inward to outward
Before you start your drawing it's important to plan it out! I always try to keep to the above policy. Left to right and inward to outward. Drawing from left to right makes it easiest to not smudge, as your hand/arm will be resting on empty page while you work from one side to the other. If you're left-handed, just work from right to left. 

Here's where it gets tricky though, because I always think it's best to start with the face first in any portrait drawing. Everyone is different, but I think the face is so iconic and it defines the rest of the piece. Depending on your drawing, it might make the left-right/right-left thing difficult, so it's good to find a balance between the two. 

I always start with the eyes. Then I continue along with the face, flipping the page upside down if I have to so as not to smudge. Once I'm done with the face, I move outward and left-to-right at the same time. The good thing about using a reference photo is that if you need to flip your paper, just flip your reference photo too so it's always at the same angle. You can still get those tough spots by accessing them from a different angle, the left-right/in-out method is just what works best in my experience.

5. Cross-hatching
When you're shading, cross-hatching is one of the best ways you can achieve a natural, gradual light-to-dark look. Cross-hatching is exactly what it sounds like. You're drawing very light lines (in one direction, diagonally is good) in a space that needs some shading, and then you're adding more lines on top of those ones, only you're going in the opposite direction and creating them perpendicular to your previous lines. 

By doing this you're creating a very natural shadow, and it makes it easier for you to darken areas that need darkening in a gradient type of way. If you zoom into my example drawing, you can see very faint cross-hatching around the areas that I've shaded lightly: particularly around the tip of the nose and the bridge of the nose. 

6. Take your time
Something that always gets me is my feeling the need to rush when I draw. I always hated the deadlines for art class (and never made them) and a rushed drawing is not your best drawing. Whenever I start a new project, I tell myself that I'm going to take my damn sweet time finishing it because focusing on the little details really make a big difference. Don't breeze through all the little insignificances because they're not actually insignificant. 

When you sit down to draw, think of it as a relaxing thing. Sit somewhere comfortable (but with good light) and put on a movie. If it takes you five hours to get that one eye perfect, then that one eye is perfect. There's nothing worse than spending time on something and then feeling like you could've done better. This isn't a race; enjoy what you're doing and take your time doing it.

Good luck!
Thanks for reading and I really hope some of these tips helped if you've been wanting to get into drawing/portraiture and haven't been sure where to begin. Feel free to comment or email any questions or further advice you might seek.

What is some of your artistic wisdom? Share it with me!


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