Lesson 6 – Proportion and Perspective – The Portrait

If you use Instagram post your drawings and tag them with #plpDrawingClass. It will be fun to see everyone’s work!

I am following through “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards with the kids. The materials provided here are taken directly from the book and are the actual exercises and selected highlights. I highly recommend reading the book if you are interested in learning to draw.
In Lesson 5 we learned about proportion and perspective and a method of sighting to “see” them where we used our pencil as a guide to see angles and size.


 

 

In this lesson we will continue with our study of proportion and perspective but will study the proportions of the human head and learn about drawing portraits.

 

All of the following material was taken from “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards

Remember the 5 perceptual skills of drawing are:

  1. Edges (line of contour drawing)
  2. Spaces (negative spaces)
  3. Relationships (proportion and perspective)
  4. Lights and shadows (shading)
  5. The gestalt (the “thingness” of the thing)

From “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”:

In drawing your profile portrait, you will be using all of the skills you have learned so far:

• How to perceive and draw edges

• How to perceive and draw spaces

• How to perceive and draw relationships

• How to perceive and draw (a bit of) lights and shadows

(a future lesson will cover lights and shadows)


The importance of proportion in portrait drawing

All drawing involves proportion, whether the subject is still life,

landscape, figure drawing, or portrait drawing. Proportion is

important whether an artwork’s style is realistic, abstract, or completely

nonobjective (that is, without recognizable forms from the

external world). Realistic drawing in particular depends heavily

on proportional correctness. Therefore, realistic drawing is especially

effective in training the eye to see the thing-as-it-is in its

relational proportions. Individuals whose jobs require close estimations

of size relationships—carpenters, dentists, dressmakers,

carpet-layers, and surgeons—develop great facility in perceiving

proportion. Creative thinkers in all fields benefit from enhanced

awareness of part-to-whole relationships—from seeing both the

trees and the forest.

On believing what you think you see

One of the problems of seeing comes from the brain’s ability to

change visual information for the purpose of fitting incoming

information to pre-existing concepts or beliefs. The parts that are

important (that is, provide key information), or the parts that we

decide are larger, or the parts that we think should be larger, we

see as larger than they actually are. Conversely, parts that are

unimportant, or that we decide are smaller, or that we think

should be smaller, we see as being smaller than they actually are.

Let me give you a couple of examples of this perceptual phenomenon.

Figure 9-1 shows a diagrammatic landscape with four

men. The man at the far right appears to be the largest of the four.

But all four figures are exactly the same size. Lay a pencil alongside

first the left-hand man and the right-hand man to measure

and test the validity of that statement. Even after measuring and

proving to yourself that the figures are the same size, however,

you will probably find that the man on the right will still look

larger (Figure 9-2,9-3).

 


 

 

On not believing what you see

One more example: Stand in front of a mirror at about arm’s

distance away. How large would you say is the image of your head

in the mirror? About the same size as your head? Using a felt-tip

pen or a crayon, extend your arm and make two marks on the

mirror—one at the top of the reflected image (the outside contour

of your head) and one at the bottom contour of your chin

(Figure 9-5). Step to one side to see how long the image is in

inches. You’ll find it’s about four and one half to five inches, or

one-half the true size of your head. Yet, when you remove the

marks and look again at yourself in the mirror, it seems that the

image must be life-size! Again, you are seeing what you believe,

not believing what you see.

 

 

Drawing closer to reality

Once we have accepted that the brain is changing information

and not telling us that it has done so, some of the problems of

drawing become clearer, and learning to see what is actually “out

there” in the real world becomes very interesting. Note that this

perceptual phenomenon is probably essential to ordinary life. It

reduces the complexity of incoming data and enables us to have

stable concepts. T h e problems start when we try to see what is

really “out there,” for purposes of checking reality, solving real

problems, or drawing realistically. To accomplish that, we shall

try to prove in a logical way that certain proportions are what

they are.

 

 

The mystery of the chopped-off skull

Most people find it quite difficult to perceive the relative proportions

of the features and the skull.

In this introduction to profile-portrait drawing, I’ll concentrate

on two critical relationships that are persistently difficult for

beginning drawing students to correctly perceive: the location of

eye level in relation to the length of the whole head; and the location

of the ear in the profile view. I believe these are two examples

of perceptual errors caused by the brain’s propensity to

change visual information to better fit its concepts.

