How to draw portraits

Charcoal portrait from life with photo assist.
Charcoal portrait of J.

July 29th  and August 13th I’m teaching classes on drawing the portrait from a live model at Town Hall Arts/Gallery Copper in Copperopolis, starting at 9:30 sharp. If you live nearby, I hope you can make it.

Making portraits from life is a hard task, but it’s about my favorite thing to do. Why? Because I love to hear the sitter’s stories, and I love to get to know them. The subject in the portrait above is a new friend, and I found this session to be wonderfully interesting and relaxed.

I admit that I cheated a bit. I took a couple of photos, and when I got home, I spent a bit more time on this portrait, cleaning up the eyes, and developing the form a bit more. It’s a better drawing; the photo gave me a fixed pose, without a lot of wiggling from the subject, but without the initial 2-3 hours of drawing her from life, it would have been a very different picture, and not nearly as much of a likeness. It really helps to get to know your subject when you draw or paint them.

Note to self: My sketchbook is not an invisibility cloak.

BoyatContra
Sketch of young boy, graphite with watercolor. Stillman & Birn Beta Series

I was sketching at a contra dance Saturday night. I was on stage, playing whistle and sketching during tunes I didn’t know. Normally at these things, I sketch the other musicians, as the dancers are moving too fast for all but the most brief gesture drawing, but a boy was sitting on the sidelines of the dance watching the figures. Being still. In good light.

Since I was flanked by fiddlers and behind a guitar player, I felt like I was not really noticeable. And the kid seemed to be engrossed with watching the dancers. So I began drawing.

Suddenly he whipped his head around and glared right at me, watching me watch him. It’s funny how sometimes we can feel people looking at us from across even a crowded large room, and we seem to be especially sensitive to the direct stare of the surreptitious portrait artist.

I nearly always have a sketchbook with me, and most of my friends, and the people at musical gatherings have grown used to my scratchings. But not this subject; he glared for a while longer, then got up and moved out of my line of sight, and so I was not able to get any kind of likeness, merely a sweet drawing. Oh well, sometimes that’s enough.

BoyatContra_Detail
Detail of sketch