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Week In Focus: Self Portrait

This week, I decided to add onto last week’s focus topic, the eyes. At first, I started focusing in on the mouth, but I’m a rebel, so, I decided to draw my whole dang face. Super closeup style.

For you, I wouldn’t recommend anyone draw my photo – we’ve been through enough already this year. You can choose a photo of yourself or someone else, as long as you’re careful when choosing your reference image.

Choosing the Right Reference Image

Fight the knee jerk instinct to pick your favorite selfie. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good selfie, but there are certain things to look for and avoid.

Cardinal rule #1: avoid pictures that have tons of filters applied as they tend to lessen the natural, distinct lines and shadows you need to define values and shadows. Take a look at the photos below.

Personally I like (almost) all of these because they make me look pretty, but for drawing, there’s only one that fits the bill. Let’s walk through them.

The first image cuts off half of the face, both with the hat and choice of framing. The filter also blends the right nose line to a point where is is nearly indistinguishable from the right eye and cheek. The right eye and cheek should have a significant cast shadow (this is a shadow caused from an object directly blocking the light source) from the nose, but it’s absent. The other shadows and lines are also too soft for a dynamic portrait sketch.

The second image, while it has a good range of value, also distorts the facial lines and all but eliminates shadow on the face. This would make for one pasty, pale portrait. Number three could be a lot of fun; however, for our purposes it sucks. The proportions of the features are all out of whack, and the chin is nearly blended in with the neck.

That just leaves #4, our winner! The only edit is that I have applied is to make it black and white. This gives a lot of visual clarity to the different planes of the face, cast shadows both from the nose and from the chin, and has a light source that is easily identified. The jaw line is well defined from the neck, and the pose is interesting to sketch.

The Loomis Method

I always prefer to draw from the Loomis method, named for its creator, Andrew Loomis. It’s a great way to map out the planes and shapes of the body in 3-D.

By understanding the proportions of the average facial structure, you can build a realistic drawing without the guess work.

First start with a circle. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but try to keep it as close as you can.

Next draw an arc to define the side plane of the head. This should be 2/3 height of your circle. Some find it easier to locate the top & bottom 1/6th marks when measuring.

The width of the arc will depend on how far the head is turned to the left or the right. If the view is straight-on, the arc will not be visible. The more the head turns towards a profile view, the wider the arc will become as it represents the side of the head.

Using the side plane arc as a guide, draw lines extending from the top (brow line), halfway mark (eyes) and bottom (nose).

Next, draw in your jaw line base. This will be the same height as your other sections.

Draw a vertical line halfway through the arc. If the head is looking up or down, this line will move almost the same as if you were winding the hand of a clock. The center point remains the same, but the angle of the line will change.

Extend the line just a bit outside of the sphere to create the outer edge of the jaw line.

Now, draw a curved line connecting the outer jaw to the bottom right side of your jaw line marker. Complete the jaw line by drawing a curved line from the widest point of the sphere to your jaw line marker. Keep in mind that men’s jaws will have a wider, more square jaw whereas women will have a narrower, more round jaw.

Breaking the Rules and the Camera

Looking at this, you’re probably wondering how this could possibly turn into a cohesive self portrait. The eyes look weird and misplaced, the right side of the head is massive and the paper is too small to show the whole face. You aren’t wrong.

I completely ignored the traditional and recommended method of drawing the outline to the face first, which is why the right plane seems so big.

In truth, outlines are simply suggestive as a realistic portrait will define features and shapes using strategic shading. Think about it. When you look in the mirror, is your face or its features each surrounded by a thick, dark, distinctive line? Absolutely not. Thus we must minimize this outline, unless we are going for a cartoon or caricature.

This gives a better sense of how the Loomis method is applied when drawing a portrait. I know, it still looks crazy.

One of the biggest challenges in art is to draw the under structure before the details. Blocking in the planes of the nose, mouth and eyes and so on before adding the details is vital. It’s also important to shade in those elements before adding the details. What good are eyelashes to a drawing when the eye socket has not been defined?

Keep those reference lines light! You will be erasing them. Notice how the blocking for the nose has now become an actual schnozz. I’ll go further into how to draw the nose, mouth and other elements in detail throughout future posts.

Now it’s starting to pull together. The light source is in our upper-left side. This means all of the right side of the face should be shaded darker than the left.

I decided to throw in an abstract element by staggering the dreaded thick jaw outline and not shading the neck in whatsoever. It’s weird, just like me, so I like it.

This shows the photo drawing from the angle of the light source. One major flaw is the paper itself. I wasn’t expecting to do a fully shaded sketch at first, so I opted for my cheaper paper which buckled several times under heavy shading. This created those random dark splotches and crease in the right temple.

In Summation

  • Pick a good reference photo! Bad ones are much more difficult to draw. There’s no reason to start off behind the eight ball, especially if you’re a beginner.
  • The Loomis Method is a fantastic way to define all of the planes of the body, down to the most minute details.
  • Keep your reference lines light! They will be erased.
  • A realistic portrait has very few outlines (the iris being one), only shading.
  • Ignore the instinct to draw details first. They mean nothing without the underlying structure.
  • Quality materials are important!

I hope you had fun learning some tips for what to do and to avoid when creating your self portrait. I did!

What are your challenges or cardinal rules for drawing a self portrait? Tell me about it in the comments below. Upload your own self portrait to social media, and make sure to tag me as I’d love to see them! Lastly, don’t forget to follow me on social media and share the post love with your friends. Bye for now!

By Willow Artistry by Christine Wueste

I’ve been crafting my home decor and artwork since I traded my bassinet walls for the real deal. Painting and paper art are my favorites and make up the bulk of my listed pieces. I hope you enjoy my pieces as much as enjoy making them!

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