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I construct more faces from imagination then I draw from reference, and when I do, I notice that I mess the proportions up. The result normally looks fine, but I am not satisfied with the similarity of the reference and the drawing. While I can point out the problems after I am finished, I do have a hart time applying this knowledge when drawing.
I I'd have to guess, I'd say that I don't know where to start--I try to search some shapes (usually the circle used in the Loomis method), but most of the time I just start anywhere and correct the proportions the whole time, just to realise that it's a rather hopeless case since the base is all wrong.
I don't run into this problem much when making gesture drawings since I find it easier to find the action lines on the body.
So, how do you go on when drawing portraits of people?
Are you searching for shapes, lines, measuring angles and distances with your pencil?
Something totally different?
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And I sketch random faces more now, although I find that drawing from a reference is harder, especially when my goal is to let my drawing be recognizable as what I had copied it from.
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I like to either start with the head and measure out about where everything is (so that I get the proportions right), or start with the eyes, and measure outwards. I'll make like a dot where the chin will be and a dot where the top of the head will be so I can get centered. Either way, I always start out drawing very lightly so it's easy to correct stuff. I focus more on shapes than lines, but I do measure angles with my pencil. With practice I've found it easier to imagine how a face would look with some differences from a reference (eg. rotated a bit, different kind of mouth, etc). I like best to have a whole bunch of references and not draw from any single one. I can use ideas from all of them and combine it with my imagination to come up with what I want.
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I keep some very basic ratios in mind when sketching a head and face - speaking of which, ALWAYS start with your "containment shape" (that's the egg shape, circle, box, squiggly line, etc. you've used to define the outer boundaries of the head and face). The eyes fall nearly halfway down the head (much farther than you think!) and the ears are roughly as tall as the bottom of the nose to the top of the eye. The corners of the lips usually fall in line with the middle of the eyes. The bottom of the nose is about halfway between the bottom of the eyes and the chin. The middle of the lips is about halfway between the bottom of the nose and the chin. And my arch nemesis - the eyes are ALWAYS smaller than you think they are. (We focus more on peoples' eyes, so they seem larger and more important than they really are.)
Keep in mind, these are guidelines. They don't apply to everyone, and the differences in ratios is what cause us to recognize people of the same age, race, and gender as a different individuals. You will WANT to deviate from these guidelines and experiment with shapes to create unique characters. (Some comic book artists don't do this, and you end up with "clone syndrome", where the artist has exactly ONE face for attractive women, ONE face for attractive men, etc. They rely on hair color and clothing to do the heavy lifting.)
Another thing to keep in mind when doing a likeness is each person has a unique shape to their features, and asymmetry is often an important aspect of that. Many amateur artists mess up a portrait or get a weird likeness because they assume both a person's eyes are the same, or that their ears are even with one another. Nope. (Be sure to introduce a little asymmetry into your made up portraits too. Flipping the canvas to make sure everything is looking good is great, but don't perfectly mirror everything.)
Finally, don't discount personality when capturing a likeness. Look at caricatures to see how much adding in a person's personality and attitude sells a good likeness.
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