View Full Version : Portrait - getting a likeness DEMO

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 06:55 PM
Hi everyone...I was recently asked to do a demo on the method I use to achieve a likeness when I paint a portrait...
The ref I'm using is a photo of Deborah Secor's great grand-pop.

Step one.. my initial step is setting up my paper and mounting the ref image square to the paper.. I tape the the ref to the paper so it doesnt move during the drawing stage..

Once mounted... I decide on the size I want to paint the portrait... for this example the portrait will be 10inches from bottom of chin to top of hair.. normally I paint portraits about 75% of actual size..

I place the top of the portrait about one forehead width down from the top of the paper and centre it horizontally so that the centre line of the paper runs between the centre of the eyes... this can change as the angle of the profile changes, basically I try to get a balance of body mass on both sides of the centre line, with the face slightly more towards the ' golden medium.". Similar to composition in landscapes.

Having determined the top and bottom limits of the portrait head I mark this measurement on the side of my paper at the bottom of the paper. I then take the corresponding measurement from the ref image and mark it on the paper immediatley above. I then divide these two dimensions in to 10 equal parts which gives me the begininngs of two scales. One for the ref image and one for the portrait.
Once I have divided the scales into 10 gradients I then divide the first gradient into 10 smaller increments. http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_246.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_251.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_254.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_256.jpg

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 07:09 PM
Step two.. once I have located the vertical position of the head I then decide on the horizontal positioning. When working on paper I'm not too concerned with this as I can crop the paper at the end to suit.. With canvas it will be necessary to get it correct to begin with...

I always start my line drawings from the same place, for no other reason than habit.. this position becomes my datum from which I take and mark all my distances and angles... this datum is the point of the chin... from here I can accurately transfer the angle of the jaw from the ref to the portrait...

I place a straight edge (pencil ruler or brush) along the bottom edge of the chin and then being careful not to allow the angle to change I slide the straight edge across the paper and draw a corresponding line where the 'bottom of chin' mark is..

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_260.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_261.jpg

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 07:14 PM
Step three

Having decided on where the centre line of my face is going to be I then place a small mark on the chin line to indicate where the angle of the profile jawline will cut the chin line... I then repeat the same method of transfering the angle of the jawline to the paper as I did for the chinline..

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_262.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_263.jpg

12-19-2006, 07:36 PM
thank you sooo much!!! i hope you're up for questions tho.??...

why did you make a scale for the ref.? or maybe i should be quiet and wait to see?!....

and you better believe i'll be watching you....!

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 07:49 PM
Step four

The point at which these two lines cross gives me my datum for all futher measurements.. THe next step is to locate the angle of the other jawline... To do this I need to locate the point at which it joins the chinline..
Using a compass I measure the distance from the datum mark in the ref image to the point at which the jawline crosses the chin line of the ref image

I then take this measurement and lay it on the ref image scale to get my dimension... once having got this measurement I lay my compass on the portrait scale and adjust it the corresponding dimension... this has scaled up the ref image measurement to the portrait scale..


I then take this scaled up measurement and transfer it to my portrait and make as small mark on the chineline.... this is the point at which the jawline (line (4) will cut the chinline (line 1) In the same manner previously used I then transfer the angle of the jaw to the portrait...

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_259.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_264.jpg

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 07:59 PM
I continue building lines in this manner until I have a construction line drawing, which accurately positions all the features of the head,... Its important to always take your measurements from the datum point as this keeps any small inaccuracies to a minimum. Once I've got this basic line drawing I cross check some other distances... i.e distance between eyes, width of mouth, width of nose.. etc,, there is no limit to the amount of checking you can do.,,, but the more checks you make the better the likeness,


bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 08:03 PM
Step 5 is probably where the draughtsman finishes and the artist begins.. I will now draw in the actual line drawing freehand, ensuring I'm always referring back to the ref to build a likeness..


bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 08:23 PM
Step 6..

Once I'm happy with the accuracy and likeness I will continue on and add more detail to portrait... and then begin to add pastel, watercolour or charcoal depending on what the commission requirements are..

http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_276.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_278.jpg http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/19-Dec-2006/17761-portraits_279.jpg

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 08:25 PM
I ran out of time on the weekend so never got a chance to finish it off... but I think y'all get the general idea.. :thumbsup:

12-19-2006, 08:27 PM

This is great information. Thanks for posting.


bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 08:28 PM
Hi chewie ...did I answer your question.. :wave:

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 08:33 PM
Hi Terri

You're very welcome..:wave: :thumbsup:

