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Why Images Are Important

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Charcoal drawing of a girl.

Charcoal drawing of a girl.

Why Do We Draw Faces?

Drawing has been something humans have done since cave painting and maybe even before. You could say it is related to wanting to capture something fleeting for posterity, or maybe it is about remembering where and who we come from. Maybe it is about capturing what is lost or keeping something from being lost. 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.

Face in charcoal.

Face in charcoal.

We Are a Visual People

So why do we spend time learning to draw or even caring about it? Easy: We are 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 as 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.

Face in charcoal.

Face in charcoal.

Images Evoke Curiosity

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.

Study of my friend Lupe.

Study of my friend Lupe.

Why Draw?

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.

Study of my friend Lupe. The different lighting on this one makes her look more mad.

Study of my friend Lupe. The different lighting on this one makes her look more mad.

Memory is Key With Imagery

We can see and remember images years later because the visual stimuli are 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.

A face in charcoal.

A face in charcoal.

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 meet 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.

Charcoal study of eyes.

Charcoal study of eyes.

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 dread or evil overtone to the portrait. Check out old black and white Film Noir Movies for an example. They knew that lighting was key to setting a creepy mood.

Background is Important

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 an 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.

Study in charcoal.

Study in charcoal.

Presumed study of Isabella d'este by Leonardo da Vinci in black chalk and white on brown paper.

Presumed study of Isabella d'este by Leonardo da Vinci in black chalk and white on brown paper.

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.

Charcoal study.

Charcoal study.

Charcoal Guestbook

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on September 25, 2020:

Kerryn,

I'm very happy that you like my work. It is a commitment to working on it every day. I didn't get here overnight. I've been practicing every day for decades. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Kerryn on September 15, 2020:

Wow, amazing art work!!!

I literally can't draw. Wish I could though.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on July 30, 2016:

Once again, Cornelia, thank you. You are so encouraging to me. I love sharing my work. My house is full of it and if I don't share it I feel like it will never be seen. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Korneliya Yonkova from Cork, Ireland on July 30, 2016:

Absolutely agree that images tell stories and have high entertainment value. How could we all live without the images around us and those we create?

Would like to thank you for sharing with us your beautiful portraits. :)

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 09, 2016:

teaches12345,

I'm so glad you like my images. It gives me a warm feeling that people appreciate my work. Sometimes I think I'm not a real artist unless others approve. Not that that stops me from drawing but it does help to get kuddos not and again. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Dianna Mendez on June 09, 2016:

Your drawings each tell a story. I love your self portrait. Thank you for the warm images this evening.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 31, 2016:

DDE,

I think it also gets people reading what you wrote to have images along with it. People seem to love pictures to help them visualize and make the reading flow better. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 31, 2016:

denise.w.anderson,

That's very interesting. It tells me that artists are artists whether they are writing or drawing! Thanks for that, and thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 31, 2016:

Interesting about images. Each requires a unique face.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on May 31, 2016:

The portraits in this piece are beautiful. I like what you said about how you try to create a certain mood or feeling before you begin a drawing. That is what I do when I write. It channels the creative process and determines when the goal is accomplished.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 30, 2016:

WannaB Writer,

I'm so glad you feel you got something out of this. I really love encouraging my fellow artists to improve and hone their craft. I do sometimes size my photos of my art in photoshop so that the parameters fit well in social media and HubPages. I find the best parameters fall in the 11 inches on the longest side, and 72 dpi. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on May 30, 2016:

Your drawings are beautiful. I can't draw anything well, but I am a great appreciator of artists like you who cannot only draw, but teach others how to improve their work. You also answered a question I hadn't asked in the forums yet. One can actually put pinterest-sized pictures in hubs.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 29, 2016:

MsDora,

Oh, I was hoping that would happen. I love to share the fun and hope you pick it up as well. I know charcoal is messy but it is so rewarding and it photographs so well. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 29, 2016:

Rachel L Alba,

Thank you so very much. Yes, I drew all except the one by Leonardo da Vinci, naturally. I still see flaws in my technique but I'm working everyday to be better at what I do. I just thought it would be fun to share, and my house is loaded with pictures like this. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 28, 2016:

Inspiring! This step by step instruction in charcoal imaging makes me want to try it. Thanks for sharing.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on May 28, 2016:

Hi Denise, I don't know if you drew all of those pictures, but they are amazing. You could almost imagine what they are thinking. You are a great artist. Thanks for sharing these drawings.

Blessings to you.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 28, 2016:

Carb Diva,

So true, the eyes are so hard to capture and capture well, but there is a wealth of information and depth there. Glad you want to keep practicing. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on May 28, 2016:

Your work is amazing. Photographs can capture a moment in time, but with a sketch there is so much more depth--the artist can help us see beyond that one momentary image.

I don't think it is coincidence that the most important part of the face (the eyes) is also the most difficult to capture.

Thank you for a great hub. I'll keep practicing.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 28, 2016:

Blond Logic,

It does take a lot of practice. I remember painting out in a botanical garden and a man walked by me, stopped and watched me for a while, then said, "Wow, I'd give years of my life to be able to draw like that." I looked up at him and without missing a beat said, "I did give years of my life to be able to draw like this." That's what it takes. It doesn't come naturally at first. You have to train your eye to measure and your hand to record those measurements. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 28, 2016:

billybuc,

Well, aren't you sweet. You turn my head. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Wickison from Brazil on May 28, 2016:

I admire anyone who can draw. I took a class at CSUF and just couldn't capture what I was looking out. I was in awe of the instructor when she took the pencil (or charcoal) away from me and started working on my paper.

I just don't know if I would ever be able to draw.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 27, 2016:

I am in awe. Enough said!

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