Sketch Gallery: Faces

August ’17: Faces

Left: Pencil/graphite w/tutorial
Right: Pen/ink w/o tutorial

Having recently gotten interested in portrait drawings, I wanted to learn more about the techniques involved in drawing faces. I found some excellent tutorials (links below) by Tom McPherson’s Circle Line Art School Youtube channel that provide very straightforward step-by-step guidance for doing so. I’d highly recommend giving them a try. These images are the result of my drawing while watching the tutorials (the pencil drawings on the left) and then trying to reproduce them later from memory (the pen drawings on the right).

I had a lot of fun with these and it was interesting to experiment between pencil and pen. The first drawings are in pencil because that’s the medium that was used in the tutorial. The second is inked because that’s my preferred medium. The reason for this preference is not very deep, other than the fact that I tend to always have a pen in my pocket (less so a pencil) and I find the ink’s permanency and dark tones to be more visually appealing. However, a good pencil sketch is beautiful in its own right as well. I found the pencil to be more flexible in terms of being able to create varying tones of shade via subtle changes in applied pressure and loose scribbling, and forgiving because of the simple fact that it can be erased. Shading with a pen requires some different techniques as loose scribbling tends to look more sloppy than pencil, so the shade must be built-up with layers of intentional lines stacked on top of each other on criss-crossing angles (called ‘cross-hatching’) to communicate lighter vs darker tones. Also, once the ink is on the paper, it ‘aint going nowhere. This feature introduces a touch of both fear and intentionality in my pen drawings which could explain why I’m happier with how the pencil drawings came out, produced under less pressuring circumstances where more time is spent focusing on the overall art rather than the minutiae of technique.

Additionally, working on these faces gave me the opportunity to learn a few things about how a real-life object (like a human face) gets translated into a graphite or ink drawing. In my still early attempts to translate flesh and bone to paper and ink, I am tempted to think that every contour and feature of the face should be completely outlined. The nose, for example, should be a conical shape with two circles at the base and two defined lines running upwards to a blunted point. However, drawing these faces with the help of the tutorials showed me that it is far more realistic to use fewer lines that one might think should be there. The nose of the woman on the right, or the man on the left, only have two lines (like “c”s) to indicate the edges of nostrils, and a faint, shadowy line going up one side of the face to convey the ridge of the nose. The rest of the nose is not really ‘there’ (on paper) but is suggested by shading, which tells your brain that there is some dimension of the nose that blocks the light to a greater/lesser degree in that space.

In much of my learning so far, I’ve repeatedly heard words like, “suggest”, “indicate”, and even “illusion” when it comes to discussing techniques for conveying a sense of how an object exists in space. What this suggests to me is that an artist has done his/her job when, instead of drawing an image verbatim and line-for-line, they have ‘convinced’ you that a series of lines and smudges of ink is actually something greater. In a literal sense, art is a form of communication. Spoken language is a series of phonetic sounds in which we package meaning and send it to a listener who may understand as intended, interpret their own different meaning, or hear a jumbled mess of syllables and grunts. The outcome is co-dependent on the speaker and that of the listener. Similarly, art packages its meaning into lines and the spaces between them. If, when you look at those lines and spaces, you see more than lines and spaces, then perhaps you’re looking at art.

Circle Line Art School
(female face) –

(and male face) –

More drawings at:


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