Let me explain. To most people, the eye level line (an imaginary

horizontal line that passes through the inside corners of the

eyes) appears to be about one-third of the way down from the top

of the head. The actual measure is one-half. I think this misperception

occurs because we tend to see that the important visual

information is in the features, not in foreheads and hair areas.

Apparently, the top half of the head seems less compelling than

the features, and therefore is perceived as smaller. This error in

perception results in what I’ve called the “chopped-off-skull

error,” my term for the most common perceptual error made by

beginning drawing students (Figures 9-6,9-7).

I stumbled on this problem one day while teaching a group of

beginning drawing students at the university. They were working

on portrait drawings and one after another had “chopped off” the

skull of the model. I went through my “Can’t you see that the eye

level line is halfway between the bottom of the chin and the top

edge of the hair?” queries. The students said, “No. We can’t see

that.” I asked them to measure the model’s head, then their own

heads, and then each others’ heads. “Was the measure one to

one?” I asked. “Yes,” they said. “Well,” I said, “now you can see on

the model’s head that the proportional relationship is one to one,

isn’t that true?” “No,” they said, “we still can’t see it.” One student

even said, “We’ll see it when we can believe it.”

This went on for a while until finally the light dawned and I

said, “Are you telling me that you really can’t see that relationship?”

“Yes,” they said, “we really can’t see it.” At that point I realized

that brain processes were actually preventing accurate

perception and causing the “chopped-off-skull” error. Once we

all agreed on this phenomenon, the students were able to accept

their sightings of the proportion, and soon the problem was

solved.

Now we must put your own brain into a logical box (by showing

it irrefutable evidence) that will help it accept your sightings

of the proportions of the head.

 

 

 

Drawing a blank to see better than ever

1. Draw a “blank,” an oval shape used by artists to represent the

human skull in diagrams. The shape is shown in Figure 9-8.

Draw a vertical line through the center of the blank, dividing

the shape in half. This is called the central axis.

2. Next, you will locate the horizontal “eye level line,” which

crosses the central axis at a right angle. Use your pencil to

measure on your own head the distance from the inside corner

of your eye to the bottom of your chin. Do this by placing

the eraser end (to protect your eye) at the inside corner of

your eye and marking with your thumb where your chin hits

the pencil, as in Figure 9-9. Now, holding that measurement,

raise the pencil, as in Figure 9-10, and compare the first distance

(eye level to chin) with the distance from your eye level

to the top of your head (feel across from the end of the pencil

to the topmost part of your head). You will find that those two

distances are approximately the same.

3. Repeat the measurement in front of a mirror. Regard the reflection

of your head. Without measuring, visually compare

the bottom half with the top half of your head. Then use your

pencil to repeat the measurement of eye level one more time.

4. If you have newspapers or magazines handy, check this proportion

in photographs of people, or use the photo of English

writer George Orwell, Figure 9-11. Use your pencil to measure.

You will find that:

Eye level to chin equals eye level to the top of the skull.

This is an almost invariant proportion.

5. Check the photographs again. In each head, is the eye level at

about the middle, dividing the whole shape of the head about

in half? Can you clearly see that proportion? If not, turn on

television to a news program and measure heads right on the

television screen by placing your pencil flat on the screen,

measuring first eye level to chin, then eye level to the top

edge of the head. Now, take the pencil away and look again.

Can you see the proportion clearly now?

When you finally believe what you see, you will find that on

nearly every head you observe, the eye level is at about the

halfway mark. The eye level is almost never less than half—that

is, almost never nearer to the top of the skull than to the bottom

of the chin (See Figure 9-12). And if the hair is thick, the top half

of the head—eye level to the topmost edge of the hair—is bigger

than the bottom half.

The “chopped-off skull” creates the masklike effect so often

seen in children’s drawings, abstract or expressionistic art, and in

so-called “primitive” or “ethnic” art. This masklike effect of

enlarging the features relative to the skull size, of course, can

have tremendous expressive power, as seen, for example, in works

by Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani, and great works of other

cultures. The point is that master artists, especially of our own

time and culture, use the device by choice and not by mistake.

Let me demonstrate the effect of misperception.

 

 

Irrefutable evidence that the top of the head is

important after all

First, I have drawn the lower part of the faces of two models, one

in profile and one in three-quarter view (see Figure 9-13). Contrary

to what one would expect, most students have few serious

problems in learning to see and draw the features. The problem is

not the features; it’s in perceiving the skull that things go wrong.

What I want to demonstrate is how important it is to provide the

full skull for the features—not to cut off the top of the head

because your brain is less interested and makes you see it as

smaller.

