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Old 01-06-2020, 09:39 AM
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MMCoston MMCoston is offline
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Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

I've been trying to learn proper methods for drawing portraits but it's not going so well. I've always just drawn and after a few (or a hundred) corrections ended up with a fairly decent drawing. However, I want to improve by learning a faster more accurate approach. These are my attempts at different approaches this last week. The first one, I know what is wrong but the others (except the last) are so far off its hard to tell where to begin to fix it.

The first was supposed to be a Master copy of Da Vinci's 'Profile of an Old Man'. I used his method of a bisected square for the proportions but I know the ear is way too high.



Then I spent three days trying to draw a copy of Michelangelo's Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi.
First I tried Da Vinci's proportions again but that didn't work. It is no where near a likeness.



Next I tried drawing a center axis and spent three hours measuring everything from that axis multiple times. It's only a little better than the first attempt.



Then I tried combining the divided oval proportions, da Vinci's square proportions and some, but less, measuring from a centerline with the third attempt and tried to salvage it by eyeballing changes. But the likeness isn't there.



Lastly, I got frustrated and just sat down and tried to draw a copy of one of Van Gogh's self portraits the way I normally draw without rules or measures. This is how my portraits usually end up. It's okay but I'm sure you can see why I'm trying to improve. It can be better.



If anyone has any insight as to how to get one of the proper methods to work, or knows a different traditional method that works, please advise. I've been reading everything I can find and watching tutorials but to no avail.
I can't try the grid method because I don't have a hard copy of any examples and no way to print.
Also, I'm not quite sure what exactly can be improved in the last (van Gogh) one.
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Last edited by MMCoston : 01-06-2020 at 09:41 AM.
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Old 01-06-2020, 10:58 AM
kentiessen kentiessen is offline
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

It may be helpful for you to draw, rather than paint- you'll be able to make corrections and adjustments easier. Also, work with simple views first (profile, front view) as the structure of the head is complex, and choose images off the internet that are clear. Proportion is straightforward and consistent- Loomis and Speed put forward good approaches. Practice (lots of practice) and don't give up!
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Old 01-06-2020, 11:35 AM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

The grid works for me. There is no one "proper" method. And, sometimes, the method that works for one thing does not work for another. You just have to keep going. Try lots of things. I know I am probably not a big help. I'm sorry.
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Old 01-07-2020, 12:24 AM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

Thank you for the suggestions, Ginny and Ken. I looked up the Loomis approach and spent a few hours trying that today.

These pictures actually are drawings, pen and wash style. It's strange, though, because my pencil drawings always seem to look good to me until I add a different medium. I assume it's because the light color of graphite and the glare tends to hide mistakes. Perhaps by making it more high contrast with a different medium I'm able to see all the errors.

For example, today I made three tries at another portrait. This last one looked best so I thought I would dress it up some. I took photos of each stage so I could maybe try to figure out where I am going wrong.

The pencil stage looked to have a decent likeness.



The outline stage lost most of the likeness.



Then once finished it does have a slight resemblance although it seems Picasso-ish.



So... that one didn't work.
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Last edited by MMCoston : 01-07-2020 at 12:26 AM.
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Old 01-07-2020, 06:58 AM
kentiessen kentiessen is offline
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

In teaching, it is helpful to me to separate aspects of a work: Drawing, Form, Value, Color, Technique, etc.. Your drawing of #1 clarifies well enough into #2 (line only) but an understanding of Value or Form is not reflected in either #1 and #3.
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Old 01-07-2020, 09:36 AM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

That's a good point Ken. I have only been doing a rough sketch instead of a polished version for the pencil version because I erase it all once I begin adding color. Otherwise, the color gets muddied and dulled by it. Perhaps there is a step here I'm missing?

The wonky values in the last one are the result of trying out something new but not having figured out how to yet. I've been drawing with red clay from the yard diluted with distilled water but I decided to also try including another local pigment in this one once I saw the whole thing was ruined anyway. The other pigment is known as 'edible chalk' or 'old fashioned whitewash' which is actually very white kaolin clay. It acts very different from the red clay I like and I haven't figured out how to use it right or if it can even be used.

As best I can tell, it seems I got the ears and nose too small in the pencil drawing but for some reason I couldn't tell it at that stage. Then by the outline stage, the eyes and mouth appear to have gotten smaller too.

Not sure how to correct this process, though. Maybe I could try removing all shading between pencil outlines of features before doing the color outline just to make sure the sizes are right.
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Old 01-07-2020, 09:54 AM
kentiessen kentiessen is offline
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

The drawing can be fixed so that does not happen. Working with a new medium adds difficulty to your process as your learning that too. I like working with charcoal, both as an underdrawing and in separate studies- it's very flexible and promotes good values. Stick to your drawing in practice, and when you paint over it.
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Old 01-07-2020, 03:11 PM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

Something that has helped me train my eye is to print out the reference photo and use a piece of acetate to trace the lines of the face. Then I do sight sizing to draw from the reference (same proportions).

If I think I'm getting off, I put the piece of acetate over my drawing to compare and then I make corrections. This helps me understand where my brain is misinterpreting lines and spacial relationships.

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Old 01-07-2020, 04:26 PM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

Thank you for your help, Ken. I've only tried charcoal a couple times but it seemed I got it all over everything except the paper.

Thank you for that suggestion, Jan. Coincidentally, I tried again today and upon finding that after a couple hours I couldn't get the proportions right by repeatedly measuring, I thought I'd try using technology to help me see where I'm going wrong. Though, the plastic sheet idea would have surely been less time consuming. I will have to try it soon.

My analysis is a little disheartening as I actually got very little correct 9 out of the 27 parts I could think up. Here's today's sketch try with errors indicated by red and correct parts noted with blue:



Main feature sizes:



Other features sizes:



When I started this analysis, it occured to me that I could make a digital grid and go from there but I elected instead try to figure out what I need to improve on. I was surprised to have gotten any of the sizes correct since I'm drawing from a photo on my little cell phone but it looks like the eyebrows, eyes and nose sizes are good. Just everything else is wrong. 🤔
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Old 01-08-2020, 12:07 AM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

Have you looked at the Accura proportional divider? I use it to scale up from a reference. I measure from the bottom and the left side. If you check enough points you can get 100% accuracy.
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Old 01-08-2020, 08:21 AM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

I have also been using a proportional divider recently. It works well.
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Old 01-08-2020, 01:41 PM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

Thank you Kiffin and Ginny. I didn't know about that tool but it looks brilliant. I will have to get one and try it. I've been doing the measuring using a ruler and just quick mental math estimates. But that might be the tool that makes all the difference. Thanks.

Btw, I'm still trying. It's looking a little better but maybe the tool could bring it to where I want it to be. Here's the current state with a filter so the lines can be seen in the photo. Worst case scenario, I might find out how many times paper can be erased before being ruined.

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Last edited by MMCoston : 01-08-2020 at 01:55 PM.
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Old 01-09-2020, 08:47 AM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

A lot of good information!
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Old 01-09-2020, 12:48 PM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

Your last drawing looks really good. The only thing I noticed was the mouth is not quite at the right angle. It's a bit too straight. Check that the mouth (mouth crack?) is angled at the same degree as the eyes, or close.
Hope that is some help.
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Old 01-09-2020, 03:15 PM
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Re: Need Help with Traditional Approaches to proportions and Likenesses

You might look at the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". Lots of good information on seeing creatively but later chapters also deal with facial proportions and it gives you good guidelines for measuring out the face. There's lots of tools on the internet too for portrait anatomy. Good luck!

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