Introduction to Portrait


Hello! welcome to this introductory portrait tutorial!
A portrait is a drawing or painting that represents someone or something with sufficient accuracy so that it is possible to recognize the person portrayed. I think that today this concept applies to any style and to any being that you want to represent (person, character, animal, fantastic creature, etc) ... so, let's take a look at the basic notions that should be taken into account when we want make a portrait.

Since the first thing that comes to mind when talking about portraiture is the human portrait, let's start here.

Basic structure of the human head. Measurements and proportions.

Even if they were copying directly onto a photo, knowing the structure inside the face helps a lot when drawing it and setting lights and shadows. Let's start by studying the basic measurements of a face from the front and from the side.

When drawing, always keep in mind the relationship of distance and size between the features.
While there are some traditional rules (or canon) that more or less remain, each face has different proportions. These canonical rules are somewhat basic, but they help structure a face that is at rest and looking straight ahead. Practice with different face types to test these rules before moving on to more complex gestures:

1- The face can be divided vertically into two parts with a line that is used as the axis of symmetry. This axis is vital to initially understand the direction of the face, where the gaze is directed and which features are most visible. In addition, this axis must follow the shape, curvature and inclination of the face.

2- The face can be divided horizontally into three equal parts: from the hairline to the frown, from the brow to the end of the nose, and from the end of the nose to the chin.

3- If we see the face in profile, the total width can be divided into three equal parts: from the back of the skull to the edge of the ear, from this edge to the corner of the eye, and from the corner of the eye to the tip of the nose.

3- The space between the end of the nose and the chin can be divided into three equal parts. From the end of the nose to the opening of the mouth, from the opening of the mouth to the cleft of the chin, and from that cleft to the chin.

4- The height of the birth of the ear coincides with the height of the corner of the eye. the end of the ear coincides with the corner of the mouth.

5- If we see the face from the front and looking straight ahead, the corners of the mouth coincide with the middle of the eye.

6- The distance between one eye and the other is equal to the width of one eye.

A very important resource that helps this is MEASURE. For this, a part of the face is chosen that does not vary too much in size and is easy to measure, to be used as a size reference for the other parts. In a whole human body, the size of the skull is used as a measure. On a face, you can use the width of the eye, the height of the nose, the size of the ear ... ... choose the one that is most comfortable. The point is to think "How many times does this measure fit into this other measure?" to be able to build each trait in relation to the others.

Although they serve as general rules for incorporating the relationship of size and location between one feature and another, these measurements have their origin in ancient times and have been used ever since to achieve highly symmetrical faces. However, most people's faces don't exactly meet these very specific rules. Let's see some examples with other faces:

As you will see, the guides vary quite a bit in size and general shape.

With these data in mind, it is best to start with a basic outline of the skull and then incorporate the features. Usually the easiest thing to do is start with a circle for the skull; then incorporate a shape similar to a cube, oval or triangle to form the jaw; then add the horizontal and vertical guides to position the eyebrows and the end of the nose; and finally add triangular shapes to form the nose, ovals for the ears and circles to delimit the eye socket. Finally, within this scheme, we can incorporate the details of each trait.

There are different ways of posing the face schematically. It is good to try several until you find the one that is most comfortable for you, according to your drawing style. Here I show you a couple of examples:

These measurements are also useful for working on a partially profiled face, but you have to modify the measurements between both halves of the face following the volumetric shape of the skull to show the perspective of the posture.

Structure and stylization of human features.

Depending on your drawing style, someone can be represented in different ways. In my case, I like to simplify the hair and enlarge the eyes, for example. These types of modifications are called stylization, because the model, or reality, would be adapting to the particular style of each one. The further the drawing is removed from reality, the greater its stylization. Let's look at a couple of stylization examples:

This process depends a lot on the tastes and interests of each one. However, I think it is important to study realism to find from there the level of simplification that we want to use. This is not strictly necessary, but it helps a lot to incorporate the basics of perspective and structure. Even if you are not interested in realism, consider that to practice it is the most accessible, since you can get photos of many types of face with ease. Also, if you used drawings stylized by someone else as a model to practice, it would be difficult to find your own style later because you have been copying.

To begin with, I show you very simple ways to draw a base structure for eyes, nose and mouth from the front and profile.

To draw a partial profile, these rulers and guides need to be modified a bit. Taking into account which is the vertical half of the feature, the half that is farther from the viewer will be less visible. To draw this, simply reduce the measurement to the farthest half.

Once we have the base structure and axes of the skull, we can begin to place the features. Depending on the level of realism that is handled, each feature has different ways of drawing.

To adapt human faces to different styles, the measurements can be modified a little. However, some of these guides are more useful than others even in different styles and should be kept in mind. Use them at your convenience: for example the circle for the skull and the shape of the jaw, they can be kept in any style. However, I recommend testing different configurations using these three basic references:

1- Simple shapes that work as a base for the skull.

2- Place the axis of the eyes at different heights of the vertical axis. Although when studying a more realistic structure, the height of the eyebrows is more used to locate the eyes; In the simplified version of the structure that I like to use, I build the face from an axis that directly indicates the position of the eyes.

3-Combination of simple shapes to give variety to the skull and jaw.

Do not forget to place the axes that mark the vertical half of the face to be able to maintain the proportions on both sides of the head.

The portrait of fantastic animals and characters.

