Expression portrait drawing

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by Wisdomsend 2 years ago.

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    Hi everyone! thanks so much to everyone who contributed to my last post on drawing animals. i've shifted my focus for the time being onto expression in human faces, focusing on depth and different facial shapes and features. i'm trying to beat my "sameface syndrome" if you know what i mean.

    the linked sketches took me different amounts of time. the ones that are more simple and messy took 30 seconds to a minute each. the more detailed ones took 2-5 mins each. the most detailed one in blue pencil took ten minutes.

    i'd love to know if anyone has any pointers on improving understanding of facial anatomy and depth, as well as placement of features from different angles. i especially tend to have trouble when working from side-view and from behind, and when the face is looking left.

    my end goal is to be able to render different face shapes and features in a way that is simple and cartoony but still puts across a clear idea of what the face is meant to indicate. think SLIGHTLY caricature-ish, if that makes sense. any insight is appreciated!


    p.s. if the document isn't working for any reason please let me know and i'll fix it ASAP ^_^

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    Maybe trying to mentally separate the construction of the face from the shading process will help. "Cartoons" usually try to capture an object with few and clear lines, and sacrifice subtle midtones to achieve this, to the extreme of accepting a very flat 2-D impression like in a typical child cartoon, while shading to achieve depths aims to capture exactly these midtones.

    You work almost exclusively with lines, so your technique for depicting midtones has to be hatching or cross-hatching. The challenge is to make a visible distinction between hatching lines, that mark the tone of an area, and contour lines, that mark the outline of a shape. Your lines seem to oscillate a bit between these two functions, which reduces the clarity of expression. Is that part of the face in shadow, or do these lines represent wrinkles?

    Warm-ups that concentrate purely on practicing a more regular hatching pattern might be a good idea, as will rendering geometric shapes like spheres under simple lighting conditions, so your hatching patterns don't inadvertently become more expressive than you want them to be.

    On the other hand you could try to focus on drawing from extremely dramatically lit images, with high contrast and few midtones, so you get used to capturing the shapes of a face with clear stylized lines, replacing all hatching with flat dark planes contrasting with flat white planes at first, as lights and shadows, without using any midtones at all. Then only start to separate midtones once you are comfortable to draw without them.

    I find that movies or series often use that kind of expressive lighting, hitting the pause button often produces great motives.

    And last but not least, be aware that "cartoonish" i.e. stylized drawing, and realistically rendering voluminous depth via shading, are somewhat separate goals. You will likely end up finding your own compromise somewhere between, but if you try to excel in both of these polar opposites at once you WILL accumulate quite a bit of frustration. There are few artists, who excel in both at once, and the result of a heavily stylized motive with 100% natural rendering will produce a distinct "canny valley" effect. Only artist that comes to mind for me is Gottfried Helmwein in some of his political caricatures.

    P.S: You are asking specifically for the placement of features. Normally I would point to the Loomis method to help with that, but from your results you don't seem to lack theoretical foundation for that task. I would guess, that at the point you are at, it's just a question of more practice, although revisiting more basic lessons again is never a bad idea. If you figured all that out purely on a trial and error basis and don't know Mr. Loomis, you might want to search his introductory works and try them out, but I got the feeling you are really beyond that by now. Refreshment is always good, but don't expect completely new insights.


    Hi Aunt Herbert,

    Thanks so much for your detailed and thoughtful response. I've taken some notes, and I plan to move forward with my practice by working on hatching of spheres in simple lighting , working from high contrast / dramatically lit images. I also will check out Mr Loomis's work, it looks like something that could help me grasp exactly what it is I'm trying to do when I do portrait drawings. I am entirely self-taught as an artist so this is all news to me! Thanks so much, I'll check back in soon.


    Well, well, well, Htlaps, I must say that your quick drawings and sketches of faces and expressions are on the right track, as facial anatomy goes.

    So, if I could provide you something, like a critique, for instance, that I'm not getting enough holistic animation in those faces and facial expressions. Would you please broaden and widen up your quick sketching with 45 minutes of 30 second sketches of our website's facial features and expressions, and images from this link here?: All flipped horizontally and/or vertically, and all downloaded from this link?? (45 x 60/30, 2700/30=90 quick cartoonies of different faces)

    The testament why you would do this thing is because, though it could be a really great remedy for your same-face, it can support you in completely cutting loose and expressive in your quick animated gestures and slightly cartoonier expressions and emotions. Cheers, and I hope you've found these completely and totally insightful.


    I recommend you to learn from Angel Ganev's portrait series. the series taught me a lot


    You are not thinking in planes, nor applying construction. Try drawing boxes and cylinders from different angles, Drawing on the right side of the brain would be greatly helpful at your current level, drawabox too!

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