In Figure 9-13 are two sets of three drawings: First, the features

only, without the rest of the skull; second, the identical features

with the cut-off-skull error; and third, the identical features,

this time with the full skull, which complements and supports the

features.

You can see that it’s not the features that cause the problem of

wrong proportion; it’s the skull. Now turn to Figure 9-14 and see

that Van Gogh in his 1880 drawing of the carpenter apparently

made the “chopped-off skull” error in the carpenter’s head. Also,

see the Durer etching in Figure 9-16 in which the artist demonstrates

the effort of diminishing the relative proportion of the

skull to the features. Are you convinced? Is your logical left hemisphere

convinced? Good. You will save yourself innumerable

hours of baffling mistakes in drawing.

 

 

Drawing another blank and getting a line on the

profile

Draw another blank now, this time for a profile. The profile blank

is a somewhat different shape—like an oddly shaped egg. This is

because the human skull (Figure 9-17), seen from the side, is a

different shape than the skull seen from the front. It’s easier to

draw the blank if you look at the shapes of the negative spaces

around the blank in Figure 9-17. Notice that the negative spaces

are different in each corner.

If it helps you to see, draw in some symbolic shapes for nose,

eye, mouth, and chin, making sure that you have first drawn the

eye level line at the halfway point on the blank.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Placing the ear in a profile portrait

The next measurement is extremely important in helping

you perceive correctly the placement of the ear, which in turn

will help you perceive correctly the width of the head in profile

and prevent chopping off the back of the skull.

On almost every head, the position of the ear doesn’t vary

much. On your own face, use your pencil again to measure the

length from the inside corner of your eye to the bottom of your

chin (Figure 9-18). Now, holding that measurement, lay the pencil

horizontally along your eye level line (Figure 9-19) with the

eraser end at the outside corner of your eye. That measurement

coincides with the back of your ear.

Putting that another way, the length from eye level to chin

equals the distance from the back of the eye to the back of the ear.

Make a mark for the ear placement on the eye level line of the

blank, as in Figure 9-20. This proportion may seem a little complex,

but if you will learn the measurement, it will save you from

another stubborn problem in drawing the human head: Most

beginning students draw the ear too close to the features when

drawing a profile. When the ear is placed too close to the features,

the skull is once more chopped off, this time at the back. Again,

the reason for the problem may be that the expanse of cheek and

jaw is uninteresting and boring, and therefore beginning students

fail to perceive the width of the space correctly

You can memorize this important measurement as a saying or

mnemonic, similar to “i” before “e,” except after “c.” To place the

ear in a profile portrait, memorize this mnemonic: eye level-tochin

equals back-of-the-eye to the back-of-the-ear.

Note that enlarging the features and diminishing the skull

produce strong, expressive, symbolic effects, a device you can

always use later if you wish. Right now, for this “basic training,”

we want you to be able to see things as they really are in their correct

proportion.

Visualizing is another useful technique for teaching the correct

placement of the ear. Since you now know that two measurements

are equal—from eye level to chin, and from the back of the

eye to the back of the ear—you can visualize an equal-sided

right-angle triangle (an isosceles triangle) connecting these three

points, as shown in the drawing in Figure 9-12, page 170. This is an

easy way to place the ear correctly. The isosceles triangle can be

visualized on the model. See Figure 9-20, page 175.

Practice seeing proportional relationships now by looking at

photographs or drawings of people in the profile view and visualizing

the isosceles triangle, as in Figure 9-12. This technique will

save you from a lot of problems and errors in your profile drawings.

We still need to make two more measurements on the profile

blank. First, holding your pencil horizontally, just under your ear,

slide the pencil forward as in Figure 9-21. You come to the space

between your nose and mouth. This is the level of the bottom of

your ear. Make a mark on the blank.

Again, holding your pencil horizontally just under your ear,

slide the pencil backward this time. You will come to the place

where your skull and neck connect—the place that bends, as in

Figure 9-22. Mark this point on the blank. The point is higher

than you think. In symbolic drawing, the neck is usually placed

below the circle of the head, with the point that bends on the

level of the chin. This will cause problems in your drawing: The

neck will be too narrow. Make sure that you perceive on your

model the correct place where the neck begins at the back of the

skull.

Now you will need to practice these perceptions. Look at

people. Practice perceiving faces, observing relationships, seeing

the unique forms of each individual face.

