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Category Archive: Portrait Challenges

Babies and Young Children : Week 4

September 17, 2021

Fairy at Toby’s 6th Birthday
Pencil

This week’s challenge is to draw or paint the whole figure of a child, a child with another child, or a parent and child study. If you are fairly new to drawing I would advise drawing a single figure for your painting and to practice making as many small sketches of children whether from life or from photographs as you can, to train your eye to be accustomed to the fact that children’s heads are larger in proportion to their height than adult heads.

Gayle with Posy
Watercolour
Not a whole figure but put into a context.

When painting young children either standing or involved with some activity it is useful to drop a perpendicular line from the highest point on your reference to work out the proportions of the body and the angles that the shoulders, hips and limbs and their relative lengths. Also put a perpendicular on your drawing paper. Some measuring will help you to see and draw taking into account any foreshortening that may occur as when an arm is pointing directly at you! If you prefer to draw completely freehand before painting, check the accuracy of your drawing by dropping a perpendicular from the same point as done for your reference.

As always also look for any clues from negative spaces that will help you get the proportions and lengths right.

With clothed figures, especially full skirts and baggy trousers try to imagine the limbs beneath them and their relation to the spine. Look at whether one shoulder is higher than the other and how this works in relation to the neck.

Toby on a Wobble Board age 6
Pencil

The little sketch above is of six year old Toby balancing on a wobble board. Note how in the figure on the left both feet are bearing some of his weight and if a line is dropped from his neck it would fall between the two feet. In the figure on the right most of his weight is on his right foot (left in the image) and a line dropped from his neck shows the neck to be positioned directly above the load bearing foot. Try to draw simple line drawings from life or ‘photos of standing children standing with the load shared between their feet, and also where the load is mainly on one foot. Then try to draw some children in the same way when they are actively engaged in a sporting or other activity where they are in motion.

If you have the opportunity and wish to draw a group of children together especially where their forms overlap, treat the group as one whole shape before homing in on the individuals. Work lightly at first so that you can adjust as you look at your subject more critically as the drawing progresses. Lastly make sure you take more time looking than drawing so that all the main shapes are correct before committing yourself to painting.

In the initial stages of painting look very critically at the direction of the light and how this affects the tones that reveal the form of the child. Look also at how light can affect the darkest local colours, for example even a black T-shirt can appear quite pale on the side that is turned toward the light but retain its dark appearance where turned away from the light source.

Lastly look at shadows cast by the child’s form; e.g. a shadow of the head falling on to the child’s neck and shoulder; shadows below the feet which will help anchor the figure to the ground; and in some cases the shadow of the whole figure against the ground or cast on a wall etc.

For examples of drawing and painting children look at the Pinterest Board below:

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/babies-and-young-children/

Your Paintings:

Babies and Young Children: Week 3

September 8, 2021

Matt with Maggie aged Two
Pencil

This week the challenge is to draw or paint a young child’s head in profile and/or full face. The features especially the chin and nose begin to show the character they will gradually develop into later. While it is often very difficult to identify and adult from a new baby photo it becomes slightly easier from the age of two or three.

Some wonderful examples can be seen on Jo’s Pinterest board at;

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/young-children-heads/

Your drawings and paintings:

Pastel by Mali
Millie and Rosie
Sketch by Sarah
Millie and Rosie
Watercolour by Sarah

Babies and Young Children: Week 2

September 1, 2021

Baby Chris at two or three weeks.
Demonstration from week 1.
The medium is pastel pencil and Pan Pastel. Last week the head was drawn and the main body shapes and clothes indicated. At the next session the rest will be completed. Note how lightly the initial drawing was made to allow for alterations.
I usually start with the head shape then add the other main shapes of body and limbs. Make a note of the general shape of the whole form and any useful negative shapes.
It is often useful to drop a vertical line through the whole form to help you place the head and limbs at the correct angles to each other. For this study a vertical from the widest point of the head (skull not the ears) on each side would give a guide to how the limbs should be placed. These verticals would also aid checking the drawing by measuring the heights of the various main parts..

