My first week and a half of the challenge had been spent focused on the head and its different individual features. But to improve my self portrait, I needed more practice. So I sought to practice on photos of others, and in our society, it isn’t hard to find a multitude of photos of high-profile celebrities.
However, to better improve my drawings in comparison to the original photos, I took inspiration from Scott Young’s 30 Day Portrait Drawing Challenge. Specifically, he took pictures of his rapid sketches of celebrities and then overlaid them on his computer with the original images. This allowed him to rapidly see how his proportion and placement of different facial features compared with the photos.
I decided to go for an ‘analog’ approach, though. I bought a portable ‘projector’, which is really just a plastic stand that holds your smartphone or tablet and a piece of transparent polycarbonate at an angle. Then, when you look down at the paper through the plastic, you see both what you are drawing and the image reflected up from your screen. This way, I could sketch the drawing and then trace the original photo to compare.
I found that the process was most effective if I sketched in pencil and then tracer over in red pen. The process takes a little practice to make sure you set up the reflector so it is the same size, but it helped to provide rapid feedback.
After I few days of practice, I had intended to continue but found myself spending more time than just outlining a photo of Jimmy Stewart. I was pretty proud of the results.
I came across this reference picture of George Clooney and thought I would test what I had learned so far and see how close I could get it.
The first day I just outlined the basic facial features. While it looked much more like a person than I could have done before the start of the month, it didn’t really look like Clooney.
After spending another 1-2 hours, the face looked a little closer, but it was hard to tell without more details. (If you are paying close attention, we skip the 18th which you will find at the end.)
Day 3 changed everything. I haven’t ever really done much shading before, other than some basic ‘make this circle look like a sphere’ exercises. I has also never used tortillons or blending stumps before. But just paying lots of attention to the light in the photo and a fair amount of trial-and-error, I was almost overwhelmed at how quickly the skin began to have realistic depth. At the end of the day it was almost like he was really looking at me. But I still needed to do the hair, which is still quite the challenge.
And so after a fourth day, I finally finished the drawing. Looking back there are still some things I would tweak, but I’m pretty speechless. At the beginning of the month I did not imagine that I would be at this point after only three weeks.
So what happened on the 18th? I was running low on energy and didn’t feel like continuing the large single drawing, so I played around with another tool. Quickposes is a website that will show you a series of photos with a timer and you try to just sketch as much detail as you can in the time period. I set mine to ten portraits with two minutes each and just tried to sketch the heads. Turns out with only two minutes, everyone I draw turns into an orc from Mordor.
However, I’d still like to practice rapid sketches so that I don’t spend four hours to just get the basic facial features placed each time. Still lots of work to do.