How do you capture a likeness ?

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  08 August 2008
How do you capture a likeness ?

What tips and tricks do you folks have for capturing a likeness of someone ?

I completely suck at capturing a likeness unless I resort to cheating ( Using a photograph that I draw a grid onto.)

Something that has helped me to capture a likeness sometimes is to think of the shape of someones eye or lip as a hill or some other object. When I stop thinking of the thing I am drawing as a 'lip' and instead a hill, it helps me to focus better.
( Everyone here knows that one, but I just threw it out there as an example.)

Also, the mirror trick works wonders for me, since I always tend to have one eye too low or a eyebrow too high.

I really need some good advice.
I spend hours working on a painting, only to get back and see that ( from a distance ) it looks nothing like the person.

I envy those of you that can just look at someone and do a drawing of them in 15 minutes.

I did a search on this topic. Perhaps I used the wrong keywords.

Surely there have been discussions on this topic before. Please link to any threads or web sites on this topic.

Thank you.
  08 August 2008
I have been a gallery and newsletter lurker for some time.
I just recently got around to signing up and uploading some art.

Facial likenesses are one of my favorite things to draw.
They are often difficult but very fulfilling.
I wouldn't call using a grid: "cheating" really.
It's a small step in the right direction - a tool - a learning tool.
Practice with this tool until you are ready to move on (I think you are)

The next step from a square grid on an image is to use face lines.

first you have to define the outer limits of the "grid" with the general shape of the face.
This can be the hardest part, but right features will never fit on the wrong shape.
I often use continuous loops of the [pencil] until I get the shape right.
Then go back and erase the wrong parts.

Next draw a line down the center of the face
draw lines across the eyes, the bottom of the nose, and the mouth.
the placement of these lines will be slightly different for different people.
They will also vary with angle and perspective.
Using this facial grid will help you place the facial features on the face shape.

Drawing the details in is then the easiest part of the drawing because they are placed correctly.

The bottom line is: likenesses are not easy to draw - practice makes it less hard.

Attached Images
File Type: gif Likeness.gif (35.9 KB, 387 views)

Last edited by LewyT : 08 August 2008 at 04:17 AM.
  08 August 2008
I agree. using a grid is a tool, it is not cheating. Many of the masters used a grid including Durer and Vermeer. If you are using photos, that can be an issue. Color photos especially with a flash have really flat lighting. If you copy it, it will look crappy.

usually...likeness comes from being sensitive to the imperfection of a persons face.
Also, when you paint try not to get caught up working on one little area at a time work up th whole head at once.
"I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste." - Duchamp

  09 September 2008
Thanks both of you !

So are there any other 'secrets' that anyone would like to share?
('Secrets' such as looking at your image in a mirror, flipping the image upside down every few minutes ( when going from a photo) , or blurring your eyes. )
Another thing that has helped me in the past when doing a painting is to bring it into Photoshop and desaturate it. This shows what areas need more contrast ( But you all aready know that trick ! )
What about you folks that draw sketches of people at carnivals and outdoor shops. How do you capture a likeness so fast ?
( I'm talking abot cartoon images as well. )
As I said earlier, I envy your talent !
  09 September 2008
One other thing that helps me is stepping a way from the image for a while.
This isn't just for likenesses but any artistic endeavor.
After you work on a piece for a while, you start to lose the ability to see flaws in it.
so stepping away for a while and going back can be a tremendous help.
  09 September 2008
The difference from face to face is more in the bones than the muscle. Get a life sized plastic skull replica and draw it from multiple points of view - 15-20 drawings at least. Get to the point where you can draw a skull from memory.

It also helps to draw the skull on photographs using a tissue overlay, adapting what you know to the face your are working with. Then draw the face on top of the skull drawing. Try drawing a self portrait and then draw the skull on a tissue overlay. Draw the head and find the structure underlying it.

Hope this helps.

  10 October 2008
to get a likeness is most times quite difficult, because there are only slight variations between 2 people. the skull is almost identical between different people. so given that fact there are 2 ways to capture likeness:

measure everything as perfectly as possible, which can take up a huge amount of time, but u can be sure that its accurate.

identify the most defining, pronounced anomalies of the person you want to draw, these are also the key features all of us use to recognize that person. (caricaturists also use this technique). its the anomalies that differ from person to person.
of course, the most evident anomalies lie usually beneath the surface, namely the skull, provided the person doesnt have some serious injuries or handicaps from diseases or such.
the big shapes are much more important than the details for capturing likeness. if theyre not correct, likeness is impossible.
but from experience i can say that its not easy to see key features. :/

in the long run, best way is still to train your eyes to measure everything correctly in relation to the neighboring feature/shapes. but thats only my opinion.
  10 October 2008


2 things

1) your grid is not bad as the first item is proportion, as you will want to figure out ratios in the face your trying to make a likeness of. distance between eyes, distance between eyes to nose to mouth, etc...
Which once you've the basics got start looking for subtle differences. Such as does one eye droop a bit, does one eyebrow arch slightly more than the other. Does the face show signs of aging look laugh lines at the corner of the eyes, or wrinkles around the mouth from smoking. Unique traits that add character to the persons face.

2) Now look for photo reference of the person's face to look for personel faceial expression. How does the person express themself with their face. Does their smile curve up on one side more than the other, does their smile pull the upper lip over their teeth. Do they squint one eye, does their brow lift when talking...

Mr. D
  10 October 2008
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