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Anyone can learn to draw portraits, if they’re practicing the right techniques. There’s a very logical system you can use to create convincing portraits, that only requires skills you already have.


Obviously, the more time you spend drawing the better you’ll become, but the system of recording what you see can be learnt very easily. For some reason, even though we've been drawing for fun for 35,000 years or more, even a lot of art teachers seem to have trouble explaining exactly what it is we should be doing when we set out to draw something, whether it’s a face or anything else. I've done a lot of research into this subject and I've found some (and developed some) extremely useful techniques.


When I first set out to dissect and define the process that takes place in the head of an artist when they’re drawing, I read everything I could find on the subject and there's a mountain of material! What I found, of course, is that most of it is very similar or the same, with very few original insights. Nuggets of useful information are rare and require a lot of sifting.


There’s a good reason for this. Great artists, who have become great artists through putting in the time and practice over many years, are so accustomed to deftly putting marks in the right place that they forget how hard it was for them when they started, and they’re often unaware of the mental processes they now perform so instinctively.


There’s a lot talk about ‘capturing the spirit of the model’, as if there were some form of magic involved, and this is how it can feel when one sees a portrait that almost seems to breathe, where you feel the presence of the person in the room. When people see a good portrait they often remark that it has an eerie quality, as if there's some supernatural element, a soul of its own? Some of this effect can be achieved by imaginative use of the materials, but 95% is accomplished simply by putting lights and darks in the right place. This doesn’t mean that you need to aim for a photographic type realism, you can be as abstract as you like. In fact the pixels in a newsprint photograph are a good example of an abstract treatment that, seen as a whole, give the impression of realism. A great Impressionist painting will do the same thing, with surprisingly little detail. If you can draw or paint what you see, as you see it, then anyone looking at your drawing or painting will also see what you see. It's as simple as that. All you need is a reliable system for transferring what you see onto your paper or canvas. Thankfully there is a system and it doesn’t require any magic! It’s a science, and can be broken down into a few straight-forward steps. There are also various ways of verifying that your drawing is accurate, that you can use at any stage, and with a little practice you’ll refer to constantly - subconsciously - without even knowing you’re doing it.


One major ingredient of this system is the process of ‘triangulation’, which is a very precise way of finding the position of a point relative to two other points. It gives you a very clear and very reliable way of building the framework of a portrait, of capturing the likeness of a person. Once you have the framework in place you can develop the drawing in as clinical or as loose a way as you like, happy in the knowledge that the likeness is taken care of.


Find out more about this technique and how it can unlock a talent you never knew you had at one of my workshops:

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