Portrait Study


As I’ve written before, I’m taking a character design class from Stephen Silver on I just finished my assignment for Lesson 3, which was actually two parts. Here’s what I did for part 1 (part 2 will be posted tomorrow):

For part 1, we were given photos of four different men. First, we had to do a straight-forward sketch of the person, not really pushing the shapes or getting too cartoony. Just do a standard portrait. Then, after finishing the portrait sketch, immediately put it away and get rid of the photo. From memory, draw the person again using three different shapes: a circle, a square, and a triangle.

The goal was not to do a dead-on likeness and squeeze it into the shape, because that would be almost impossible. Rather, we were to take the features that defined that person (i.e. eyes wide apart, big chin, small pointy nose, whatever) and play with those features within the shapes to create three new characters.

There are several benefits to this exercise. First, it forces you to really focus and study while drawing the portrait, becuase you know you will have to do the rest by memory.

Second, it forces you to think about the placement of your facial features within each shape. You can say very different things about your character’s personality based on how high the forehead is, or how wide the nose is, for example. Keep in mind that every feature effects every other feature (for example, as the nose gets bigger the eyes, in contrast, should get smaller and pull closer together). Its amazing how much of a difference it makes to simply play with the size of the facial features and their relationship to one another.

Third, it forces you to simplify. When you know you will be drawing by memory, there’s no point in trying to memorize every little line and shape on the person’s face. Instead, you train yourself to study the overall essence of the person and figure out how the individual features interact to make that person who he is.

It was a really fun exercise and I was pretty amazed at the results. Not that these are my best designs ever, but I was surprised with how much variety I got out of the characters simply by starting with a different shape and then making a conscious effort to really think about how the different parts of the face interact. I encourage every aspiring character designer to try this exercise.