Monday Morning Art School: drawing a face

Have trouble drawing people? Here’s a way to get a good likeness in a hurry.

Robbie, by Carol L. Douglas
Most artists don’t have trouble drawing individual features. They run into trouble hooking all those parts up into a plausible whole. Sadly, a person’s likeness starts with the overall structure of their head, not with the details. This is a fast and easy way to measure features so you get them straight. The hardest part, I think, is that I’m showing you in words and pictures instead of in person. But if you take the time to practice it, your portrait drawings will improve.
I seldom work from photos, but I’m at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center this month. That means I can’t conscript any family members to model. Instead, I found this old photo of Sandy Quang on my laptop. (It’s odd because she’s not laughing her fool head off.)
If you don’t remember the rudiments of measuring with a pencil, please brush up here and here before you start.
I start by drawing a line indicating the angle at which the head is cocked.

The second line goes right through the eyeballs. This is not absolutely perpendicular to the center line, but it’s usually close. Remember, you are measuring a 3-D object onto a 2-D surface. It’s easy to mistake these lines for a grid. They’re not; they’re just measurements.
From there, go on to measure the remaining distances as shown above. Eventually, you can add a line for the eyebrows and the bottom of the bottom lip, but I find them confusing at this early stage.
The angle from the bottom of the nose to the pupils is the most important measurement in the face. Check, double check, and then place dots where it intersects with your eyeball line.
Next, draw lines from the bottom of the nose through the center of the pupils. You should create a triangle from eyes to bottom of nose. That’s the most important measurement you’ll do, and the most confusing.
Why are we using an angle instead of straight measurements on the eyes? This is the most important dimension in a human face, and angles allow us to double-check our work. A triangle is a shape, and that’s just easier for the brain to process than a line. That’s why I use angles to measure whenever I can. (Brush up on angle-drawing here.)
Unless the model is looking right at you, each eye is not the same distance from the center line. Check and double-check.
This triangle is the most important measurement in the whole face.

Then draw lines down from the center of the eyeballs to the corners of the mouth. In most people, the mouth is about as wide as the pupils of the eyes, but Sandy’s mouth is narrower than her eyes.

I did the drawing freehand but added this because it’s so difficult to understand from just words.

My last measurement is from the center line to outside of her ear. Conveniently, it’s about the same distance as from her hairline to the bottom of her nose. Remember, all measurements are relative. “It’s slightly less than two noses long,” is how we measure in drawing.

I managed to drop her ear too low at this point; I corrected it as I went. There are always fine corrections to be made. To me, that refinement is the best part of drawing. It’s like doing a puzzle.
Having made all those measurements, I was ready to rough in the overall features. I drew the nose and chin as volumes. (The angled line from the nose was to figure out my ear error.)
The drawing guides are superfluous after this point. Time to erase them and start having freehand fun.
Block in the mass of hair. Your eye perceives shapes and sizes differently depending on value and the color, as we learned here. That dark shape is important.
Refine the features, erasing and redrawing as time allows.
Because I was working with a #2 pencil on a cheap sketchbook, I waited until the end to add the shadow masses. Otherwise, they’d smear.
Throwback Sandy, by Carol L. Douglas

We are taught to draw the human face in ‘perfect’ terms: the eyes are halfway down the head, the tear ducts line up with the edges of the nostrils, the face is divided into thirds, etc., etc. In fact, human faces are infinitely varied. 
These ‘perfect’ laws fall apart especially fast when the subject isn’t white. For example, everything you learned about drawing eyes falls apart with an Asian person with no epicanthic fold. It’s far better to start with what’s really there.

This is a system that works, but you’ll need to practice it a few times before it feels comfortable. If you have any questions, email me and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Monday Morning Art School: How to make time to make art

Having trouble finding time to get anything done? We all are.

Commit to working with others, either in a class, a group, or a workshop. It will jumpstart your process.

These days, I’m turning over my guest room as fast as the Starlight Motel down the street is turning over theirs. Not well, I might add; my brother tells me I’m in danger of losing my five-star rating. Even though I strongly discourage guests in the high season, there are still people whom I want to see.

