Recently, while doodling a little, it struck me how often I nearly crumple and toss away my idea completely, and thought I’d walk through the process of how I draw a face. I won’t give you instructions, really, as there is plenty of that out there (and practice is the best art tool) but more walking through what the process is for me, so you can see that it’s not always a basket of lovely, sweet-smelling perfectly-drawn roses.
Sometimes I think of it as resuscitating a dying patient. Will it make it? Is it going to survive? Or will we lose it to a scribble, right there on the drawing page?
So I’ll start with a Barb. Barb is from the show Stranger Things, and I like her because I was a lot like her at one point in my life, I think (geeky and sweet…and apparently not popular enough to warrant a complete town-wide search). So I felt like drawing Barb.
People often ask if I use references, and to that, I say HECK YES. I nearly ALWAYS use references. It’s fun. It’s okay. The thing is, my goal is not photorealism. I don’t WANT it to look exactly like the photo–that’s what photos are for. So absolute realism is NOT what I strive for. I start with a photo for reference, but I make changes as I see fit, and sometimes mix several reference photos to combine.
There are many ways to calculate proportions of the face, some of which are admittedly VERY helpful. But once you know them, I find that the fun comes in just drawing it as it comes.
I start with an eye. Since she has glasses on in this one, I like fit to the eye in that space the way I see it, the way it measures up to that space, and sort of gauge where the other eye is from there. The edge of the nose usually lines up with the inner corner of the eye, so somewhere around there is where it goes. And the corner of the mouth usually falls where the middle of the eye is.
Those are helpful guidelines, but as I say, I play off them, I don’t use them as law. Knowing the rules and then playing with them, I think, is what gives something your own personality, your own style.
Often, just a few little tweaks make a big difference. For example, the chin in the first picture below juts out more than I’d like, so some shading below it (as in the reference) helps it blend in more in the second photo below.
Even still, I find my proportions are always quite wonky–with the eyes I draw, one is almost always unintentionally larger than the other….but to me, that’s okay. Like I say, it gives it personality. See the eyes there in the bottom right drawing? A little shading in there helps straighten them up a bit…
The question is when is distortion TOO much? There are times, to be sure, that it just doesn’t work, and I toss it and throw it away. But to me, that’s the fun of the process. It’s fun to see if you can piece a face together little by little, piece by piece. There’s something relaxing to me in not creating something photorealistic. So by all means, study the face, study facial musculature, and study drawing proportions of the face and body. And then take that, and play with it. And have FUN with it!
I also get asked a lot about the supplies I use, and that’s what I love so much about ballpoint pen: it’s NOT fancy. It’s easy and fun. I can paint in watercolors on top of it, and I can paint in acrylics on top of it. Does it bleed? Not really–but admittedly, the paper has a lot to do with it. Multimedia or watercolor paper is the best and can hold up to a lot of water and paint and blending without bleeding. Regular drawing paper is toothy and porous, and not really meant for liquid mediums, so the pen might bleed on that surface. You don’t need a lot of expensive supplies to create good art, but so much lovely things happen when you use good paper!
Anyway, the best advice I can give, is practice. If you want to get better, you’ll do it. You’ll try new things, and you’ll find your own techniques. You’ll do it all the time, and it won’t even FEEL like practice. It’ll be FUN. And the more you do it, the more you’ll learn what works for you, and the better you’ll get.