This week we’ll consider making a painting or drawing a whole baby and suggest your subject is no more than one year old, or perhaps a better guideline would be between newborn and crawling, but not yet walking.

Christopher at nearly one
Pencil
Christopher heading straight for us!
Pencil

Babies have a tendency to thrash their limbs about when awake so it is often easier to work from photos but if you have a resident crawler, or baby that is starting to support himself do try and sketch from life, even if all that is achieved is a few hasty lines. This will help your observation and visual memory enormously.  It will also help you to identify errors in more considered drawings at a very early stage.

However the easiest way with babies is to draw them while sleeping!

Crown Prince Toby
Pencil
Note how you can imagine the baby’s form beneath the blanket.

Do have a look at some of last week’s references again and perhaps practise drawing a few baby feet!

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/babies-and-infants-drawing-tips/

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/babies-and-young-children/

If you you would like to why not try a parent or even a grandparent and baby painting. Mary Cassatt painted many of these and a few examples can be found at:

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/baby-and-parent/

Your paintings:

Pastel by Mali
Twins by Maricarmen
Millie at Four Months 1
Watercolour by Sarah
Millie at Four Months 2
Watercolour by Sarah
Chester
Watercolour by Ann
Chester’s little Hand
Sketch by Ann
Sammy
Pastel by Heather

Babies and Young Children: Week 1

August 26, 2021

Baby Chris
Pencil

Over the next four weeks we’ll look at drawing and painting babies and young children, looking at infant heads the first week then whole baby forms and go on to consider toddlers and young children to about four years old for the second two sessions.  With drawing and painting babies and children the structures and tones need the same attention as in other portrait studies but an additional challenge is the soft touch needed to convey the softness and delicacy of children’s skin both with the tones and the colour.

Pastel, pencil, charcoal and watercolour will be used for the demonstrations but you are welcome to work in your preferred medium.

Sleeping Toby Five Days Old
Pencil
Note Toby had long spindly fingers that soon fleshed out into plump little baby ones!

Drawing baby heads.

The facial features and skulls of babies are not fully developed and their proportions are different from adult heads.  The facial features are smaller in regard to the space they occupy and only the iris of the eye is fully developed giving many babies that cute large eyed look.  The nose being of cartilage grows at a different rate to the bone of most of the skull and at the baby stage the nose is often slightly upturned.  The eyebrows are relatively lower than for an adult and the chin is smaller and tucked in so that it protrudes rather less than the lips.

1.  Find a photograph of a baby’s face that is looking straight toward the camera and work out the proportions of the face from the tip of the chin to the top of the head.  If you can see them also note the position of the top and bottom of the ears.

2. Do the same for a baby’s head seen in profile and also work out how the ears are positioned.

3. Draw and/or paint a baby’s head from your own reference.  Note whether the features lie on a curve if the head is looking up or down and pay special attention to how the proportions of the various elements change.  For example if the head is viewed from slightly below, more of the chin will be seen compared to the forehead and top of the head. 

As with adults the eyes will be about one eye width apart.  Unlike adults the baby nose and chin are shorter.  As with everything when you are making a representative drawing draw what you see not what you believe to be there.

Next week we will consider the whole baby figure.  However babies often play with their hands, sucking thumbs and chewing fingers, so also try to have a look at baby hands for this week’s session.

Some useful references can be found on the following Pinterest boards.

The first board (below) has useful guides to the proportions of infant to adult figures and also to drawing baby and toddler heads, hands and feet.

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/babies-and-infants-drawing-tips/.

The second board (below) has a large collection of paintings and drawings of babies and young children. Some of these are simply beautiful studies. Others as in the Leonardo references at the end give information on the foetus before birth, and the drawings by Kathe Kollwitz give an idea of the plight of mothers and young children dispossessed by war and deprivation. Think about the study you wish to make, the character and mood of the child and circumstance. This will lead you to create a very personal work.

/https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/babies-and-young-children/

First it is good to make as many drawings as you can from life and photographs to give you a good understanding of the structures and enable you to be more credibly creative. The blog posts will mainly feature drawing and colour will be demonstrated during the practical sessions. Do send a drawing or finished painting for review this week, and any work made during the session will be posted for review the following week.

