Drawing the Human Face
Drawing is easy art.
Drawing is one of those things that everyone likes to do. Sure we call it doodling, noodling, scribbling or dabbling and not drawing, but that’s what we are really doing. Cartooning, depiction, design, etching, graphics, likeness, picture, sketch, layout, art, composition, doodle, portrayal, outline, tracing, caricature, representation, rendering, illustration, image, portraiture, conception, brain-storming, form, motif, stylization, abstraction, decoration, replica, copy, and more.
I doodled from a very early age and it wasn’t till I was 13 that someone told me I had talent and should think about taking art classes in high school. It was a revelation. Before that no one told me much more than I had really poor spelling skills. One English teacher told me to buy a pocket dictionary and WEAR IT. I would be offended but I was totally aware of my atrocious spelling. (Thank God for spell-check!) The great thing about drawing is that it eliminates color and only concentrates on line and form, so it is really the easiest form of art there is.
Anyone can draw
The idea that people cannot learn to draw is ludicrous. Just the idea that you aren’t talented enough to learn creates a mental block that will prevent you from learning. Talent isn’t some aristocracy that you are born into, or if you are not you are doomed to mediocrity. If that were so all my children would be artists, or perhaps I would not. Just like learning the piano, languages or mathematics, drawing can be taught and learned. It is time and practice that makes all the difference.
Do you like to doodle?
The History of Pencils
By the fourteenth century, paper was being used more and more by artists. Early drawings done by Leonardo da Vinci and other High Renaissance artists were done in sanguine or red chalk, pen and ink or silverpoint. Silverpoint was actually expensive to use because it was made of real silver combined with an element to make it softer and shaped like a pencil. As you know, silver tarnishes, or turns black with age. This is perfect for drawings. One soft silver line turned into a dark line with age. Too bad we can’t really draw with silver today. I would love that. Later they made pencils out of lead but lead is poisonous and prolonged contact with it can give the artist lead poisoning. Even surrounded by wood, the lead was dangerous because people love to put things in their mouths… enough said.
Carbon was the likely alternative. Carbon or charcoal is very fragile and breaks easily. So some genius mixed the carbon with clay. The clay stabilized the carbon making it stronger and the carbon was still dark enough to be visible on paper. Today this “lead” has various grades of hardness. HB is the clay and carbon in equal amounts in the lead and makes for a nice hard lead with light crisp lines. Then 2B through to 6B are softer and softer, mixing less clay with the carbon so the lines made are darker and softer. The problem is that these leads are also easier to break than the HB. Also you can buy 2H through to 6H, which have less and less carbon to the amount of clay. They are very hard and make lighter and lighter lines. These are often used by architects, who want very thin, very precise lines.
I find regular pencil lead, even the 6B soft ones to be extremely shiny. This is no problem when you are just sketching for yourself, but if you want to scan and share these drawings the glare makes them hard to scan. The shininess of the lead photographs poorly and can’t be saved digitally without a great deal of camera and lighting expertise. I prefer charcoal. The charcoal pencils also come in HB through 6B and sharpen well if you use a knife (or X-acto blade) and sandpaper. Never try putting a charcoal pencil in a pencil sharpener. You will be very disappointed at the outcome. Also, sharpening manually allows you to give yourself a very long point to the pencils so that using the side of the pencil gives wide soft lines, while the point still gives crisp ones. On top of this I buy vine charcoal. This is not mixed with any clay or binder and the vine charcoal is so soft it can be rubbed off with your finger. It makes it perfect for changing things of fixing mistakes before committing to the HB or other charcoal pencils. They do NOT erase easily. You will need to use a kneaded gum eraser with charcoal. The kneaded gum eraser is not like regular erasers. You don’t rub with it. You knead it and shape it into a point or thin space and blot with it. It pulls up the charcoal a little at a time. Knead it some more and keep blotting to pull up the charcoal.
Sharpening charcoal pencils
You don’t handle charcoal like it’s a regular pencil. It is too soft for that. You can’t choke up on the point and noodle with it. You are supposed to sharpen it so that a large part of the charcoal (half an inch or more) is available, hold the pencil at the end and draw with the side of the sharpened edge, not the point. Holding it at the end keeps you from putting too much pressure on the soft charcoal and breaking it. This way it cannot be sharpened with a conventional pencil sharpener. You have to get an X-acto knife or razor to sharpen it with and then make a point using sand paper. Pulling the pencil gives you a nice thin line while brushing the pencil sideways gives you a soft wide mark. Try it.
My process goes like this: I draw the sketch, measure the proportions and block in the shapes all with the vine charcoal. If I need to rub out an unwanted line, I can. When all the proportions and shapes are the way I want them I go over them with an HB charcoal pencil, adding more details but still drawing lightly in case I want to make changes still. Next I pick up the 2B and commit to some of the shadow areas. Shadow shapes are very important. The shadows really define the subject almost as much as the positive or lit sides. If the shadow shapes are accurate you are more likely to have an accurate rendering. Next I pick up the 4B or 6B pencil and drawing lightly at first, build up the layers of deep shadows. At the end I pull up the light and highlights with the kneaded gum eraser.
When it is time to take a photo and share on social media or elsewhere digitally, these charcoal drawings photograph perfectly, with lovely dark to light shapes and lines. Carbon pencils don’t photograph well because the darkest marks are shiny and cause a glare on the paper when being photographed.
Sometimes I used toned paper and pretend that the tone on the paper is the middle value. Then I have to build up the darker values and use white charcoal pencil or white pastel pencil for the highlights. I like the toned paper because some of the work is already done with the middle value already there. Also I like being able to add a highlight just where I want it. The deal is that you cannot and should NOT mix the white with the black. It doesn’t look right or good. The area where the white goes must first be free of any black smudges to be pure. This is done with a kneaded gum eraser.
Value is key
In a value scale there are 5 values from darkest shadows to the lightest highlight. If you want to break this down even further, make 9 values. The odd number is really important because your middle tone will be found in the middle and should be 50% dark 50% light. That makes sense. When working from a color photo it is sometimes helpful to eliminate the saturation so that it appears black and white. It helps you see the dark and light tones easier. Red often appears lighter than it actually is and blue sometimes appears darker than it actually is in black and white. Those are just some things to consider.
Consider the placement of the eyes. Usually they are halfway between the top of the head and the chin… but not always. The exceptions to the rule happen with points of view and ethnicity. If the person is tilting the head up the eyes will appear higher, if the person has his head tilting downward the eyes will appear lower and you will see more of the top of the head. Always consider the perspective so that you can get the placement right.
Consider the shape of the eyes as well. Eyes are not really almond shaped. The upper curve does not usually match the lower eyelid curve. Also some eyes are tilted so that the outer point is higher than the inner eye tear ducts, or vice versa. Take note of this as you draw and you will get a better likeness.
Practice, practice, practice.
Beyond that is practice. Identify the areas you feel you need help or work in and practice those areas over and over. The more you work on them the stronger you get at seeing the subtleties of those items: it could be ears that give you trouble, or noses, or hair. I found hands were my downfall and I forced myself to draw 100 hands, one per day for 100 days. At the end of three months I felt more confident and more at ease drawing hands. Try it and see how you do.
Drawing helps us to analyze and solve problems. It causes us to face taking risks. Your first lines in a drawing aren’t going to be perfect. That’s why we usually put then down lightly, knowing we will change them with several more lines that are more accurate. We are visually tapping into imagination and problem solving design elements that all people have inside them. If you can doodle, you can draw.