In case you missed it, I’ve been hard at work completing my first charcoal portrait of a beautiful Great Dane named Draco. Great Danes are known for their size, but also for their characteristic faces, which makes drawing their portraits both challenging and interesting.
I dropped off Draco’s portrait this morning to his very pleased pet parents, who proudly show off their new piece of art!
It’s so easy to get frustrated when a certain drawing just isn’t working out. I used to get to the point where I’d erase so much that the grains of my paper would start to lift off the page, and then I’d give up because it would be a matter of redoing the entire thing at that point.
Sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back for a while and come back with fresh eyes. It can be a difficult thing to do, especially when all you want is to get that drawing finished and showcased, but it’s totally necessary. Why are those eyes not looking right? What is going on with that mouth? It kind of looks like who it’s supposed to… But something isn’t right!
The best way to figure out what’s going on is to simply stop looking at it. Stop thinking about it. Give it a break for a day or two, then go back to it. Suddenly, it’s like everything that wasn’t working out has an obvious reason!
The biggest make it or break it parts of a portrait are on the face. The facial shape can be a little bit off without huge detriment, even though it’ll never look quite right, but if the eyes, nose, mouth, or even eyebrows aren’t right, the entire face looks wrong!
That’s why it’s important to practice seeing. It sounds funny, because for most people, we think that we’re seeing every day. A person doesn’t realize how much is missed in every day life. Since I started doing portraits, my entire view of the world has altered. I’m cognizant of shadows, of the shape of a person’s nostrils, or how the light reflects in a person’s eyes. When I watch movies, I see how the sweat moves on the actors’ faces and which areas of their faces shine the most.
Eventually, something just clicks, and it becomes a natural movement to put those observations into portraits.
Are the teeth perfectly aligned? Where is the reflection in the eyes? Can the nostrils be seen? How does the light hit the hair? It all becomes important.
Eventually it all comes together and starts to make sense. There is nothing more important in a portrait than contrasts, and when the eye is able to see the contrasts without struggling, drawing becomes much easier.
‘Senator’ was the first commission that I ever did. It was an interesting outcome to posting some really quick sketches on my Facebook page. A colleague of mine saw the quick sketches and asked if I’d be willing to draw his late golden retriever, Senator.
“No way,” I said. “I’m just a beginner, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do a very good job of it.”
With some encouragement, I finally agreed to give it a go. The worst that could happen was that the portrait didn’t turn out, and I’d have to admit defeat (except that really, the worst that could happen was that I totally messed up the drawing and insulted the memory of someone’s beloved pet and that person would never talk to me again because I was such a failure). As usual, my worst enemy was my own fear of failure, but with some encouragement from my husband, I got started. It only took about 50 tries before I reached the final product, and you know, it wasn’t half bad!