Your finished drawings or paintings:

Sammy
pastel by Mali
Rosie
by Sarah
Rosie in a Brighter Mood
Watercolour by Sarah
Archie by Heather
Archie again
by Heather
Newborn
by Ann
Chester
by Ann
Margot and Lila
Watercolour by Maricarmen

More than Head and Shoulders: Week 3

April 19, 2021

The Half Figure: selecting and cropping

The Lock Down Haircut
This image needs no cropping but I would omit the shoulder and arm of the other boy on the right.

This week you are invited to paint a figure including arms and hands but extending no further down the figure than about the waist.  You may already have a suitable reference that needs no cropping or you may have a whole figure reference which needs cropping to carry out this week’s challenge. As a rough guide cropping works when it is not exactly at the elbow or cutting through part of a hand or foot.  I have tried to show this in the illustration below.

Thumbnail sketch of whole figure
Head and shoulder crop
Head Shoulders and upper arm crop
Head to thigh crop
Head to mid-calf crop

You will however, always find notable exceptions from well known artists who perhaps have enough magic and experience to make the seemingly impossible work. Some great examples can be found on Jo’s Pinterest board, link below.

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/to-about-the-waist-or-including-a-hand/

Wonderful as the horse is, it is a diversion and I would crop the horse from the image and concentrate on the Afghan man. A double portrait is a different challenge.
Now our focus is directed totally to his gaze.
Photographed in Afghanistan by Alisha

Week 3 Project

Choose a photo reference. Try to find a reference that illustrates the persons character or situation.  You should feel something about the image. Decide by making thumbnail sketches, whether and what cropping would result in a good composition for a portrait that references the figure to about the waist.  Try to include at least one hand.  Some paintings of half figures have the subject at a table, sewing, drinking or reading.  Make careful decisions about the background including only what is necessary or relevant. 

As with the whole figure, work out the sizes of the dominant shapes and how they relate to each other.  Look at the negative spaces.  Either use a grid or at least a vertical and horizontal line across your image and your drawing so that you can check measurements and angles; making sure that your picture space is in the same proportion as the part of the image included in your work.

Really look at the posture of the person and ask questions. 

Is the head at an angle?

Is the person looking to one side?

How does this affect the neck?

Can you imagine how the head connects to the spine?

Are the shoulders at the same height?

What are the arms and hands doing?

Are there negative spaces related to the position of the arms?

What angles are made by the arms and hands?

Are the arms bearing any weight as when leaning on a table?

Looking and answering these questions will inform your work.

Your Paintings:

The Woodcarver
Acrylic by Malcolm
Stanley
Watercolour by Sarah
Acrylic by Ann
Hannah
Acrylic by Heather
Magnus
Acrylic by Elizabeth
After Cezanne
Watercolour by John
Laura
Acrylic by Liz, unfinished
Oil pastel and Oil by Mali
The Bookseller
Pastel by Angela

Painting Portraits from Photographs 2: More than Head and Shoulders

April 6, 2021

Week 1:The Whole figure

Picture taken by Alisha when working as a doctor in Afghanistan

Over the next four weeks we’ll consider painting rather more of the clothed figure than just the head and shoulders.  Choosing reference photo is the first challenge.  You may have one of a complete stranger or you may have or can take a picture of a family member reading a book or even asleep. At least they won’t be giving you a great big beaming smile.  For this week include the whole figure either seated or standing in your reference.  The aim will be to get really used to looking at the various elements of the figure because understanding figure itself will help us understand how clothing drapes across the body.  Usually there are a lot of clues especially with more tailored and tight fitting garments but the particular pose that presents itself can also give invaluable clues that will help you make a believable portrait.

In subsequent weeks we’ll look at suitable cropping points so that successful compositions can be made of to the waist and also three quarter length studies.  We’ll also consider figures wearing uniform, formal regalia or traditional costume less familiar to us, but for all of these a general understanding of the figure, its proportions and the way it moves will inform all the work done.

