Michael Britton - Fundamentals of portrait drawing - Podstawy Rysowania Portretów.pdf

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Fundamentals of Portrait Drawing.indd
Fundamentals of
Portrait Drawing
Michael Britton
2nd Edition
haracter is the essential truth of any
natural object, whether ugly or beauti-
ful; it is even what one might call a
double truth, for it is the inner truth
… Everything in nature has character; for the
unswerving directness of his [sic] observation
searches out the hidden meaning of all things.
And that which is considered ugly in nature
often presents more character than that which is
And as it is solely the power of character which
makes for beauty in art, it often happens that the uglier a being is in nature, the more beautiful
There is nothing ugly in art except that which is without character, that is to say, that which
offers no outer or inner truth.
Whatever is false, whatever is artificial, whatever seeks to be pretty rather than expressive,
whatever is capricious and affected, whatever smiles without motive, bends or struts without
cause, is mannered without reason; all that is without soul and without soul and without truth;
all that is only a parade of beauty and grace; all, in short, that lies, is ugliness in art
When an artist, intending to improve upon nature, adds green to the springtime, rose to the
sunrise, carmine to young lips, he creates ugliness because he lies.
When he softens the grimace of pain, the shapelessness of age, the hideousness of perversion,
when he arranges nature  veiling, disguising, tempering it to please the ignorant publicthen
he is creating ugliness because he fears the truth.
To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting
all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.
He has only to look into a human face in order to read there the soul within  not a feature
deceives him; hypocrisy is as transparent as sincerity  the line of a forehead, the least lifting of
a brow, the flash of an eye, reveal to him all the secrets of a heart.
Auguste Rodin
The Problem of Seeing and
We all see , more or less, the same. It is our perception
of what is seen that is the major stumbling block
to drawing what we see. This stumbling block of
perception is accepting symbolic preconceptions for
what is really there. For various reasons, when we
begin to draw we refuse to accept the reality of what
we are looking at. A student will concentrate their
gaze upon, say, a nose, conscientiously note every
indentation and pore, scribble down a symbol of a
nose then wonder what went wrong. Worse, still,
a student will invest hours in a drawing, become
more and more frustrated and eventually convince
themselves that the drawing is correct and the model
These symbolic preconceptions are insidious. As children we subscribe to a universal
code of symbols. Every child utilizes the same symbol for a tree, a lower, a person
(big head, tiny body), etc. As adults we build and elaborate upon these symbols. In
portrait drawing, students will render an eye according to this language of symbols.
There is no deep meaning, other than clinical interest, in these symbols. They are
simply a short-cut to seeing; paradigms, or models of experience, rather than the
This problem of perception can be corrected with knowledge and training. The
objective of this course is to employ a methodology that breaks down the human
head to its simplest components and build-up to that glinting expression that irst
appealed to us.
Drawing the human head is no more, nor less, dificult than drawing an apple. We will
begin with establishing the arabesque and the height/width ratio of that particular head.
From there we will establish the major landmarks (the brow ridge, the base of the nose,
the zygomatic arches and mastoid process) and, then, block-in the primary light/dark
pattern. Once that is established, the arabesque is reined, the features placed, and
then, and, only then, do we proceed with modeling the form.
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Ellen – Proiling a Harsh
The most poignant portraits are of those
individuals who have been dealt a dificult
hand in the great card game of life. Ellen
immediately struck me as someone who has
not found much joy in her lurching journey
from crisis to crisis in the constant hope that
happiness lurks around the next corner, only
to ind yet another door closing shut offering
only a quick glimpse of blue skies and lower
carpeted ields of peace and tranquility. Her
game is Solitaire.
Cur, that I am, I found her futile loundering
intriguing – a quiet repose of sad acceptance
and loneliness, Ellen proffered an excellent
Portrait drawing embraces much, much more
than the simple rendering of form and
light. Compare the inished drawing to the
photograph of Ellen. You’ll notice a few
differences. I drew the eyes smaller than they
really are and closed them a bit; melancholia
has an unslept, withdrawn quality. The
nose is rendered ruddier and redder. The
cheeks given a harsh edged quality. There
is a marked physiology to sadness, especially
Depression can also appear as a cold
and angry melancholia; the ancient Greeks
described it best – black bile.
As artists our job is to interpret and opine –
we are more than mere copyists.
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Now, to work...
Quickly establish the arabesque. Slip
in gunslinger mode, squint down your
eyes and take your best shot.
Let’s look more closely at the
photograph of Ellen to ascertain the
major proportions and to discover the
unique qualities to Ellen’s head.
Well, isn’t that interesting, the width of Ellen’s
head from the far zygomatic to the back of the
hair is exactly equal from the intersection of
sternohyoideus muscle and biventer mandibulae
muscle to the top of the frontalis muscle, or frontal
bone. (Let me reiterate – you really should know
your anatomy. The portrait is a demanding subject
that requires precision, knowing all of the lumps
and bumps, their names and functions greatly
aids in meeting the demands of accurate portrait
Now is the time to check your
proportions. I trust that you have taken
your best stab at the gestural arabesque
before checking your height to width
proportions. That is how you train your
My proportions are a bit off, but they’re
close enough for now.
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