Friday, November 26, 2010

Operation Portrait

Last week while developing a portraiture lesson plan for 9th and 10th grade, I was forced to consider the process of capturing a likeness. I designed a series of questions (Pre-drawing goals, chosen technique, post drawing assessment) so that students can document their process and depending on their success make adjustments.

Before I presented the lesson I tested the questions on myself. I found an image, made a list of goals, stopped to record my process and assess my success.


SKETCH 1: The focus on this exercise was capturing a resemblance and the energy of the subject.
I liked his youthful energy, his style, his warmth, and that the image felt like a moment in time. Attempting to capture energy this first sketch was done very quickly:
While I like the drawing and feel it was energetic, I felt I failed to capture a likeness so I started again examining my process.

SKETCH 2: This time I began with focus on accuracy first and energy second. I blocked in the shape of the head and built up the face paying close attention to relationships and distances. I exaggerated some features for emphasis, his eyebrows for example are much higher. While the resemblance was important I wasn't interested in photo realism but a recognizable interpretation.This time around I felt much better about the resemblance but found that having to block in the shapes and constantly test the likeness slowed me down. I felt I lost energy and was relying on value to test the likeness. It made me appreciate artists like Al Hirschfeld who can do all of this so effortlessly with only line and shape.


Finding a likeness can be a fascinating/infuriating process. I like both of my drawings but I find the likeness requires some refinement. Each drawing was done with a specific goal and a slight shift of focus. The nice part of using the questions was that when moving from one drawing to the next, intention and technique were more clearly defined. The steps break the process into stages and it is fun to watch the evolution of a portrait taking shape. By making each drawing distinct it became a process that I could learn from rather than feel thwarted by. The drawings now feel like experiments rather than failures.

Does anybody else out there have a technique for capturing a likeness? Any favorite portrait artists that you can turn me onto?

If you are interested in the photo of the old fellow above here is the website I was looking at while drawing it: http://www.chrisstevensonline.com/

Here are the questions that I was working with, maybe you could try them out and let me know how they work for you!

Section One: Pre drawing

1) Do you often draw portraits? Do you find portrait drawing challenging?

2) What is the feeling or mood you want to express about your subject?

Section Two: Your process

3) Proportion: Is your face accurate or distorted? How did you approach capturing a likeness?

4) Where or how did you start your drawing?

5) What technique are you using? Line, shape, tone?

Section Three: In conclusion

6) How successful do you think you were in capturing your subject?

7) Are you satisfied with your work?

8) What do you think could have done better?

9) What was most difficult for you?



-James

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