Thursday, January 28, 2016

Quick Tip for Faraway Faces

I often want to sketch a person at a meeting, a lecture, or a concert, but I'm sitting too far away to see their features clearly. Here's a quick tip if you ever find yourself in that situation.


These sketches are each just about an inch high. I was merely trying to capture: 1) The head shape, 2) The shape and color of the hair (if any), and 3) the placement of the features. The features are just dots and dashes.

Analyzing faces with this kind of shorthand is good practice for your more closely studied portraits. When you're sitting close enough to see the eyelashes, it's easy to overlook the big relationships. And it's the big simple relationships that are the key to likeness and character.

An inspiration for this kind of "dot-and-dash" thinking are the drawings of Winsor McCay, a pen draughtsman who developed an idiom for capturing realistic figures during the early era of comic drawing before the standard cartooning conventions had been developed.
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8 comments:

arturoquimico said...

Wow! What a great insight... I have struggled for years wondering why I could never draw a small face... it had to be 6" or larger to look any good... I'm going to try this! Thanks!

sfox said...

I don't carry binoculars or a spotting scope (because I often have two cameras) when I'm wildlife watching in Mongolia, but I want to sketch the live animals as often as possible and they are usually a fair ways off. I think this approach is perfect as a way to focus on the essentials and get something down quickly, a necessity with wildlife. I'm looking forward to trying it this way on my next trip later this year. Thanks!

Eugene Arenhaus said...

It is always fun to look at people populating Canaletto's cityscapes. At the scale of the paintings, the figures of passersby are at best an inch tall, but believable and expressive - yet built from an astonishingly small number of skillful brushstrokes. Almost like Chinese ideograms, the direction and speed of stroke suggesting shape, pose and action. He clearly had the formula perfected.

Fabio Porta said...

Great tip. I found myself in the same situation a couple of days ago at the post office. I guess it's a good idea to train visual memory as well (I think you mentioned it in a previous article) since people tend to move around/turn a lot unless they're sitting.
I also tried with another tip you gave us (closing the eyes to impress a certain action in the mind) and it does work, I admit!

Bobby La said...

Eugene - yes yes yes and yes to Canaletto. Recent show here featured a large Canaletto and I was struck by his extraordinary economy as you rightly point out. A wonderful painter that did so much with such a limited palette of grays. Had one of those all too rare moments where I was completely enveloped by 17th century Venice.

David Tenorio said...

Really enjoyed this entry, I try to make it a daily habit to sketch on the BART train or bus. It's incredibly challenging to be quick and focused (amidst the movement, staring eyes and conversation). Here's one of my more recent ones: Train portraits

Thanks for all the amazing entries, James-

Dave Hoffman said...

This is great! I noticed some comic artists are masters of this kind of thing. David Aja's fantastic work on Hawkeye jumped to mind.

bernicky said...

Combine this with Bill Lupton's figure technique and it might look like I know what I'm doing with a pencil. Thank you for passing this along to us.