Not having enough time to make art isn’t a unique problem. It’s something I hear from other artists in every station of life. Jobs, children, parents, spouses or homes aren’t time-killers; they’re the very fabric of our lives. Still, too often we go to bed realizing we’ve done no actual artwork that day.
Schedule studio time. If you work at the same time every day, you spend less mental energy waiting for inspiration to kick in—you just dive in and do it. That’s more than a mental trick. Your body and mind crave routine. Working on art at the same time every day makes it easier to transition into the flow zone.
Take a class. They’re fun, social, advance your skills, and—just like joining the gym—you have money riding on your involvement.
Keep the set-up to a minimum. I keep my palettes in the freezer so I can paint in small increments. I sometimes work in watercolor when I don’t have time to set up in oils. I draw when I can’t do either.
I’ve been recording the passing scene in sketchbooks forever. I wasn’t always kind.
Put down your cell phone and pick up your sketchbook. Draw in meetings, classes and church—it won’t lower your comprehension much. I’ve written about the importance of sketching many times; it separates good artists from mediocre ones.
Make work a habit. Set aside a half hour a day and use it to make some kind of art. You really can cement a habit by doing it for a month.
A small amount of time with a sketchbook can yield wonderful results.

Cut out the screen time. Even with the decline in TV watching, Americans average about eleven hours a day in front of some kind of screen. You might find that all the time you need to make art can be found just by deleting the Facebook app. (Just be sure to subscribe to this blog before you do it! The sign up box is at the top right.)
Make a studio. If you don’t have a room to dedicate to art, make a studio in a corner of your bedroom or some other underutilized space. Having a dedicated, organized work space cuts down on the set-up time each time you want to work.
Find a corner somewhere where you can leave your project up.
Make art a social activity. Join a figure-drawing or plein air group. There’s accountability in committing to work with someone else.
Run away from home.Apply for a residency somewhere. Even a week of focused work, sans family, can be great for your development. I’ll be doing one at the Joseph Fiore Art Center this September.
The dreaded deadline. I hesitate to recommend this, even though the best way I know to chain myself to my easel is to commit work for a show. Yes, deadlines make you finish things. However, they’re corrosive to body and soul. Better to just develop good work practices.
Be patient with yourself
I had cancer at age 40. Since then health issues have played a much larger role in my life. I’m always infuriated by being sick, because I like to keep busy. But if you’ve just had a baby or are recovering from pneumonia, you’re not going be efficient. Be patient. Just as you have to walk a little farther every day to regain fitness, you need to slowly reform your work schedule.
I’ve got one more workshop available this summer. Join me for Sea and Sky at Schoodic, August 5-10. We’re strictly limited to twelve, but there are still seats open.

Monday Morning Art School: sketching with Inktense pencils

Inexpensive, portable, and way fun, you can use watercolor pencils anywhere you normally sketch.

One advantage of being a lefty is that nobody borrows your scissors.

I use Derwent Inktense pencils to draw my sketches in field paintings. On a gessoed board, you can erase with a damp cloth. When you start laying oil paint down, the watercolor drawing freezes in place. I’ve been doing this for so many years, I’d forgotten why I bought the pencils in the first place. That is, until Mary Byrom reminded me last week that they’re great for pocket drawings and value studies.

This and a multimedia sketchbook is all you need to carry.

I buy them in packs of six in burnt sienna and ultramarine. This is a warm-and-cool combination that makes great neutrals in every medium. I use it for watercolor value studies and for my dark neutrals in oil colors. I can flip from warm to cool instantly with this mix, making it perfect for setting darks.

