Tries to draw someone... frowns and crumples.
Tries again... frowns and crumples.
"I don't like drawing anyway!"
Describe anyone you know?
Everyone comes to a point when they want to draw realistic portraits. They try to draw a family member and are inevitably disappointed with the likeness. Even if mom looks at it and says, "good job!" they're not satisfied. The eyes aren't quite right or the nose is off, and the lips... just not good enough.
So how's a mom to encourage her artistic teen when she can't draw either? Let's dispell an artistic myth: art is not an innate skill for a select few, it can be learned.
Like learning to write or to drive, drawing can seem difficult at first, but with practice, it becomes easier. Also like writing or driving it's more efficient learning with instruction than by trial and error.
Doing a good portrait is like building an elaborate lego kit, someone who's built many similar kits may be able to look at the box cover and build it without the directions, but someone just starting out will need to go step by step.
With portraits, one set of directions will work for all! The directions simply stated are:
Measure everything, trust your eyes and draw!
Printable Draw a Realistic Portrait PDF
If you've ever seen a caricature of an artist holding his thumb or pencil out with one eye closed, that's measuring.
Artists will also use tools like grids and viewfinders, or measure directly on a photo. Measurements include relative distances between points, thicknesses, angles of lines and curves and areas of shadow.
When measuring for a drawing angles are measured against the constants of vertical and horizontal, an eye is used as a base unit of measurement. Spaces and shadows are seen as shapes rather than outlines.
The more accurate the measurements the better the likeness.
Trust your eyes.
There are certain elements of the face that we generally perceive inaccurately until we measure them. When we make these measurements that seem contrary to our perception of reality we don't trust our eyes. The best example of this is: where are the eyes on the head? Are they 1/3 of the way down the face or in the middle?
Despite our impression, eyes are located in the middle of the face. Don't believe me? Measure yourself in the mirror: Use your hand to measure from the middle of your eyes to your chin and then compare the distance from your eyes to the top of your head. When an artist makes measurements that seem counter intuitive they have to trust their eyes over their intuition.
This step is easy! Once everything is measured we can confidently begin drawing. The easiest way is to focus on the shapes of the shadows and highlights and the features will emerge almost on their own.
A final note:
Realism is easy to achieve. An exact likeness is more difficult. Small details like the curve of the jaw, depth of shadows and shapes of the eyebrows can subtly change a portrait so it's not quite right. The more accurate measurements the more accurate likeness. If a likeness is off we can always go back and check measurements to find mistakes.
Sometimes it's tempting to skip careful measurements and rely on eyeing the measurements. This is an important skill to learn. Unfortunately, when we're new to portraits or out of practice this often amounts to guessing resulting in a likeness that's a bit off. It's okay! We are our biggest critics, but it's okay to be less than perfect.
When your teen is frustrated with an imperfect likeness there are 3 things you can do to help them:
- Get them to check the measurements to see if they can improve it.
- Tell them to go back to it the next day with a fresh eye. Sometimes a fresh eye helps.
- Tell them it's okay to toss it if they don't like it and start fresh.
If you enjoyed this helpful post, please sign up for my newsletter!
When you sign up you will receive my free ebook,
“The minimum a homeschooler needs to get started painting with acrylics.”
This free ebook includes:
A shopping list for which paints to buy.
An intro to my teaching methods.
Three progressive lessons.
Three related progressive art challenges.
Directions for use with a CO-OP.