I absolutely LOVE drawing faces. I love the detailed mapping of a face, and how the simplest little line or shade can change the entire look of someone, for the better or worse.
In school we learned the proper ways of facial proportion for artists, and if you want to get better at drawing faces, it’s the absolute way to go (something like this). You focus on how to lay out the face by using the eye as a specific unit of measurement. It is mathematical, it is precise, and it is also fluid and easily adaptable…each face is different, but easy to measure, if you pay attention to the proper structure of proportion.
If you follow those guidelines and those measurements (and how they pertain to each person you draw), the person you’re trying to draw will look very much like they’re supposed to.
But once I learned all that and it made sense, I started to have fun with it.
Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” And for anyone just starting out, I’d always recommend learning the basic foundations first. Not because you can’t HANDLE doing it on your own….but because it’ll make you a better artist in the long run.
But once I learned the structure of proportion, instead of laying it out in advance, I began to start in one spot, and just see where it takes me. Here’s a line. What’s next door? Oh, it’s darker here, and lighter a little bit over there….
Now I very RARELY (alright, maybe even NEVER) draw with any sort of preplanned layout, or sketch out proportions in advance.
Instead of measurement and preciseness, I draw a line, look at what’s around it, and make some rough guess as to where it all fits in. Sure, it’s not precise, but it’s more enjoyable to me, to see where the face will take me. That’s where the fun part and the personality in drawing comes from, for me.
Sometimes it works, and what I end up with is basically what I was hoping for, with a bit of that magical distortion that makes my brain smile.
And sometimes it doesn’t, and I get to the end and it’s not quite what I thought it would be. And even though I THINK I’ve followed my own directions as I look at my reference, there’s something that doesn’t work. As if, despite following my map, I took a wrong turn somewhere. Something that’s off, that isn’t making it sing…
Sometimes it’s a little simple thing and it will change the entire look of everything. Sometimes it just can’t be saved. Either way, it’s more fun to me to create this way than aiming for absolute realism.
Sometimes a face is so simple, with such simple characteristics that you have to play very close attention to the tiny little details to have it even come close to making sense. The tiniest line in a carefully placed area can change someone’s entire look. And I mean that literally: one. single. tiny. line.
Babies are difficult that way. Babies, artistically speaking, are circles with simplified features floating in a sea of smoothness, with very little lines around to tell you where to go, or where each thing fits in relation to the other. Babies are hard.
But so are some adults. I drew Angelica Huston recently three times, and still couldn’t get the simple subtleties of her face quite right, even with my altered proportions. Actress Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones) has such a unique face that has continued to elude me–with such simple but heavy expression even just in the slightest move of her eyebrows, or the littlest smirk.
This is probably why people who are typically deemed “beautiful” or “handsome” don’t seem so at all to me: their faces are devoid of personality, wiped clean of any imperfections. They could be ANYBODY. They look like the same polished versions of eachother with different styling options. They seem empty.
In MY world, imperfections are absolutely what make someone interesting. One of my very favorite lines is from Francis Bacon, who said, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” It’s the odd things that make us beautiful, make us interesting, and give our faces stories to tell. The things that make you different, make you stand out, or make you uncomfortable? When you remove the emotional reaction, those are the very same things that make you SPECIAL.
I sort of fall in love a little with someone’s lines when I draw them. Not romantic love, but more a VERY deep appreciation of their shapes, their lines, their uniqueness. I think that (aside from just not wanting to give attention to negativity, or show disrespect to any survivors) is why I have trouble drawing serial killers or concentration camp survivors, or some other such mortifying characters.
There are so many stories that faces can tell…especially when you find the unique thing about them, and celebrate their differences and individual strangeness!