Advice On Graphite Portrait Drawing – Placing Head Landmarks


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A pencil portrait drawing from life starts with the “striking” of the arabesque. Striking the arabesque means drawing the outer circumference of the head with the correct proportions, shape, and the appropriate symmetry.

Once you have drawn a reasonably correct arabesque it is time to place the main landmarks of the head. That means that we will correctly locate the most important points of the head. These points will then be used as references for mapping out the rest of theheadfeatures.

Here is something that may help you with this undertaking: work with your eyes somewhat out-of-focus. This is called seeing with a “soft eye”. Somehow this makes it easier to correctly determine shapes and proportions. It also helps you to suppress the preconceived notions we all have of certain objects.

Let us assume that we are working from a 3/4 head profile.

* The Brow Ridge – is the first critical landmark. To locate the brow ridge you must first take your best guess at where you think it is then to check it by sighting.

Note that to train your eye it is better to first guess lengths, angles, etc. and verify them second. There is nothing to gain from pre-measuring.

Sighting means to use your pencil with locked arm and marking distances along the pencil with your thumb and index finger (starting from the tip down) and one eye closed.

So then, first sight from the bottom of the chin to a point on the brow ridge (just choose an arbitrary critical point on the ridge, but once chosen you should stick with it).

Now raise your pencil vertically so that your thumb is on your point on the brow ridge and note where your pencil point is. It should be a small distance above the top of the head . Mark on your drawing where you can best place that point above the head. This point is called the “check point”.

Note that whenever there is a choice, you should always measure the smallest length because doing so tends to be more precise.

Your point on the brow ridge should, if it was placed accurately, be exactly halfway between the bottom of the chin and your check point. If it isn’t – then changecorrect the position of your brow ridge.

* Jaw Hinge – Now you can fix the width of the face. In the 3/4 view the hinge of the jaw is a critical landmark. Again, take your best guess then check by sighting horizontally from the jaw hinge to the far edge of the cheek bone and vertically relating that measure from the bottom of the chin.

* Top Nasal Bone – Since we have already established the brow ridge we now only have to estimate a small distance to fix the top of the nasal bone. If you placed the jaw hingecorrectly, it should equal the measure from bottom of the chin to the nasal bone. If you’re off a bit, then correct the placement of the hinge of the jaw. Again, assume that the shortest distance estimated is the correct one.

Now that these primarylandmarks are placed you can further work out the arabesque. I find it best to resolve only the back, least intricate, part of the head at this early stage.

* Facial Angle – Finally, you need to the facial angle which is the center line of the face. Draw a slightly curving line from the middle of the mental tubercle up through the center of the brow ridge.

The precise placement of the facial angle is very important. You have to feel your way through this because as there is no way to accurately measure it.

Once the facial angle is ascertained continue resolving the arabesque carefully observing the form of the mouth area, the forehead, and all the other features that are expressed in the shape of the arabesque.

With this, we have ascertained all the basic landmarks that will help us to map the rest of the features such as the ears and teeth.

Do you want to learn the secrets of pencil portrait drawing? Download my brand new free pencil portrait drawing course here: Free Pencil Portrait Tutorial.

Remi Engels is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter and expert drawing teacher. See his work at Remi’s Pencil Portrait Web Site.

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