A Few Simple Tips to Draw Better Portraits

A Few Simple Tips to Draw Better Portraits

People are one of the most challenging things for an artist to draw. To capture the unique appearance and personality of a person by using the right lines and shading takes patience and practice. Even as a professional portrait artist who loves his craft, sometimes after drawing dozens of faces a day at live events, it would be much easier to draw the tree behind the person sitting in front of me!
From childhood, we learn to draw people a certain way, an expected way. But it is not the most realistic way.
Far from it.
Here is a picture of how most of us learn to draw people.
"A Strange Face", pen on paper, by Matt Philleo

“A Strange Face”, pen on paper, by Matt Philleo

 

Even if you are not an artist, I’m sure you can tell this isn’t a very good drawing. I can say that freely, because I’m the artist who did it!
Here we have the eyes, with extra long cartoony eyelashes at the top of the head, an inverted “L” for a nose, and a funky-looking mouth.
Probably the biggest mistake people make when trying to draw a face is putting the eyes at the top of the head. Actually eyes are somewhere in the middle.
Next, the nose is best drawn by observing the contours of the nostrils and the thickness of the nose bridge and drawing those lines instead.
Finally, the mouth, especially when smiling, needs the cheekbones and wrinkles, along with squinting eyes to give the appearance of actually smiling.
"A Better Face," pen on paper, by Matt Philleo

“A Better Face,” pen on paper, by Matt Philleo

 

Here is that same face, drawn with more lifelike proportions and shapes.
To draw realistically, you have to strive to draw what you see instead of what you think you see.
Your brain will play tricks on you.
It still does on me.
For example, I will find myself subconsciously smoothing out the shape of a crooked eyebrow, because smooth things are usually better. But if a person has a crooked eyebrow, it’s better not to try to be smarter than the photograph (or the person in front of you) or it won’t look right.
This takes practice, and a training of your eyes and mind to observe what you see in the three-dimensional world (or even two-dimensional rendition of the three dimensional world, a.k.a., the photograph) and transfer that onto paper. Although some people are more gifted with this ability and this skill comes more naturally, I think everyone that wants to learn how to draw can benefit from training in this way.
As an artist, your talent is not in your hands; it’s in your mind and soul.
I can become a better artist without even having to pick up a pencil or paintbrush.
How?
As I see people in various settings, with interesting expressions and lighting on their faces, I make a mental note and think of how that could be rendered on paper or canvas. When the time comes to draw or paint, my mind already has some visual material to to work with,  and I have part of the technique already ironed out beforehand.
By the way, I will be teaching a drawing course at my studio at Artisan Forge Studios, where we start off at beginning level and move to more advanced techniques. Using your own photos as references, you will be able to create some portraits you can be proud of and show your friends and family at the end. The cost per two hour session is $40 and the class runs for five weeks, starting Monday April 25th, 6-8pm and going every Monday after that until May 23rd.
If you’re interested or have questions, let me know.
Here is a sketch I did of my brother and his family for Christmas. It took about 2-3 hours. Once you learn how to accurately draw proportions using line, you can get into shading and detail. That is something I plan to cover in another blog post.
Portrait of Mike Philleo and family, 11 x 14, pencil on paper by pencil portrait artist Matt Philleo

Portrait of Mike Philleo and family, 11 x 14, pencil on paper by pencil portrait artist Matt Philleo

Meanwhile, if you like to draw or are interested in learning how people draw realistically, I hope these tips help you. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to know more about!

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!
New Artwork and the Miracle of New Life

New Artwork and the Miracle of New Life

New life is amazing.

I know it sounds cliche, but it seems just like yesterday when my wife and I were at the hospital experiencing the birth of our third child, Adrielle. There were some complications at the onset–she was turned around the wrong way in the birth canal, causing my wife extreme pain, and signaling a possibility of protracted labor.

We prayed.

Soon enough our baby flipped around the right way and the delivery happened fairly quickly after that. What a relief!

