In an earlier post I mentioned that a good way to develop reference for figure work is to pose yourself in front of a mirror and make a charcoal study on tone paper.
For this National Geographic illustration I needed to show a triumphant Kushite king accepting the homage of vanquished princes in Egypt in 724 BCE.
I first met with the project archaeologist Dr. Timothy Kendall in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He showed me primary-source drawings of the snake headdress, sandals, wing corselet, and transparent garment worn by Kushite royalty.
I wrapped myself in a sheer curtain to simulate the costume. I set up the tone paper on an easel and acted out the pose, looking at the reflection in a full-length mirror mounted on a door.
Even though I’m not exactly the right type for the character I was portraying, I was only looking for the basic structure of the pose. I could get the Nubian features from other sources.
I recommend the method for three reasons. It’s often faster than shooting photo reference. It gets you immediately away from the photographic look. And it forces you to begin interpreting the pose, making artistic decisions that give your result more coherence and impact.
Mirror studies have always been a favorite method for animators acting out facial expressions and gestures. For faces, you can use a medium sized mirror hung in front of your work table.
For a previous GJ post on installing a full-length mirror, link.
Here's a selected list of articles I've illustrated for National Geographic:
March 2006 Battle of Hampton Roads
Dec. 1997 Patagonian Dinosaurs
Nov. 1990 Kingdom of Kush
Feb. 1989 Attic Scene
Oct. 1988 Moche, Peru
May 1988 Wool
June 1988 Etruscans
July 1987 Soybeans
June 1987 Eskimos
Aug. 1986 Ulysses
Sept. 1985 Jason
Sept. 1985 Humboldt