Why Images Are Important
Why do we draw faces?
Drawing has been something humans have done since cave painting and maybe even before. It is in us somehow to try to recreate what we see using lines and color. And so we draw. Here are a few things to think about when drawing faces.
We are a visual people.
So why do we spend time learning to draw or even caring about it? Easy: We are a visual people. Images are easier to process than words. We can open a page and immediately see and understand the image. Reading takes work: scanning words, processing the message, understanding the language, etc. Drawing is fundamental to the seeing process. It is an “active way of engaging reality, to observe, analyze, and record it with the possibility of reimagining it.” (Eviston, web) What we artists are doing is learning to see and then translating that into lines that allow the viewer to see like we do. We do more than cameras can do (merely capture the image). If done well, we artists capture the feeling, the soul of the person.
Eviston, Brent. How Learning to Draw Had Taught Me to Live, Artists Network, web, 13 May 2016.
Images evoke curiosity in us.
We want to know more. Solomon said: “The eye is never satisfied with seeing images.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8) Our every waking moment is spent looking at things, taking in photos and movies, even taking hikes in nature just to look at the scenery. Maybe it is one of the reasons people like to draw: to recreate pleasing images the eye has seen and recorded.
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.
Images are engaging and emotional.
Images are engaging and evoke emotion in us. We can empathize with an image, placing ourselves into the space yet from a safe distance. Images are processed by the right brain, where emotions are also processed. From the earliest age, we have been taking in images and tying those with how we feel at that moment.
Memory is key with imagery.
We can see and remember images years later because the visual stimuli is much more memorable and processed in the brain than linguistic information. Seeing an old photo of a long past even brings back the same feelings and sensory input captured on that day.
No translation necessary.
Images are universal to all people without linguistic information. You may have heard that the eyes are the window to the soul; any eyes, even people we have never met or will never met engage us without words through the eyes. Drawing the eyes well is the primary and most important part of the portrait. The eyes are usually the focal point; the point which captures the viewer first. Without that hook, the viewer will move on and never return. It isn’t that the rest of the drawing and achieving a likeness isn’t important, it’s just that the cornerstone must be there to keep the viewer interested enough to keep looking.
Consider the eyes.
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.
Images tell stories.
A picture is worth a thousand words, is so true. Sometimes one image can build whole stories in the mind and imagination. It is just so with a good portrait. Whole life stories can be seen in a well-executed portrait drawing. Sometimes this can be done with great lighting. Filling the face with light and having less than half in shadow gives a very upbeat and positive mood to a portrait. Turning the face away from the light or having more than half in shadow causes a dark, gloomy mood and even creates a bit of a dread or evil overtone to the portrait.
Background is important in portraits.
The background color or tone makes a difference as well. Rembrandt and other Baroque painters were famous for having a subject against an almost pure black background, as if someone just turned on a spotlight or opened a window in a dark room. This isolated the subject of the portrait and helped the focal point by causing the most contrast against the subject’s face. You don’t have to have a perfectly black background to make a light person’s face stand out, a light grey will do. However a person with very dark hair should not be put against a black backdrop or their hair will tend to disappear. Unless that is what you are going for, use a lighter backdrop for dark hair and darker with lighter hair. It also goes back to the mood or story you are trying for. When I did my self-portrait in charcoal, I photographed myself against a white backdrop but later decided to add a bit of grey to the backdrop of the portrait in order for my face to stand out better.
You should always place the subject in the middle or slightly to one side so that the subject is looking into more space than is behind him. In other words, don’t allow a small space to be right before the subject’s eyes. It causes an off-balanced feel and a unpleasant feeling of the subject falling out of the picture or about to be crushed by the frame. Whether facing left or right, leave some space for them to be looking into.
Images have a high entertainment value.
They captivate and motivate. They can change people’s minds and hearts, create awww moments or terrify. It is no wonder that the best children’s books are picture books. They help children learn to read by motivating and stimulating a pleasant visual response first and help to build stories and understanding in a child. Pictures books help children to see and experience things that they may never be able to see in life: exotic and extinct animals, far away places and buildings, events in history from long ago, etc. Pictures and drawings are at the very heart of learning new things.
What is the story?
When drawing people’s faces, you should think about the best mood, story, and emotion you want the viewer to achieve from viewing this portrait. Even if the viewer is the person in the portrait, and the client. What is the story? What do you want people to see and feel when they gaze into this person’s eyes? Once you have answered that, you are ready to begin drawing.
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