Double portrait of my daughter Isabella at age two
Technique: Combined tonal with cross-contour shading
I find these basic tool - technique of essential significance when drawing or painting the head in perspective, in space or in foreshortening. I recommend every fine artists to understand the importance of this approach. Nothing new here, this is a technique used over many centuries ago specially in the High Renaissance Period (may be the Greeks two thousands years earlier)
Here is a book I recommend “Master Class in Figure Drawing” by Robert Hale as an alternate resource or second opinion.
Many issues associated with portraitures (or the figure in general) in art is that artists try to avoid seeing beyond reality. As a consequence of this avoidance the artist is unable to see or recognize the head position, angles and perspective.
One of the first step to correct this problem is “acceptance of reality"
Acceptance of reality
First step is understanding the nature of our subject. This is drawing what you see (refer to: The power of objective observation). Our subject presents a very specific position in space and we must accept this fact. In the prediction process as part of our composition this will be an important and effective element.
Acceptance is the ability to process what you eyes see in an objective manner.
Another way of saying this will be awareness. It is very common for artists an illustrators to draw from memory that are nor sufficiently aware of reality and not paying enough attention to the subject. Acceptance of reality is also feeling what you see. To accomplish this you must get visually intimate with the subject matter.
The box and cylinder
As part of our first step is understanding also the nature of these geometric shapes and how to associate them in relation to our figure. For the purpose of this demonstration I used two figures with two different situations.
The first one will be a semi-profile with lower angle view (the box)
The second one our subject is looking down – front angle view (The cylinder)
The box: The human skull of course is not a box. But we can safely say it has planes. These planes makes our figure a 3D SUBJECT. Planes gives us or it might give us the illusion of a three dimensional cube or box in space which you must identify at your very first drawing prediction.
(I strongly recommend to study the basics of perspective and vanishing points.
In special linear perspective.)
This box is our pre-basic foundation before the actual gesture of the head. The box must be drawn very lightly (no heavy lines), and you must be able to accomplish the position associated with the reality of our subject matter.
When positioning we must be aware of the planes. The head or skull in this case is giving us three planes which includes front, side and bottom. When you detect these planes associated with our subject and with repetition you will always find the box in any situation.
Remember, this box is for positioning purposes only, you will not depend entirely on it when it comes time for proportions.
At the beginning some artists will find this approach confusing because it is very common to go straight into the heavy lines. But this technique will save you from many problems later.
Next is our general basic foundation of the actual head. In here we are predicting the head around and in relation to the box to accomplish planes. (no heavy lines)
This gesture drawing includes face, location and position of the ear, hair, neck, chin and find center of face to record a center line for the head.
Begin shaping or massing the head with the help of shapes. In here we are going again back to previous post ( refer to: The power of objective observation).
For a quick review on this: -”Think shapes”. Shapes are a great tool for association. In the process of prediction these shapes help us see what is next to what (measuring) . You can create your own shapes according of how you see, but I strongly recommend the oval. This is a generic standard shape easy to manipulate in any size and circumstance.
At this point remember to: double verify your composition, finding a point or points of reference, and making corrections. In here negative spaces are of extreme value (refer to: The magic of negative spaces)
Understanding perspective has a lot to do with foreshortening. When something is Foreshortened the size of an object's dimensions along the line of sight are relatively shorter than dimensions across the line of sight . In other words the lines illusion that your eyes are perceiving becomes shorter or in angles.
You are probably ready to start working on some pre-heavy lines.
Begin by erasing any unnecessary lines from the previous gesture. With the help of color pencils begin by intensifying some of the basic contour lines of the head and features of the face (burnt sienna)
*Using color pencils is like using regular graphite pencils, you most be aware of values. Only that this time you are dealing with some color. (fore hand pressure and support is important)
When drawing with color pencils it will be ideal(as an alternative) to use tones paper or colored paper using earthy tone colors. You don't want to abuse the color and always use some economy on it.
When choosing what geometric form to use it is really up to you. Remember this is only a temporary stage to train your eyes in understanding the nature of objects in perspective when drawing or painting the figure. I find the box and cylinder valuable in any situation. For the purpose of this next demonstration I feel the use of the cylinder to be more effective. A cylinder or cylindrical form suggests movement. And some artist perhaps find this form to be more associated with the human skull. The curves and roundness of this form gives us a better visual sensation of the portrait.
In this case the figure is positioning front side – looking down. So, I am aware of this position and I also accept this reality. My best decision here is to create a cylinder associated to my subject where the main view area will be top of skull or cylinder. (head-crown area with hair)
When creating this pre-basic foundation, again we are going back to all the details mentioned before at the beginning of the post. (only this time is a cylinder)
Be always aware of distances (this is a very common issue or mistake)
In the case of perspective or foreshortening like I mention before distances and angles become shorter.
*Note in this case that the chin area is very small and top of the head is big.