She didn’t breathe right away though. My other two children cried immediately after birth, but Adrielle was quiet, and the midwives hurried her over to the table to get her going.

That was possibly the longest minute of our lives.

When she did finally cry, we realized again the near-miracle of this birth. Our daughter was over 11 pounds and 24 inches long! She wasn’t obese or anything, but just came out looking like a toddler! The nurses and midwives were amazed that my wife gave birth to this large, healthy girl, all natural.

Sometimes we men feel like useless bystanders during the birthing process.

You realize your wife is doing all the work and you want to do something to help. But the most you can do is just offer a few over-used remarks like “You’re doing great, honey. Don’t give up!” all the time knowing that one part of your wife would like to rip your voice box out of your neck and stomp it flat, and yet taking some comfort in knowing that the other part is glad you’re there, even if you’re actually accomplishing nothing to alleviate her pain. (I did find something useful I could do this time around, though. Noticing how hot my wife’s face was, I used the hospital data folder as a fan. She said it felt good.)

Once the baby is born and the pain has subsided, your wife is back to herself again.

I think Jesus said it best: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21)

Seeing a new life come into the world is a terrifying, beautiful process.

The waiting, the anticipation, the frustration, the anxiousness, the joy of witnessing a child enter the world is a transaction that reminds you of the gift of life itself. Especially when a birth has complications, you realize that the doorway through which life emerges is enshrouded by the possibility of death–and that makes you appreciate the miracle of life all the more.

Commissioned portrait painting of Eric H's family, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas by artist Matt Philleo

Commissioned portrait painting of Eric H’s family, 16 x 20, acrylic on canvas by artist Matt Philleo

I just finished a 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas portrait painting that illustrates what I think is the best part of the birthing process:  the time when your family and friends visit and share in the joy and wonder of your beautiful new child–so delicate, so incredibly made, so perfect. This was a portrait commissioned by a man I met recently while doing portrait sketches at the Bushel & A Peck Apple Orchard (Chippewa Falls, WI) the last couple years. He saw my portfolio and decided to have a painting done that he would give as a gift for his wife. Good going, husband!

Interestingly, after he had already commissioned me, his wife mentioned that the photo they had snapped at the hospital would be a great picture to have blown up.

Photo to Portrait: Original client photo used for reference in creating portrait

Photo to Portrait: Original client photo used for reference in creating portrait

He didn’t let the cat out of the bag.

16 x 20 acrylic on canvas portrait painting of Eric H's family, photo by client

16 x 20 acrylic on canvas portrait painting of Eric H’s family, photo by client

Later on, when he gave the painting to her, she just loved it. Here is what she wrote about it on Facebook:

“Eric had a PAINTING done of my favorite photo for my birthday. I cannot believe how much this painting looks identical to the picture. (I was so sad this photo was taken on an iPhone and couldn’t be enlarged to a photo print). I couldn’t be more in love with this…it will be cherished forever! heart emoticon What absolute talent by a local artist, Matt Philleo.” — at Fine Art by Matt Philleo.

I love the expression and interaction of these children, holding their new baby brother. It was fun to paint the different textures–the ridges in the baby’s blanket, the hair, the softness of the pillows and sheets. I really enjoyed doing this painting and creating a beautiful portrait from a photo.

Here are a couple of in progress shots.

16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas Portrait of Eric H's family, sketch, by Matt Philleo

16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas Portrait of Eric H’s family, sketch, by Matt Philleo

16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas Portrait of Eric H's family, sketch, by Matt Philleo

16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas Portrait of Eric H’s family, in progress, by Matt Philleo

16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas Portrait of Eric H's family, sketch, by Matt Philleo

16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas Portrait of Eric H’s family, almost done, by Matt Philleo

And finally, a close-up of the baby.

Detail of portrait

Detail of portrait

If you have any memories like this that you would like to capture in a special way, with a unique painting, just let me know. I would love to be a part of the process! Meanwhile, remember every moment of life. They are valuable and precious, and our little children have a way of reminding us of that.

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

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