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Pencil Portrait Drawing—Planes in Portrait Drawing

By Remi Engles, guest blogger

Most people have the fixed idea that the head is more or less formed like an oval. Actually, the head is much rectangular than we suppose. The oval ideas is one of those simplified preconceived symbols the mind uses as a means for quick identification.

Most beginning students will usually sketch the face on paper as a flat disk or oval which it is not. Also, compared to the entire head, the face is quite small particularly in babies. Your hand can fit the whole face. Place that same hand on top of your head and you will know straight away how large your head really is.

To appreciate planes and thus obtain a sculptural sensibility in your drawing you must understand and use simple geometric shapes.

In general, the head can be framed within a rectangular box. More correctly, this rectangular box should be modified to a phalanx-like box with the face on the smallest side. The head tapers towards the front which is the face. This is the essential shape of the head in the front view.

In the profile view the skull is generally a cube. The difference is the facial angle (the “muzzle”) that slopes a bit forward at the chin. In the 7/8 profile, the cube has simply been rotated in space.

Again, it is very critical to think about the head in terms of simple geometric forms. Once you have located the big plain forms you can start locating the smaller shapes inside the big ones. Very soon that group of simple shapes becomes quite complex and starts resembling a skull.

Keeping the above in mind you can start with striking the complete arabesque which is the entire outside contour of the head, hair included. Then you break down the construct into its different sections such as the hair, ear, jaw and neck.

As you block-in the darks and think of the head as an assortment of simple geometric solids you will by now begin to see the three-dimensional result, even at this early point.

The key is to think simply and big. At this early time, do not pay attention to the minutia – they tend to mislead your sense of distance and direction.

Once the important items are established establishing the features (eyes, nose, etc.) becomes relatively easy. But, if you do not locate those elements correctly you will never be successful.

The frontal view of the portrait poses a exceptional challenge. If you are not cautious you can end up with a flat, 2-dimensional face. In this view, the plane changes are often quite subtle and hard to situate.

Be sure to note all plane changes in this frontal view and render them carefully in your drawing:

- Showing the forward tapering of the sides of the head is important to achieving a subtle 3-dimensional result in this front view.

- The front of the face lies more or less in one plane.

- The plane of the foreskull changes bearing as you move towards the top of the skull.

- The plane along the cheek has a different direction than the neighboring one along the temple.

The idea is to carefully observe the directions of all the different planes that make up the skull and take these differences into account when you draw. If you do, your drawings will possess a sculptural, three-dimensional sensibility. It is not necessary to draw out the geometry of the actual planes, but the differences in direction must be plainly rendered.

In conclusion, it is very important that you are aware of the fact that a subject’s skull consists of planes with different bearings and is not just an egg. This sculptural structure should be reflected in your drawing because it is critical to the likeness and to the illusion of three-dimensionality.

Do you want to learn the secrets of pencil portrait sketching? Download my brand new free pencil portrait drawing course here: portrait drawing tutorial.

Remi Engels is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter and practiced drawing teacher. See his work at pencil portraits.

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