Why Images Are Important

Updated on May 27, 2016
PAINTDRIPS profile image

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. | Source
Face in charcoal.
Face in charcoal. | Source

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.


Face in charcoal.
Face in charcoal. | Source
The artist.
The artist. | Source

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.

Study of my friend Lupe.
Study of my friend Lupe. | Source
Hands in charcoal. #31
Hands in charcoal. #31 | Source

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.

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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.

The salt shaker in charcoal.
The salt shaker in charcoal. | Source

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.

Study of my friend Lupe.
Study of my friend Lupe. | Source

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.

A face in charcoal.
A face in charcoal. | Source

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.

Charcoal study of eyes.
Charcoal study of eyes. | Source
A face in charcoal.
A face in charcoal. | Source

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.

My self-portrait in charcoal.
My self-portrait in charcoal. | Source
Stage 1.
Stage 1. | Source
Stage 2.
Stage 2. | Source
Stage 3.
Stage 3. | Source

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.

Study in charcoal.
Study in charcoal. | Source
Study of little girl's hands.  #45
Study of little girl's hands. #45 | Source

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.

Study in charcoal.
Study in charcoal. | Source
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. | Source

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. | Source

Questions & Answers

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      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 23 months ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • CorneliaMladenova profile image

        Korneliya Yonkova 23 months ago from Cork, Ireland

        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. :)

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

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

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        Interesting about images. Each requires a unique face.

      • denise.w.anderson profile image

        Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

        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.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • WannaB Writer profile image

        Barbara Radisavljevic 2 years ago from Templeton, CA

        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.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

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

      • Rachel L Alba profile image

        Rachel L Alba 2 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

        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.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 2 years ago from Washington State, USA

        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.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        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

      • PAINTDRIPS profile image
        Author

        Denise McGill 2 years ago from Fresno CA

        billybuc,

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

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 2 years ago from Brazil

        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.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I am in awe. Enough said!

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