Thursday, January 22, 2015

Studying faces

One thing leads to another. As I was sketching in pencil and three-dimensionally in clay, trying to develop a small but clear Madonna and Child image suitable for a ring or pendant, I felt I needed to better understand the structure of faces. Looking for quick help online I came upon some very good free how-to-draw videos  at Lucy and I have been going through them together, and I've been surprised at how much I've forgotten and how much more I never learned. The videos are very well-produced and professional, unlike other free drawing videos I looked at. The material is presented in an "entertaining" way I could do without, though. The real content is interesting enough for me.

I've also been collecting reference pictures to practice sketching. Here are some of my favorites.

This silverpoint drawing by Leonardo da Vinci is possibly the most beautiful drawing of a woman's head ever. (from

Another Leonardo head, this time in charcoal and chalk. (from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

I really love these sketches by John Singer Sargent.

They were studies for this painting. I read once that he worked on it for a few minutes every day. He would play croquet with the girls and their family in the late afternoon, but as soon as the early evening light was just right he would hurry to to the painting. (from The Tate Museum).

I'm having trouble with my camera. When I (or, more likely, my older son) solves the problem I'll share some of my own sketches. I'm trying to draw heads, faces and figures every evening not long before going to bed because I heard that makes you learn more quickly--something about the way the brain consolidates information while sleeping.


  1. I suggest that you copy to the best of your ability these sketches from the great masters that you enjoy. Take your time and put yourself into the mindset of the artist. This is an excellent way to improve your own skills. While you are working you can ponder some questions, "why did the artist choose this angle? why a light soft line here and a hard or sharp solid line there? what shapes and values did the artist employ to give an overall solid feeling to the realism. why these values,lines, edges and not others? Your great master has already questioned and solved these problems and you might as well learn from them.

    1. I'm trying to do that, and I'm amazed at what is there to be learned!

  2. Sargent is one of my favorites, but I don't know that I've ever seen his sketches before. They really do let us inside his mind in a different way than the final paintings. Also like Janice's comment that the masters have already solved problems and we might as well learn from them. Nice post!

    1. Thank you, Linda. I'm so glad the sketches have been saved. I often find they engage me more than the paintings. Maybe that wouldn't be the case if I were seeing the real live painting in all its glory, though.