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How to depict personality in portraits

How to depict personality in portraits

Question from Donna Stout

For 20+ years I worked in advertising as a graphic artist and designer. Still something has been missing. I am fascinated with faces.

I want to learn to draw portraits without having to rely on a photo.

What techniques can I use to bring out the personality of a person?

Feedback from Vladimir London, Drawing Academy tutor

Dear Donna,

Many thanks for your question.

If you want to become an original fine artist and be able to draw portraits with likeness, and depict emotions and personality without relying on photos, then you need to learn fundamental principles of classical drawing, study human anatomy for artists, and draw from life.

Drawing is a non-verbal language of communication. Every spoken language has certain rules, grammar, and vocabulary, so does drawing.

Copying photos won’t teach you proper drawing skills; just like copying a poem character by character from a book in a foreign language does not make you fluent in that language nor makes you an author of that poem.

To draw from life, memory, or imagination you need to know a “visual language” of drawing. Language skills (either spoken or non-verbal) are not inborn. No child can talk, write, or draw from birth. Language and drawing are part of culture, and as such, they have to be learned by every generation in order to continue.

Just to finish the language example, of course you can randomly put some characters together in the hope that by accident they would create a meaningful poem. That’s what most contemporary art colleges teach these days – how to express oneself in art without learning drawing skills – but I think your aspiration is different, to become a realistic classical fine artist, not an abstract expressionist.

Coming back to your question of “What techniques can I use to bring out the personality of a person?” There are two most important skills in portrait drawing: constructive drawing and knowledge of human anatomy.

You might be surprised, but likeness in portraiture is not achieved by accurately copying the individual features of a model.

The professional portrait drawing has to be “built” constructively. The head and face proportions need to be put in place before depiction of “personality” begins. Such constructive drawing can be done either on paper or in an artist’s head if one has sufficient knowledge and practice.

How to depict personality in portraits

How to depict personality in portraits

How to depict personality in portraits

How to depict personality in portraits

How to depict personality in portraits

You might have seen demonstrations by some professional artists who effortlessly draw realistic portraits from life starting directly from individual features, depicting impression on the model’s face or look in one’s eyes. Such “easy” drawing is only possible because an artist has all the necessary knowledge of proportions and construction and uses it on “autopilot,” without measuring with a pencil or plotting helping lines of constructive drawing.

Individual personal features and emotions in portraiture can only be portrayed skillfully when supported by a strong knowledge of a human anatomy. The inner world of a sitter, his or her thoughts and emotions, is reflected in the model’s look. The knowledge of facial muscles and how they influence the appearance of emotions on a model’s face are things you need to learn to portray the “personality of a person.”

This is what we teach in the Drawing Academy – constructive drawing principles and the know-how of drawing figures and portraits, so you can learn how to draw portraits in a realistic manner without photo references.

Kind regards,

Vladimir London
Drawing Academy tutor

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