Have you ever wanted to better capture likeness in your portraits of people?
Have you ever wondered if you could?
When I was little I got this idea in my head that the only measure of being a good artist was to draw realistically.
Not only should I be able to draw anything from photographs or from life and capture it perfectly, but being able to achieve this with portraits was the ultimate success.
Naturally, all I did was draw people. Over. And Over. And Over again.
My brother-in-law joked that they were running out of room in their house because of all of my portraits of their kids. I could stock a small museum with the number of portraits I created. Ha!
As an adult, I’ve never quite let go of that idea. For me personally, drawing and painting people are the most satisfying acts of creativity.
I’m here to share that with you today.
There are 4 main areas in which I see creatives struggle with creating a portrait that makes them feel proud. Let’s dig into these so you can start taking steps to proudly draw and paint the people you love.
Problem Number 1: I’m not sure what’s wrong or why; it’s SO frustrating!
You can’t see what you can’t see. It’s one reason feedback is so valuable and important to your skill development. People can help you look at your work with fresh eyes and observe things you didn’t see the first time around.
But it also has me thinking about successful self-taught artists, like J.R.; would his voice be what it is today with that traditional training?
Problem Number 2: I get caught up on details.
When we are working on a face, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. SO many people tell me they start with one feature, like an eye, and then realize they’ve placed them so the head gets cut off at the top of the paper. I’ve also heard stories about drawing both eyes in such detail only to realize after the fact that one eye is angled wrong, or just ever so slightly higher than it was drawn.
These details are important to a portrait. It can be the difference between recognizing the subject in your portrait and seeing a complete stranger in your art. But it’s time to rethink when and how we address those details in our art.
Problem Number 3: Proportions are hard.
Proportion was invented in the Renaissance.
Let me say that again.
Proportions is an art concept that was invented, or I guess you could say discovered, during the Renaissance. Artists like da Vinci and Michelangelo secretly dug up dead bodies (because it was illegal and went against church doctrine) to dissect them and study everything about the human body.
This means the rules we use around the proportion of the human figure come from this time period and were not used previously in work.
Today, so many creatives seem to think they should innately understand and know how to work with proportions. And of course, if they don’t know how to do this naturally, then they must not be very good at art.
If being able to draw or paint a person is important to you, learning and applying rules of proportion will be invaluable to your development.
And good news. This is something ANYONE can learn.
Problem 4: I can’t seem to capture likeness.
When I talk to my students I often ask more about this specific goal/desire. First off, let’s define the phrase, “capture likeness.” Is your goal to capture the person in your artwork so when people look at it, they know who it is?
Or is your goal to copy the photograph exactly as it is?
I hope you’ll think about this a bit more as you consider this desire of yours and reconsider your goal.
Because you can learn the techniques to draw like a photograph. Once we get there it’s time to start asking a bigger question: why? Why is that so important? What is our goal? And what can we say with our work?
I’m curious, do any of these problems resonate with you?
If you’d like to learn more, take my free quiz, “What are the secrets to drawing realistic faces?” It will help you identify which of these problems you should tackle first and offer concrete steps forward to reach your portrait goals.
So many people new to art, or who feel a lack of confidence in their skill say, “Drawing/Painting people is the hardest thing to do.”
The good news is that simply isn’t true. Unfortunately, our beliefs can and do impact our results. So it’s time to do something about it. Take the quiz and let’s make portraits we’re proud to create!
Let me know your results in the comments below, or tell me, when it comes to how to draw people, what’s YOUR single biggest challenge right now?