A few days ago I did up a “quick sketch” of Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister (because, in my opinion, celebrities are good subjects for quick sketches) and posted the sketch to social media (G+). One of the users of the site commented something akin to, “Quick sketch my ass – this took at least two hours.” Okay, so maybe his comment wasn’t so brash, but that’s the gist of it.
But he’s right! The sketch did take an hour and a half…. So why would I call it a “quick sketch?”
Because it was one.
The average drawing, depending on the subject, can take me 8-12 hours, maybe more if there’s some killer detail. For me to do a drawing that is only 1-2 hours – that’s a really quick sketch! You may notice that the eyes aren’t quite right, that the hair isn’t fully rendered, her eyebrows aren’t quite Lena Headey’s eyebrows; it’s not meant for perfection, it’s meant for practice.
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.
This little guy was posted on no other than Facebook. Once I saw him, I knew that I had to capture his slightly mischievous pose as he basks in a life of luxury. My focus in this drawing were his eyes, because they are the center of his expression of comfort.
My grandfather was a good-humoured man with an enormous heart. He had a boyish sense of mischief to him that carried over into everything he did, from his love of fishing to the extensive volunteer work that he did in his community.
My focus in this drawing was to capture his good humour, which can be seen in the glint in his eyes in the portrait. His closed-mouth smile draws out a sense of calm about him, though his eyes belie that beloved mischief.
‘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!