I always start with a pencil sketch.
The simplest (and most important) value study looks at the ways in which you can translate an image into simple black and white. At the same time as you’re thinking about black and white, you can also think about cool vs. warm. This is the modern, post-impressionist way of looking at value.
All light has color. An overcast sky has a color temperature of about 10,000K (blue). A room lit by candles has a color temperature of about 1,000K (orange). The most neutral light is sunlight at noon.
This photo of Mission San Jose in San Antonio starkly demonstrates the color of light. All the walls are white.
Of course, the ambient light color is also affected by the objects it’s bouncing off. I took the photo above in Mission San Jose in San Antonio to demonstrate this. The walls are white, but there was incandescent light above the loft. The lower part of the room was lit by daylight or in shadow. The effect was to make it appear that the room had been painted in blue and gold.
An aqua-flow brush is the easiest way to move Inktense around.
The color of shadow is always the complement of the color of the light. Of course, this is all mutated by the color of the objects being lit. A red sphere in warm light will appear crimson in the light spots and more purplish in the shadows. That’s just red mixed with orange light and blue shadows. We simplify matters by saying that if the light is cool, the shadows are warm and vice-versa.
The principle’s the same whether the light is warm or cool, as long as it is consistent and matches reality.
Inktense pencils allow you to add in color temperature as you think about value. Ignoring their actual color and modeling, I made a simple contour drawing of my sewing scissors. I set the lighter half of my value range in blue. It’s simple to soften Inktense with a water-brush. Just fill it and run it over your pencil drawing. When that was done, I added my shadows in burnt sienna. You can get fairly intense darks with Inktense pencils.
Two different Inktense pencils can take you almost anywhere.
My fantasia was hardly inspired, but I’ve included it to show you how much depth you can get out of Inktense pencils. You can buy two Inktense pencils, a water-flow brush and a small pad of watercolor paper for around $20. The combination is no bigger than a sketchbook and pencil.

ADDENDUM: Susan Hanna points out that Derwent doesn’t havethose color names. I should have checked first. My burnt sienna WAS a color called Venetian Red; they don’t market it as that any more. Try Red Oxide. Try Deep Blue for ultramarine. Once again, caught in the trap of romance naming for pigments.

SECOND ADDENDUM: Another reader mentions that Inktense pencils are fugitive. She prefers Caran d’Ache watercolor pencils. I’ve not tried them so can’t comment.

It’s about time for you to consider your summer workshop plans. Join me on the American Eagle, at Acadia National Park, at Rye Art Center, or at Genesee Valley this summer.

Goodbye, New Orleans

I had to leave you because of the beignets. We were developing one of those Southern Gothic relationships where they were trying to kill me.

Live oak branches, by Carol L. Douglas

I have to wear a fitted dress on Saturday, so I’ve been scrupulously careful of my diet on this trip. Even in New Orleans, it wasn’t terribly hard, until the very last day.

Left to my own devices, I could have ignored the siren call of beignets, but other people kept handing them to me fresh from the deep-fryer. They were impossible to resist. When I realized I’d eaten three of them in one day, I struck camp and headed out of town
“You should go to the county fair more often,” my son-in-law told me. Beignets may ‘just’ be fried dough, but they taste somehow better here.
A fast sketch to understand the live oak’s branching pattern, which is chaotic.
I spent the morning painting the branches of live oaks at Audubon Zoo, which is in another beautiful old city park. Here the trees don’t have Spanish moss. Unlike City Park, Audubon Parkhas no meandering creek. According to a local, Spanish moss prefers to be near water.
Most trees spread their branches in some kind of regular pattern, including the white and red oaks of the north. Not so with their southern cousin. The live oak’s branching pattern defies visual organization. It’s as sinuous and baroque as everything else down here. Eventually, the branches end up dipping right back down to the earth.
My friend’s former home on Arabella Street.
I drove down Arabella Street to take a photo for a friend. She once lived in a lovely small house here and was curious to see what it looked like today. I’d say it was spruce and pristine and gentrified, although they’ve taken down her porch swing. A Whole Foods now occupies the site of the derelict bus station from her day.
The streets in New Orleans are atrocious. On Magazine Street, I narrowly missed a giant pothole that was deeper than my wheel is tall. A local had helpfully made a big sign on a cardboard box: “F’ing Huge Pothole!”
Spanish moss in City Park.
That afternoon, I went for a long walk through City Park to stretch my legs. There’s so much more to paint in this city, including the shotgun houses and Creole cottages. Next time I paint here, I’m staying for a week. Now, however, I have to be in Buffalo on Saturday. It’s time to put my sneakers back on and head north. I hear there are four-foot drifts in my driveway.
One of my tasks for this trip is to try out sketchbooks for my Age of Sail workshop. (Materials are included.) I like the paper in this Strathmore one, but the binding is making me a little crazy.
On my way out of town, I stopped at a Winn-Dixie in Slidell, Louisiana. There I bought carrot sticks and hummus. Oh, and some beignet mix for when I get home, just in case.

The Sketchbook Wars

Pastor Alvin Parris listening to the sermon.

