Portrait Artist Tips—Tips for the Novice ("Newbie") Artist

I have made a brief list of some basic portrait art tips:

Take it easy on yourself!
Don't take yourself too seriously.   This whole art thing takes time...you will fill many sketchbooks with art that you will later not be so proud of.   Art takes practice, and sometimes your practice sketches will, well, sort of suck!   This is something you must accept.  You will be much happier if you do not take every single drawing attempt seriously.   Consider them as part of a process, and if you create a bad attempt, just draw something on the other side of the paper.

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Go to the Library.  (Or get other sources of help.)
If you are learning how to draw portraits on your own, good for you!   There is no reason why you cannot be successful and learn a great deal about portraits.  However, get all the help you can find!  When I was a kid, and was getting serious about art, I scoured the library and found any book on art, especially portrait art.   While buying books is also good, sometimes the library is better.  You do not have to invest in a book only later to find it is not helpful.   Sometimes a book is only going to help you in some small point, so why do you need to buy it?  If you find a library book that you fall in love with, go to Amazon.com and buy it!   One of my favorite artist/authors is Burne Hogarth, who has many art books available.   (He was also one of my teachers at art school.)
Another favorite book is "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards, and "Figure Drawing For All It's Worth" by Andrew Loomis.  

Speaking of school...try to take some sort of class, if you can.   I have found that some night or community classes have unpredictable quality.  Some are great, while other classes have teachers who need to go back to school themselves!   However, taking a class is still probably a good idea, no matter what sort of teacher you get.   You will meet other students there, who may give you good leads on books to check out, or techniques to try.

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"Trick" your eye into seeing your drawing more objectively.
There are several techniques that I use regularly to make sure that my drawing is pretty accurate, as I am working on it.  There is no use in laying down your dark (hard to erase) tones on a drawing that still needs much correction in proportions, etc.!   While you are fussing with your drawing, trying to get the likeness just right, use a light touch with the pencil, so you can easily erase any incorrect lines.   During this preliminary process, try some of these tricks I have learned to "fool" your eye into seeing your drawing more objectively.

The most useful way to "trick" your eye is to look at your drawing in the mirror.   This shocks your eye into seeing some inconsistencies, things that are lopsided, crooked and/or off-kilter. While it is true that most faces are somewhat asymmetrical, looking at your drawing in the mirror may really horrify you!   It is not unusual to see that you have made some major errors in your proportions when you look at your drawing in reverse.   Do not be discouraged, you have caught it in time, and will be able to correct it.   More importantly, you will gradually learn to avoid making these errors after time!   Another variation on this theme of "tricking" your eye is to turn your drawing upside down, along with the photo you are working from.   Compare them both, looking at shapes and forms, and see if anything does not match up.   This can be of great help.

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Draw someone you like.
When choosing a subject to draw, draw somebody you like.  Whether this be a pretty picture out of a magazine, or your grandmother, whoever.   If you like movie stars, draw them.  It may seem trivial to draw Mr. Spock (or Captain Archer) to others, but it is practice for you, so you might as well have fun!   (Besides, there are plenty of Star Trek fans out there who will buy your drawings.  Really.)  I speak from personal experience, I am a movie fan (and was moreso when I was a teen) and got much grief for drawing many movie-stars.  Looking back, I think I was on the right track.  I loved to draw more than I loved movies, but since movies were an interest of mine, I naturally wanted to do drawings from them. 

Trying to draw someone famous is rather demanding---people generally will know if you got a good likeness or not, and will tell you so.  While it can be discouraging if you do not always get a good likeness, you will be pushed to try harder.  Drawing people you know is also a good idea, for the same reason...people will have an opinion about whether you get a good likeness or not.  However, remember that the people you draw also have egos. If you ever draw a likeness that might be considered unflattering, you may ruffle a few feathers!  (Drawing movie stars is a little less stressful for this reason!)  In the long run, drawing people you know is a wonderful practice, and you will look back on your old sketches with great fondness.


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Content © J.R. Dunster,   2001 - 2004.


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