This past summer provided several opportunities for me and
my family to pack up the van and head out on the highway. But as the mileage on
the odometer increased, so did my chances of making a wrong decision along the
way. It helped to have a GPS to point me in the right direction so that
whenever I missed an exit or began heading the wrong way, a calm voice would
alert me by saying, "When possible, make a U-turn". I then had the choice of
either following the advice to correct my mistake or ignore it and continue
moving further away from my intended destination. When driving, it's often
clear which choice I should make, but when it comes to solving problems in
painting, it's not always as obvious. Because of this, an artistic GPS is
needed to help stay on course, especially in the area of drawing.
Achieving a likeness in portrait painting requires that your
drawing be correct, especially when it comes to the vertical alignment and
distance between individual features of the face. Establishing some key
reference points at the very beginning of a painting can save you hours of
frustration down the road and avoid a possible U-turn along the way. Similar to
coordinates found on a map, these points remain fixed throughout the painting
process and are constantly referred to when making decisions along the way.
Some key areas that I've found to be very helpful to use as
reference points when painting portraits are the outside edges of the iris, the
inside corner of the eye and the outside edges of the nose. From these
accurately measured and established points, I can then use a straight, vertical
line, often called a "plumb line", as a guide to make sure that other features
of the face are correctly placed. This is done by simply holding up a straight
edge in front of your subject and then honestly evaluating your progress. If
you notice adjustments that need to be made, either to the left or right of
this plumb line, take the necessary steps to correct them as soon as possible.
If you don't, you may feel as though you're driving in circles, not quite sure
of which direction to go, eventually having to re-trace your steps in order to
get back on the right track.
So, if you find yourself in need of some direction when
working on your next portrait, be sure to stop and take some advice from a
trusted guide that can help you reach your destination.