Saturday, July 5, 2014

Plane Heads


Art teachers have proposed various schemes for simplifying the head into an arrangement of flat planes. Here are two plane breakdowns by Andrew Loomis, author of Figure Drawing for All It's Worth and Drawing the Head and Hands
The one on the left is a simple breakdown, with front, side, and bottom planes. The one on the right subdivides the planes further. To be precise, some of these "planes" aren't perfect planes in the geometric sense, such as the curving planes on the top of the cranium.

Fred Fixler, a student of famed Art Students League instructor Frank Reilly, came up with a slightly different plane breakdown for an idealized male head. There are some rounded forms too. The cranium is a ball with the sides sliced off. 

Sculpting the plane head brings the plane analysis into the realm of reality. This one is by painter and teacher John Asaro, who has a website called "Planes of the Head." He has taught head painting using his plane head. 

Many academic instructors have used plane heads as models before going to the live human, because it's much easier to accurately judge the values and color notes of each plane, compared to the infinitely variegated tones and curving forms of a real face. 

Drawing and painting from plane heads is a central part of Chinese and Russian academic practice, and various companies have resurrected some of these art school models, such as this 21-Inch plaster head.

This mini plaster head is very different from a European or American standard head, and the planes are broken down into a mosaic of small forms. But the ear is treated as a single plane.


People will debate the merits of these commercially available heads, but I've never been completely satisfied with any of them. I think it's a great exercise for any student to come up with their own analysis, and that's what I did when I was in art school. Before I knew about Sculpey, I made this the hard way, sculpting a plastilina original, and then making a two-piece mold and casting it in plaster. Mine was inspired mainly by Loomis and George Bridgman.

I have set up my little plane head and painted him in colored light.

Once a student has had practice drawing and painting from idealized plane heads, and even sculpting their own breakdowns, then I think the next best step is to look at real human models and break the planes down in a unique way for that individual model. 



This was the method taught in a seminar I took from Art Center instructor Paul Souza, and here's an exercise I did in that class, scumbling white oil paint over chip board sealed with shellac.


In truth, there is no single ideal plane head, and even an individual model's face can be analyzed in various ways.

10 comments:

Vladimir Venkov said...

This is a great advice James. Thanks. I've got the mini plaster head and I also noticed that it is quite different from the usual plane heads but still helps a big time when I am doing my digital sculptures. Here is one of them:
http://www.vlad74.co.uk/CGfeedback/Tribal_man_render_02.jpg

thomas pereira said...

Looks like the makeup artists behind the british sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf had Plane Heads in mind when they designed the Android Kryten !

http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/features/history/evolution-of-krytens-costumes/kryten-7l.jpg

Karen Robinson said...

Thank you for an interesting post. I had never heard of plane heads. I have bought a skull instead, which has been useful for getting to grips with the actual size and head-ness of a head (so much bigger than I realised). You did recommend to me the Andrew Loomis book on drawing the head and hands, and I bought it straightaway. It has been invaluable. Thank you so much.

D said...

One of the interesting things about skin is the way that it is a little translucent, so light spreads though it a little, like marble or milk, rather than like plaster. You can really see the difference in the realism of computer graphics that take this into account or not.

Vladimir Venkov said...

Yes D. This is called sub-surface scattering and all the current renders have it as a default feature. You can even break down the scattering into different layers and paint a texture for each of them.

Tom Hart said...

I'm inspired to make a plane head of my own, since there's no better way than a tactile experience like that to really internalize any structure. I haven't worked in Sculpey, or very much in any clay-like material for that matter. Are there any general pointers or tips that would be helpful for me to know going in?

Keith Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Parker said...

I'm curious to try this. I imagine the thought and work involved in making your own head pays off quite well in terms of retaining a basic idea of how to draw a well proportioned head. Did this practice help you commit that knowledge to memory James?

faysal hera said...

Look like a adventure

Rusty said...

I remember doing those heads in Souza"s class...