Pastor Alvin Parris listening to a sermon.
This week my student noticed that she seemed to be seeing things differently since she started to draw. That is because drawing changes how the brain works, as surely as studying music or language does. This is neuroplasticity in action, and it’s a power you can use for good or evil. Only you control whether you make good choices, like art, or bad ones, like using drugs.
Before the invention of the camera, people in many different fields were expected to understand how to draw. The visual image was almost as important for communication as were words. Nobody had the luxury of saying, “I can’t draw a straight line,” or “I’m not talented.” Drawing was too important to leave to a few anointed geniuses.
An ear of someone sitting nearby. Most of my sketches are pretty fast, since people shift around in church.

Most of my sketches are pretty fast, since people shift around in church.
That’s why I love this recent story in Scientific American. Dr. Jennifer Landin of North Carolina State University expects and gets beautiful drawings from her biology students. “Drawing is merely making lines and dots on paper. If you can write your name, you can draw,” she wrote. “But we all take shortcuts when we see; often our brains fool us, and we skip over most visual details.”
As I noted Wednesday, kids draw all the way through childhood until they reach adolescence. Personally, I think art is how they process the amazing changes their young brains are experiencing. Why most kids quit drawing is not well-studied, but cultural factors play a part. Not only do we devalue the arts in our culture, but we believe that only people with talent (whatever that is) can do them. As Dr. Landin so wonderfully demonstrated, talent is mostly about doing the work.
Coat thrown over a chair.

Coat thrown over a chair. You get to draw this a lot in the Northeast.
I always encourage people—and especially children—to carry sketchbooks around with them. Ten minutes in the doctor’s waiting room is far more productive when you surreptitiously draw the person across from you than when you leaf through last year’s People magazine.
I sketch in church because I’m someone who processes words better when my hands are busy. I’m not alone in that; it’s why so many people knit.
But try applying that principle to ADHD kids in school and you get into major trouble. My son needed the distraction of drawing when asked to sit for hours on end. His school absolutely forbade it. Letting him draw would break down discipline in the classroom. Their answer was drugs or a special school for troubled kids. As you can imagine, his school career was one long, unpleasant skirmish.
Don't ask me what those words mean.

Don’t ask me what those words mean.
He graduated by the skin of his teeth. Now that he’s in college, where he is in charge of his own actions, he’s on the Honor Roll.
An art teacher friend of mine told me that the only time her kid ever got in trouble was for drawing in class. It was one of the issues that motivated her to move to another district. If she, a respected professional, couldn’t get the administration to understand the value of drawing, who could?
“Real life isn’t neatly divided by subject,” wrote Dr. Landin. Educators would do well to remember that.

Be prepared!

With a sketchbook, even the Emergency Room is tolerably interesting. This, from last month’s visit.
Yesterday morning I struggled up out of sleep to the sound of my phone ringing. My second oldest child was taking her turn with the collywobbles-sans-merci and needed a doctor. Without thinking much about it, I threw my clothes on my back, my backpack in my car, and slipped down the Thruway to Buffalo.
Any place people are sitting, there’s a drawing waiting to happen.
I drill into my kids that they should carry a scraper, candle, matches,  chocolate or energy bar, small folding shovel, and an extra jacket or blanket in their car. The deaths in Buffalo last month should be a reminder that this is not just motherly paranoia, but a reality for America’s snow belt.
You will never be bored, or at least not impossibly bored.
I’m going to add one thing to my own list: a sketchbook. Even though I’m an old pro at hospitals, the before-dawn phone call rattled me, and I didn’t check to be sure it was in my backpack. I spent nine hours in waiting rooms, and all I could find to draw on was my own eyeglasses prescription.
Neither waiting room had magazines, which were, in my day, the last refuge of the terminally-bored person. They’ve apparently been replaced by large television sets. Daytime TV is shockingly bad. I might have already known this except that when I’m in waiting rooms, my practice is to burrow in with my pencil, drawing the passing parade.
And occasionally, waiting rooms contain delightful surprises, like this elegant skeleton.
Let that be a lesson to me. Be prepared. Make sure my sketchbook is always in my backpack where it belongs.
Oh, and my daughter is doing fine, thanks.

Remember, you’ve got until December 31 to get an early-bird discount for next year’s Acadia workshop. Read all about it 
here, or download a brochure here