Drawing faces is one of the most popular topics among artists who are committed to learning and honing their craft. It makes sense: eyes are the windows to the soul and faces communicate so much of that soul. Every subtle shift in mood and emotion can be translated through facial expressions. Body language is important, too, but so much can be shared through the face alone that it’s understandable that it’s such a compelling subject of study with artists.
It’s interesting – and a little funny nowadays – to consider how faces in art have changed over the centuries and millennia. Humans have tried almost since their beginning to capture what they see – with varying success – in the people around them. We are social creatures and it’s that intrinsically social nature that drives us to try to communicate our world.
Check out this photograph of a cave painting in Angoulême, France, circa 25,000 BC, which archaeologists believe is the oldest known portrait. Read the fascinating article here from The Guardian to find out more about how this is reminiscent of the Old Masters and what this reveals about how we see ourselves.
It doesn’t look like much, to be honest, which is an amazing testament to just how far we’ve come in our ability to capture a likeness.
We’ve all seen Egyptian art and how stylized it is compared to the loose sketching that characterized later art styles, such as the Renaissance. Look how they drew the eyes. Even though all the faces were in profile, the eyes were always drawn in full frontal perspective. It creates an odd, almost eerie appearance, although their sculptures were much more realistic. It showed the challenge of rendering a three-dimensional realistic quality in a two-dimensional art form like a drawing or painting.
You progress through the Greek and Roman periods and into the Renaissance and you really start to see progress. A new realism and then a vitality comes through. You can see Leonardo da Vinci, in just a few swipes of red chalk, render the unique lines and imperfections of his face which are necessary to achieve a likeness.
If you read my blog entries on anime and cartoon art, including the one on anime faces, you can see just how far we’ve come from primitive cave drawings and even formal Renaissance portraits. However, the thread running through this entire multi-millenial development is the learning of – and then playing with – quantifiable facial guidelines, like I teach in my Lesson 8 – Facial Proportions. You will find your rendering of human faces so much more realistic (and your ability to tweak them for each unique face) grows by leaps and bounds if you learn these guidelines. The key is also not just to learn a few guidelines for faces that are facing front. You really need to learn the guidelines in a way that will allow you to apply them to faces turned in any angle. If da Vinci had sketched himself facing front, you would be able to measure the differences in those facial proportions and you would be astonished at just how far tiny adjustments go. Learning to restrain yourself is also an essential prerequisite before trying exaggerated faces like cartoon and anime faces. Learn the rules so you can figure out how to bend them.
Click HERE to find out how you can draw anything you see in just weeks with my college-level drawing course.