Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Tip for Creating Better Portraits...buy Yourself a Skull

If you glance thru almost any book that teaches portrait or figure drawing, you will find a section on anatomy. Knowing the skeleton, and the major groups of muscles, and how they behave under our skin is of vital importance in making successful figurative or portrait art. (Even if you deem yourself a "cartoonist" or "abstract artist" - that genre still needs an understanding of the human form. But we can debate that later)

My drawing above is copied from "Drawing from Life" by Brown and McLean. And while I learned a lot of technical info by copying from the book, a lot of the problems are already figured out for you if you are copying a 2D source to a 2D drawing. To really challenge yourself and to fully understand the shapes of the skull, I recommend you
buy a plastic skull. (This is not only a great investment in your artistic endeavors. It's awesome to put in the window for Halloween!)

Set up a simple still-life of the plastic skull and draw it from many vantage points. Get to know the landmarks of the zygomatic arch, the orbital bone, and the mandible. See how angles change and intersect. Study the size and shape of the whole skull.

When you go back to drawing a figure from life (as in my sketch of a live male model above) you will be more in tune with what is happening beneath the surface of the skin. You will be more sensitive to the subtle shifts of light and shadow as the skin stretches over the form of the skull.


studiovirgo said...

Excellent post and excellent advice. We used "Albinus on Anatomy" in my college life drawing classes, had to copy drawings each week in addition to drawing from the department skeleton (funny, I don't remember if she had a name...)

krystyna81 said...

I think our skeleton in class had a name, too! I haven't named my skull...any suggestions?

Beholden-To-Nature (Kenna) said...

I loved reading this post. Your discipline and dedication to developing a greater understanding and technique within your craft is marvelous... and it shows in your work.

pegi said...

I looked up a few skulls online and the Dick Blick one is about $27.00.....the others run $$$$$.
Any suggestions to which is better or is there a basic sameness!
GREAT POST,by the way! VERY helpful,as usual. THANKS!!

Anonymous said...

You know, I think it was davinci that used to dissect cadavers to get a better idea of how this all worked. i like your idea better.

Tayete said...

Hi Kristina!
I have been following your blog and techniques for some time.
As I have received the "Blog Award: A Passion For Painting" and have to pass it to other blogs I admire, I thought yours was a natural choice.
You may check http://tayete.blogspot.com to see the rules of the award (really simple) and take the small image you may put in your blog.

krystyna81 said...

Thanks for all the kind comments!

Kenna...Thank you! Sometimes I go back and re-learn techniques, or "freshen-up" on something I haven't done in a while. It all comes together when trying to finish a painting!

Pegi...That sounds pretty reasonable. You may find a few for sale on E-bay, too! I think most are the same...some have hinged jaws, which really isn't too important unless you want to make it talk.

I never do that. I swear.

Tayete...Thanks! I'll check it out