Drawing Expressive Faces

4403.5_2D00_of_2D00_Us_2D00_300dpi.jpg
Five of Us, 1996, mixed media painting with gouache, charcoal, pastel, and collage, 23 x 40. Collection The Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. All works by Alex Powers.

When I was a kid, my mom always cut coupons on Sunday morning. I’d sit beside her and do the same, but I’d flip through magazines and newspapers and cut out pictures I liked or lettering that I thought was neat, and I never gave up my artsy coupon clipping habit because it’s a great way to pull inspirational images into my orbit, so that I could begin drawing expressive faces by making composites of images that said what I wanted to say, or just use these images on their own as inspirations for my own drawing riffs.

Alex Powers and I are kindred spirits. The muses for his figure drawing and painting are actually a mish-mash of his own snapshots, magazine photographs, and newspaper tear outs, and even television images that he draws. But Powers outpaces my “coupon” clipping in terms of creativity by also pulling from unusual sources, such as X-ray images of luggage from airport security monitors.

New York Art, 2003, gouache, charcoal, pastel, and collage drawing, 30 x 40.
New York Art, 2003, gouache, charcoal,
pastel, and collage drawing, 30 x 40.

Powers takes his inspirations and often combines them with text that furthers the theme of the work or makes his ideas about the subject clear. He almost always paints faces to convey his ideas, and he has a few pointers for drawing expressive faces that I want to pass along to you.

He prefers to render the figure nude or partially clothed because he finds that the body and face communicate much more than any costume can.

Painting eyes looking straight out of the painting or drawing will follow the viewer as they walk back and forth in front of the painting.

Not everything is interesting. Powers doesn’t find the top of the head or flesh tones particularly interesting, so he often neglects to include the former and one stroke of local color is all he uses for the latter. Drawing expressive faces is all about finding the particular pull in every person’s mien, and capturing that in the art.

Small Talk, 2000, gouache, charcoal, pastel, and collage drawing, 30 x 40. Collection Anne and Dr. Ronald Jarvis.
Small Talk, 2000, gouache, charcoal, pastel,
and collage drawing, 30 x 40.
Collection Anne and Dr. Ronald Jarvis.

He defines one or two contours of the head, but tries not to make the lines longer than the other lines in the face to prevent the head from separating from the background, so that all areas of the painting take on power.

Powers’ methods for drawing expressive faces in mixed media are uniquely his own and yet I’ve learned so much from studying his process, much like I have by studying the approaches of Dina Wakley in her ArtistsNetwork.tv workshop, Expressive Faces: 10 Techniques for Mixed Media. You discover how to draw faces  in compositions that are filled with gesture, line, and texture. Access to the workshop ensures you get straight-up, practical information from an artist that still understands the power of visual lyricism. With Expressive Faces, you will accelerate your rate of discovery and learning, just like I have. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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