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Ideally, face features come last in the process of building a face. However, that’s the pat answer given by the experts in ateliers. In reality, you have to align it all at the same time or nearly so. Having experience in sculpting is a tremendous help in seeing 3-dimensionally. One of the first things a sculptor or sculptress might do to his or her clay oval, would be to punch a fist or thumb into the middle on either side to make cavities for the eye sockets, and then add a protrusion between those sockets to approximate a nose.
Into that would come the features.
Yes, but how does one apply the sense of sculpting to free and easy white paper and soft graphite pencil? One way is to commit to the axiom: the eyes are halfway down the head. In my classes with my students, I make them prove this axiom by sticking their index finger in their eye, thumb under chin, and keeping the distance in their fingers intact, moving them up: the thumb in the eye, the index finger at the top of the head. Once convinced from their own head, they are much more likely to believe it of others’ heads. The truth is, artists fail to allow actual depth for the hair, ‘knowing’ that the hair barely protrudes from the scalp and forgetting it has to crawl up the crown. Aha, there’s the added thickness to the head. Not observing this one axiom throws the head off all haywire, and makes the subject look less than intelligent, because they literally are not leaving any room for the brain.
So, not eyebrows, not under the eyes, but the eyes themselves are halfway down the head. Well then, there’s where to start it. By forming a loose, exterior oval for the shape of the face part of the head, followed by one slightly curved cross-section line halfway down it, left to right.
Another hard-won truth I have to convince my students of is that there are no straight lines on anything round. Think about it. Any cross-section must travel around a round surface, thereby bending the line. Which way does it bend, is the only question. Now, if you look at a glass of water, half full, and your line of vision directly from eyeball to height of water in glass is even, that will give the closest thing possible to a straight line on a round object, but in only one place across the glass, at the water level. Slightly curved. Check it out. Stay perfectly still and look up at the rim of the glass. Does it not cup in an upward fashion? Look at the base without turning your head. Does it not cup under in the middle?
So now we have the rough sculpted form of a preliminary face at eye level. What? Now, we’ve changed our minds. Instead, we want to look up at the face. Aha! There goes that middle line, or better yet, leave it, and curve another line up from it to descend to and merge with the ear starting point on either side. This has formed the underside of the nose which you would see on an up angle. You’ll need a double line at the chin, not for a double chin, but for the extension beneath the jaw that we never look at. There it is. The cheeks will keep the bottom part of the eyes curved downward, and you won’t see that scalp thickness I just proved existed. Don’t like having to draw in nostrils? Tough, that is a must with the up-view.
You know, I’ve been looking at topnotch art drawn by topnotch artists, and only a few seem to really get this. If I ever get eyes to ‘see,’ however, it’s too late. It can’t be ‘unseen,’ and that is the hope I base all my teaching on. Getting the eyes to really see, and having done that, getting the eyes to see what is really there, not what they think is there. Not what they were taught was there. Not the absolute knowledgeable truth of it, but how it looks from a given angle, a specific viewpoint.
All right, now we have a middle cross section, two holes for eye sockets–wait, we only did that in clay. For the paper, let’s use the side of our pencils and deposit a 2 on a 10-point scale amount of grey in the whole socket–the socket is below the eyebrow to the cheek bone–on each side. Better to make the socket bigger than smaller, erasing with a knead eraser will only make your drawing more precise. Shade from one socket to the other to begin with. After that is done, one can use the knead eraser to lift the bridge of the nose between the sockets out. Looks better than two dark lines on either side of the nose on white paper, doesn’t it? Anyone who has followed me this far is off and running.
We have only to place the under part of the nose and the mouth. From halfway point to chin, the features divide into three fairly equal sections. So down from the halfway line one-third, that’s the nose tip, down another third, there’s the lip section.
Oh, it must be lined up left-right, as well as up, down. Make sure the two front teeth are right under the mouth peak and the center of the nose between the nostrils. See Pix in my eBook, Pencil Portrait Drawing Techniques Easy(ier). (link-link)
Now to the artistic over-view of the mouth. There are so many ways to get it wrong. Let’s divide this into steps. The top line is one line that extends into the cheeks. The bottom line doesn’t start where the top lips end, it comes in and is somewhat squarer. The top lip line is like an archer’s bow. The dips down descend below the middle line between the lips. Nobody believes this. They will erase it a thousand times to correct it back wrong. Start looking, folks. This one secret alone is key to marvelous portraits of the pencil variety, as well as oil, acrylic, and watercolor.
This is a lot to think of about the placement of the features of a face that goes way beyond just copying. This goes to understanding, in a 3-dimensional, sculptural way, how the face is made.