Deborah Secor
12-19-2006, 08:43 PM
Bravo! Thank you so much, Bruce...I'll digest this and probably pepper you with more questions, if I may. I think my problem is that as a landscape painter I take way too many liberties with my subject matter...which of course is not a problem with landscapes. What you've done here is really very scientific and I know I need to learn these basics, so once again, thanks!



bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 08:55 PM
Hi Deborah.. you're very welcome.. :wave: I don't know about scientific :lol: . probably the only tricky thing is the scaling up of the ref... if I was painting from life I would use the same system for transfering the angles of the lines, but i would move the subject closer to me or further away to to get the right scale, and then use the old thumb on the pencil trick to get the actual measurements... To do the scale and get the construction line drawing took me about an hour and then the detail about another hour... Its all the cross checking that takes the time... :thumbsup:

12-19-2006, 09:07 PM
Bruce! Now I get it! Now what you sent me makes sense! You are such a great teacher... not to mention artist. Deborah's great grand-dad looks fabulous. You should really finish it ya know... it wonderful!

Thanks for another wonderful demo!

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 09:13 PM
Thank you Marcia you're very kind .. I may finish it if I get the chance... I've got hols coming up... yahoo:clap: .... painting and wine tasting... what a way to go :lol: :lol:

12-19-2006, 09:35 PM
you are an awesome teacher! :)
this formula seems better than drawing a grid - no grid to
get rid of :)

12-19-2006, 10:15 PM
great stuff bruce ... a keeper thread for sure !!

bruce johnson
12-19-2006, 10:51 PM
Hi Jen and Violet.. thanks for dropping by... and the nice comments.. :wave: :wave: :thumbsup:

Deborah Secor
12-19-2006, 11:25 PM
Yeah--we should really rate this one, too, so it goes into the Library! It makes it so much easier on the Moderators to go find the stars and just move it...


Rose Baggs
12-20-2006, 08:09 AM
Wow...Bruce...you are the Man!!!! Great thread!!! Great teaching! Just gave you a "mentor" award!!! Rated the thread "excellent" and I'll be keeping the thread on my files for future reference!

12-20-2006, 08:29 AM
wow, bruce - this is a great tutorial that should be shared in other forums as well - thank-you so much


bruce johnson
12-20-2006, 07:00 PM
Hi Deborah Rose and Gord.. thanks very much for the stars and the mentor award..you're all very kind, :wave: :thumbsup:

I don't mind putting this on the portraitre forum or any other forum .. can a moderator copy it to there... is that poss or do I need to redo it all again.. :wave:

Deborah Secor
12-20-2006, 07:30 PM
Let me check into that possibility for you, Bruce.


12-20-2006, 08:02 PM
yes, my question was answered and then some! this is a great thread, you are such a sweet soul for doing this for us!! i too want this kept in the library, for safe keeping and lots of learning! super!

bruce johnson
12-20-2006, 09:10 PM
Thanks Deborah:thumbsup:

You are so welcome chewie.. its the Christmas spirit :lol: :wave:

Deborah Secor
12-20-2006, 09:23 PM
I warned you I'd be back with some questions! You don't need to respond to them instantly, but I'm sincerely puzzled by one or two things, and ready to admit my incompetence is surely to blame... but here goes...

In post #1 you said:
Having determined the top and bottom limits of the portrait head I mark this measurement on the side of my paper at the bottom of the paper. I then take the corresponding measurement from the ref image and mark it on the paper immediatley above.
Okay, so what you do is decide on the size of the head (top of head to bottom of chin) arbitrarily, depending on what you want, correct? Do you usually keep it easily divisible by ten (as is 10")? And then you take a measurement of the length of the head in the photo that's accurate, right? And simply divide each one into ten sections...but... (okay, I'm math challenged) what if the length of the portrait line won't divide up equally into ten? Am I being dumb here? This kind of thing always boggles my mind. Could you very simply, as if talking to a ten year old (or less), explain to me just how you go about dividing that line into tenths?

In post #6 you said:
Its important to always take your measurements from the datum point
I understand you to be saying that you refer every measurement back to that first point at the bottom left side of the chin--is that right? So, if you want to know where the inside of the left eye goes you measure it off that point and scale up? But what if you get the angle wrong--too far to the left or right? Doesn't it need to be measured from two points? I know, I know, I'm quite dense here, but do be patient with me!

Do you also measure the shapes of the shadows on the face and block them in the same way? Or is that all left to the freehand drawing?

Thanks for indulging me. You can see that I'm always the one that drives the teacher nuts in any class...no one else even raised their hand but Chris... and she got the answer! :eek:


bruce johnson
12-20-2006, 09:54 PM
Hi Deborah.. two very good questions.. I wondered if I had explained these things well enough...