You are ready now to draw a profile portrait. You will be using

all of the skills you have learned so far:

• Focusing on complex edges and negative spaces until you feel

the shift to an alternative state of consciousness, one in which

your right hemisphere leads and your left hemisphere is

quiet. Remember that this process requires an uninterrupted

block of time.

• Estimating angles in relation to the vertical and horizontal

edges of the paper

• Drawing just what you see without trying to identify or attach

verbal labels to forms (you learned the value of this in the

upside-down drawing)

• Drawing just what you see without relying on old stored-andmemorized

symbols from your childhood drawing

• Estimating relationships of sizes—how big is this form compared

to that one?

And finally:

• Perceiving proportions as they really are, without changing

or revising visual information to fit preconceptions about

what parts are important. They are all important, and each

part must be given its full proportion in relation to the other

parts. This requires bypassing the brain’s propensity to

change incoming information without “telling” you what it

has done. Your sighting tool—your pencil—will enable you

to “get at” the true proportions.

 

 

 

 


EXERCIZE:

 

A warm-up exercise

To illuminate for yourself the connection of edges, spaces, and

relationships in portrait drawing, I suggest that you copy (make a

drawing of) John Singer Sargent’s beautiful profile portrait of

Mme. Pierre Gautreau, which Sargent drew in 1883 (Figure 9-23).

You may wish turn it upside down.

For the past forty years or so, most art teachers have not recommended

copying masterworks as an aid to learning to draw.

With the advent of modern art, many art schools rejected traditional

teaching methods and copying master drawings went out

of favor. Now, copying drawings and paintings is coming back

into favor as an effective means of training the eye in art.

I believe that copying great drawings is very instructive for

beginning students. Copying forces one to slow down and really

see what the artist saw. I can practically guarantee that carefully

copying any masterwork of drawing will forever imprint the

image in your memory. Therefore, because copied drawings

become an almost permanent file of memorized images, I recommend

that you copy only the work of major and minor masters of

drawing. We are fortunate these days to have reproductions of

great works readily and inexpensively available.

 

For how to do an exercise copy of Sargent’s profile portrait of

Mme. Pierre Gautreau, also known as “Madame X,” please read all

of the instructions before you begin.

What you’ll need:

• Your drawing paper

• Your # 2 B writing pencil and # 4 B drawing pencils, sharpened,

and your eraser

• Your plastic Picture Plane

• An hour of uninterrupted time

What you’ll do:

These instructions will be appropriate for either right-side-up or

upside-down drawing of the Sargent portrait.

 

1. As always, in starting a drawing, you will first draw a format.

Center one of the Viewfinders on your drawing paper and use

your pencil to draw around the outside edges. Then, lightly

draw crosshairs on your paper.

2. You will be using your new skills of seeing edges, spaces, and

relationships in this drawing. Since the original is a line drawing,

lights and shadows are not relevant in this exercise.

3. Lay your clear plastic Picture Plane directly on top of the

Sargent and note where the crosshairs fall on the portrait

drawing. You will immediately see how this will help you in

deciding on your Basic Unit and starting your copy of the

drawing. You can check proportional relationships right on

the original drawing and transfer them to your copy.

Ask yourself the following series of questions. (Note that I must

name the features in order to give these verbal instructions, but

when you are drawing, try to clear your mind of words.) Looking

at the Sargent drawing and using the crosshairs as in Figure 9-24,

ask yourself the following:

 

1. Where is the point where the forehead meets the hairline?

2. Where is the outermost curve of the tip of the nose?

What are the angles of the forehead?

3. What is the negative shape that lies between those two points?

4. If you draw a line between the tip of the nose and the outermost

curve of the chin, what is the angle of that line relative

to vertical (or horizontal)?

5. What is the negative shape defined by that line?

6. Relative to the crosshairs, where is the curve of the front of

the neck?

7. What is the negative space made by the chin and neck?

8., 9., and 10. Check the position of the back of the ear, bend of

the neck, and the slant of the back.

Continue in this fashion, putting the drawing together like a jigsaw

puzzle: Where is the ear? How big is it relative to the profile

you have just drawn? What is the angle of the back of the neck?

What is the shape of the negative space made by the back of the

neck and the hair? And so on. Draw just what you see, nothing

more. Notice how small the eye is relative to the nose, and notice

the size of the mouth relative to the eye. When you have

unlocked the true proportion by sighting, you will be surprised, I

feel quite sure. In fact, if you lay one finger over the features in

Sargent’s drawing, you will see what a small proportion of the

whole form is occupied by the main features. This is often quite

surprising to beginning drawing students.

 


Tishomingo State Park


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