Great Pyramid of the Head?

Structural drawing by Dan Thompson, mixed media, 15 x 25, 2010. Self-Portrait After Palmer by Dan Thompson, mixed media, 19 x 25, 2003.
Structural drawing
by Dan Thompson,
mixed media, 15 x 25, 2010.
Self-Portrait After Palmer
by Dan Thompson,
mixed media, 19 x 25, 2003.

I've taken notes from a lot of art instructors and sat in or participated in plenty of drawing classes, but when I heard Dan Thompson talk about the "great pyramid of the head," I was intrigued and knew that I wanted to know more from him on how to draw people.

What I so appreciate about Thompson's approach is that he believes in learning through many different practices. He doesn't perpetuate the myth that there is one artistic tradition or way of study that opens up every door for artists. Instead, he'll take an exercise like drawing people in a head study as a chance to explain how to get there through many strategies.

Thompson (demo drawing, above) believes learning to draw people is all about an interaction that you are making together with the model.
Thompson (demo drawing, above)
believes learning to draw people is all
about an interaction that you are
making together with the model.

For example, he starts to draw a person's head with anatomy foremost in mind. He breaks down the anatomical landmarks of the head, from skull and forehead to the neck, nose, eye, mouth and even the ear. In fact, the ear is what Thompson calls the great anchor of a portrait because if it is correctly rendered, the proportion and placement of the rest of the face's features come together more easily.  

Then drawing a person's head becomes a simplified value massing exercise with five values, where the middle light is built with hatchmarkings. Then onto viewing the head in terms of planes, which Thompson helped me better understand as a bridge between two-dimensional and the illusion of three-dimensional shapes. And finally, Thompson discusses the head as a landscape of features, where the eyes are structural coins, the nose is a lesson in triangles, and the mouth's structure is akin to a series of columns.

All this information really sunk in for me, and every bit of the insight that I got from Thompson–just hearing him talk so articulately and sincerely about learning to draw people and calling it an interaction that you are making together with the sitter—made me more excited and less scared of the whole process. In Drawing magazine you'll find that same sensitive approach to drawing and masterful instruction that you'll turn to again and again. Consider a subscription to Drawing magazine and enjoy!

P.S. It's the last week of the Best Easel Extravaganza. Enter now to win a brand new easel every day through November 15!

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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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