For the first question on dividing any line into ten equal parts I will do a demo tonight when I get home from work... its very simple...

For the second question...yes the measurement needs to be taken from the datum point on the corner of the chin, and the angle must be right, but I will also use other points to cross reference important landmarks like the corner of an eye etc... but one thing I notice is that if you're careful with getting the angle right then all ref points fall into place quite easily.. tonight I will show you another way of ensuring the angle stays perfect...

Shadows I draw in freehand..

I'll be back

Cheers Bruce :wave: :thumbsup:

bruce johnson
12-21-2006, 06:47 PM
Morning Deborah

Here's how to divide a dimension into 10 equals parts..

Step one .... take measurement from bottom of chin to top of hair... and mark this dimension on your paper .... then draw a line between the two marks


Step two

draw another line thru the Bottom of chin mark and at about a 30 degree angle.

Step three

Take your compass and open it to a distance that would be somewhere close or slightly more than what you expect the increments to be... i.e if your chin to head measurement is around 9 - 10 inches then I would open the compass to about 1 inch, or if the chin to top of head was say 5 inches then i would open the compass to about 1/2 inch, its not critical.
I then measure along the second line marking off these increments as i go..


Step four

Once I have marked the second line with 10 equal increments I number them from zero to 10. Zero being the bottom of chin mark..I also write 10 on the top of head mark..


Step 5

I align a set square between the two 10 marks and place a straight edge along the bottom of the set square.. I've actually used another larger set square but a ruler will suffice..


Step 6

Keeping a firmish grip on the straight edge, I then slide the set square along until it lines up with the 9 mark, and place a mark on the chin to head line.. I number this mark with a 9. I then continue sliding the set square along the line making corresponding marks as i go until I get back to zero the result is a Chin to top of head line that has been divided into 10 equal increments..



I will normally erase the second line at this point so that I am left with the chin to head line increments. I will then repeat this process for the 0 to 1 increment ... this gives me the smaller increments in 1/10ths of the scale..

et voila:thumbsup:

Deborah Secor
12-21-2006, 07:05 PM
Ah HA! I see... Yikes! Okay...I'll try!

Bruce, just wanted to mention that you can easily go to the portrait forum, or any other where you want to have people see this thread, and just post an introduction with a link back to this one. That way a lot of people will benefit!

(If you think the portrait forum might want it in their library you need to talk to the Moderator there and have him/her get together with the Mods from the Pastel Forum. They have magical powers that I don't have as a Guide... Just PM anyone you want to talk to! :D )

You have done such a lot of work to show us all this--thank you, thank you, thank you!


bruce johnson
12-21-2006, 07:06 PM
Oh I forgot to add that you can use this system of transferring angles from the ref image to the paper by placing the set square against the angle of the jaw or where ever on the ref image,. lay straight edge on bottom of the set square...slide set square across to the paper. Draw the line where you need it.. Bingo :clap: :clap:

bruce johnson
12-21-2006, 08:21 PM
No Problem Deborah... my pleasure...
I'll post that link in portrait forum..:thumbsup:

bruce johnson
12-21-2006, 11:55 PM
Here's the finished drawing..


Deborah Secor
12-22-2006, 12:02 AM
Bravo, bravo! Looks just like him...now we need to discuss the cost of international shipping! :lol: I hope you don't mind my copying it for my own use. (I must ask about the title on your file, though. Very intriguing.)

bruce johnson
12-22-2006, 01:50 AM
:lol: The file name comes from the folder that the pictures were saved in... my camera stores in the last folder open.... my son Ronnie (8) had to do a presentation at school about Japan...Sonja, my wife, took some pics...

Here he is demonstrating the art of Oregami.. he folded a paper cup and then drank out of it.. :thumbsup:

You're more than welcome to have the charcoal of your grerat grandad ... .. its not perfect coz I hurried it a bit... PM me your address:wave: :thumbsup:

12-22-2006, 06:35 AM
Love it, Bruce! Simply wonderful! Glad you finished it!:clap: :clap: :clap:


Rose Baggs
12-22-2006, 10:33 AM
Spectacular drawing! :) :) :)

12-22-2006, 01:32 PM
spectacular to say the least !! ... awesome and inspiring ... thank you so much for your kindness and willingness to share your techniques with us ... and the results !!! ... best wishes for the holidays and the new year !!!

12-23-2006, 02:52 AM
Bruce, Great demo!!!!! Fabulous drawing!!!! Thanks so much for sharing!!! I'm going to safe this thread in my art notes file.

I'm looking forward to starting our next portrait challenge, teacher!!!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you and yours


p.s. Your son is a very handsome young man. Looks like he gave a super presentation.