Chris and Toby

Look at the standing reference first; in an adult the head is about one seventh of the total height but in a child this ratio is considerably more. In the photo above it is between one sixth and one fifth. 

Follow an imaginary line from the top of the head down the spine to the pelvis and think about what happens when you get to the legs.  With a standing figure the neck will be directly above the foot bearing most of the weight and if the weight is being evenly shared between both feet will be directly above a point between the feet.  If your figure is leaning against a wall notice if this changes anything. 

Neck above weight bearing foot
Load more evenly shared by each foot

Look at how far the arms extend down the body if they are down and how far again if they are folded or the angles made if they are on the hips or if one arm is on the hip what is happening with the other arm. 

In the sheep market: Tafraoute, Morocco

Look at the tilt of the shoulders and the hips if these can be identified.  Thinking about how the body moves will help.  Look at the knee in relation to the direction in which the foot points.   If you stand fairly upright with your feet together and then turn one foot out a bit the knee follows it and so the knee points in the same direction as the foot.  When sitting this is also the most relaxed position for the foot, but of course if you cross your legs you will find the foot has far more freedom but still feels more comfortable when pointing the same way as the knee.

Try to find out how your own joints limbs and back behave, then look at your reference again and think through what is going on.

Harriet sketching; here the body is changing the shape of the chair back and seat, and because we have a side view the upper leg is not fore-shortened. Note how the foot is pointing in the same direction as the knee.

With the sitting reference, look at the relation of the sitter’s form to the form of what they are sitting on whether it’s flat ground, a grassy slope as for the Afhan girl heading this post, or some kind of seat.  It can be useful to make a sketch of the chair, bench or stool, but remembering that the soft parts of some chairs will be altered by the sitter as above.  The appearance of the figure, especially the fore-shortening of the upper leg will be very different depending on whether you are viewing the person from the side or the front.  The height of the chair in relation to the person’s leg length will also result in a very different posture for the sitter.  If a tall person sits on a low bench they will either stretch their legs out or bend their knees up bringing the feet closer to the chair.  Just think about things like this when looking.

You may like to look at how other artists have portrayed standing and sitting figures so do have a look at the following Pinterest boards.

For the seated figure:

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/the-whole-figure-seated/

and for the standing figure:

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/jhall1282/portraits/the-whole-figure-standing/

Then it’s high time to have a go!

Choose to work either from a standing or a seated figure and make a few thumbnail sketches first, before launching into your first painting.  Work so that you make note of the tones in the composition as well as the shapes of the forms.  Try to imagine you are in the presence of the sitter and that the figure actually exists in three dimensions rather than the two dimensional image you are referring to.

Composition

After that decide how much space your figure will occupy in your painting. Look at the overall height and width of the figure and how much of the background and what of its features you wish to include or exclude.  Sometimes an indication of the space around the figure and the objects within that space helps the composition while at other times there are things in the background which are irrelevant and may detract from the main focus: the figure being portrayed.

Although not a whole figure this shows how clutter removal can calm the whole composition. The choice is entirely the artist’s, so if I were portraying an electronics wizz in his shack rather more chaos might add to the viewer’s understanding of the character I am painting.

The medium is up to you; pastel and acrylic are possibly more forgiving than watercolour but whichever medium you choose once you have established the main shapes, take note of the tonal balance as well as the colour. If you choose to work in watercolour you may like to Google the portrait watercolours of Charles Reid, and Hans Schwarz, and of course Singer Sargent also produced some wonderful watercolour portraits.

Your paintings:

Rosie by Sarah
Rosie
Watercolour by Sarah
Hugo
Acrylic by Ann
Anika
Soft pastel by Elizabeth
Roger
Watercolour by Elizabeth
Sketches from Photos by Liz
Amy takes a Selfie in the Mirror
Mixed media by Liz
Deborah
Acrylic by Malcolm
Heather
Acrylic by Heather
Artists at Work
Pastel by John
Paula Rego
Coloured pencil on cartridge paper by Angela
A Beer in the Sun
by Mali