Some Things To Avoid in Portrait Art

It seems like there are plenty of things that I can say about what not to do in portrait art.  Some of these tips are hard-earned from my own personal blunders, other tips are based on things I have seen other fledgling artists do over and over again when they first start out.

Tip One:
Don't trace from photographs. Don't trace at all, or only for very unique and special reasons. You should learn how to draw freehand. If you don't, you will be severely hampered in many ways.   You will not be able to draw from life.  One of the many joys of portrait art is being able to do sketches of your friends (or strangers, for that matter!) on the spur-of-the-moment.   Don't rob yourself of this. You will respect yourself more if you at least put in an effort to draw freehand. This may seem like a basic concept to have to cover, but unfortunately there is a trend these days for artists to trace photos. Artists who do this will never hone their freehand drawing skills. This is a real shame.

Tip Two:
Don't take criticism poorly. If taking criticism is something you don't have a problem with, then you are indeed lucky!  But, unfortunately, too many artists are very sensitive (it is a natural way to be for many of us.) Therefore, taking criticism isn't so easy for some of us!  However, don't make someone who is trying to help you through constructive criticism work too hard.  If you make a scene and are obviously upset when someone is honestly trying to help, they will stop trying to help.  (This whole criticism concept could take pages to fully explore.)

Not everyone who gives you some advice or criticism does it well, or with the purest of intentions. Sometimes they are tactless. Sometimes they just are looking for fault, to make you feel bad, and themselves feel a little more important. But, when they are asked "How do you like it?" and they tell you that the nose is a little too big, you should not go off on them! If you want all your friends to only praise your work (because you are such a delicate creature, after all!) you should just tell them so.  But bear in mind, that people may laugh behind your back, saying "He doesn't know that he draws all the noses too big, but he is so sensitive, nobody can tell him so!"  While sometimes someone else's opinion may not honestly be helpful, it seems inevitable that there will be times that you will have a problem with your work that you do not have the objectivity to recognize. You need the help of friends (and teachers) to help you see these faults and move past them.

Tip Three:
Don't smudge pencil or graphite drawings.  This is a pet peeve of mine.  There seems to be a trend (I did it myself for a time, by the way) to treat graphite pencil (a.k.a. regular drawing pencil) like some sort of charcoal, and to smudge and smear it as part of a rendering technique.  This only looks messy and tacky. Graphite lacks the richness and body that charcoal does.  Don't do this! Graphite is better being rendered by short strokes, crosshatching, it will look far more polished.

Tip Four:
Don't draw "wimpy" drawings!  Use a pencil with some softness (B or 2B, not HB or 2H) so that you can get dark and sharp contrast, not some washed-out wimpy looking drawing.   You want your darkest color to be dark, not some sort of light gray. If you are only going to do delicate, hazy, light-toned drawing, this might work, but most of us are aiming for a "realistic" look, which means proper contrast between your lightest to darkest shades.

Tip Five:
Avoid using the color black in your color work.  If you use watercolors, oil or acrylic paint, try to not use the tube of black paint that comes with the paint set.  It is true that many accomplished artists use black in their palette, and use it successfully.  However, many other artists (especially new artists) overuse the color black, and it deadens and "muddies" the whole painting.   If you are a little uncomfortable with mixing colors, get a good book on color mixing.  I recommend any book by Helen Van Wyk, I think she is just fabulous.  Instead of using black, use a dark color like Paynes Gray, Indigo, or Burnt Umber.  Or, mix two dark colors together, (like Paynes Gray and Burnt Umber), to make a dark (but not quite black) color.


Content of this page © J.R. Dunster,  2001 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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