Since the term portrait refers to the format, and not the content of the image, let's also talk about portraits of non-human characters. You can use rules and structures similar to those we saw for humans, modifying them a bit to adapt them to the being they want to do.

It is good to think about the general shape of the face that we want to make to use the shape that best suits them as the base of the skull. Take advantage of all the tools you need to build the basic scheme: diagonal lines, rhombuses, crosses, stars, circles ...

Let's explore examples of the type of basic guides that we can use for some different types of animals, since from them you can easily get references to study and practice:

1- Line on the bridge of the nose to divide the head in 2 vertically and maintain symmetry
2- Circles as the base of the skull, divided into 2 vertically to place ears, eyes, horns ...
3- Horizontal line that joins the muzzle, the eye and the ear
4- Rectangular or cylindrical shapes to make snouts and beaks.
5- Always remember to compare the distances and sizes between one feature and another!

Portrait composition.

Whether you're working with references or creating your own character, consider the following aspects to achieve an interesting portrait that speaks to the personality of the person being portrayed. (I love drawing animals, so most of the examples I'm going to use are with animal characters, or anthropomorphic).

* Framing:
It refers to the amount of information that we include within the limit of the canvas. A portrait is usually represented as a head, bust, or medium shot. A larger frame (that is, with more information, for example a shot where the whole body enters, or where the background is very large) would distract from the character's face and would no longer be considered a portrait. I think that frames like the following are the most efficient for portraits:

* Contrasting backgrounds:
At this point you have to think of the background as a frame or context of the figure (that is, the face). In order to focus the viewer's attention on the character, the background must be consistent with the tones and complexity of the character portrayed. With the latter I mean that it is convenient that background and figure have opposite characteristics; If the face is very smooth, perhaps a textured background would help to highlight it; if the face is very pale, a background of medium tones will be enough to distinguish it; if the face is very dark, a lighter background will help more to define the contours, etc. Also, a very complex or highly detailed background would distract from the face; it is usually best to keep it simple.

* Direction of the face that highlights the gesture or characteristic in which you want to emphasize:
Depending on the attributes of the character that we want to make, and according to the attribute that you are most interested in highlighting, it is good to choose the direction or point of view that that face will have. The most common views are front, profile, or partial profile. It is also good to consider less common points of view, such as high or low, to generate different effects.

* Direction of the portrayed gaze:
The eyes are the most important point of the portrait, it is what most highlights the personality. Give your character attitude considering where he is looking, in such a way that it helps to identify his personality and at the same time guide the view. Making the character look in a different direction than his face is pointing adds dynamism to the composition.

* Directions within the image to direct the viewer to the character's face:
The position of the body, hair, clothes and ornaments complement the figure. With such a small frame, it is important to make maximum use of the available elements to show the character and his attributes. Guide the viewer's gaze using hair, jewelry or ornaments, tattoos ... without forgetting that the most important point in a portrait is usually the character's eyes. Keep in mind that the combinations of different types of line (curves, straight lines, etc.) and of different directions, is what gives dynamism to the posture. In traditional art, this technique of structural axes with opposite directions is called Contraposto, in case you want to investigate further. It's especially useful on full-body figures!

Tips for beginners who want to draw Portraits with reference

* Choice of reference
When defining the volumes correctly, it is important that we can see it well. Using photos or a live model with strong lights and shadows will help a lot especially in the sketch stage, and more than anything if you are beginners. This is even more important when trying to portray someone or something with a very smooth and wrinkle-free surface, where a very clear or subtle light will make it look very flat and make it difficult to interpret the volume. The same happens when the reference is too dark, where the boundaries between one element and another are lost.

(This I just said is useful more than anything for beginners, since a person with more training can probably see the structure on a face more easily even though it has very uniform light)

* Caricature and characteristic features
The most basic elements to use to achieve an interesting character design or look are characteristic traits. Look for the most prominent features, whether they are small, large, close together, apart, wide or thin. It is these basic characteristics that, when used and / or exaggerated, give the character the resemblance to the model or personality. Which of the following is most similar to the model?

In each one, a different trait is further exaggerated. Number 1 is probably the closest, since the most prominent feature in the reference is the nose.
For this reason, it is essential to identify the features and their importance within the face; to be able to balance its proportions according to the drawing style of each one.


Also when we think of portraiture, the first thing that comes to mind is a serious or serene face, but it doesn't have to be that way. Explore the expressions of the person or character you are portraying to better interpret their personality. It is very useful to explore the work of other people in this because emotions, although they are very universal, are represented differently depending on the artist but still they make us interpret them in more or less the same way. I highly recommend studying comedians, cartoons, comics, Japanese comics, and concept art from animated films.
This is especially useful when you are exploring character design.

The trick in this is to "warp" the face that is being drawn. Study well the expression you want to make to know what deformations to make (even in realism!). If we take as an example the first gesture of the fox character (the first if we count from left to right), he has an expression of disgust that makes him frown, throw his ears back, turn his mouth to the side and even frown a little The snout.

Shadows and volume: basic value structure.

Light and volume are highly dependent on each other when it comes to building a figure. Keeping the volume in mind you can illuminate the drawing with greater precision; With the lighting in view, the volume can be better interpreted.
My advice is that when studying these aspects, create a simplified model of the volume using value planes (that is, with grays: light grays to mark where there is light, dark grays to mark the shadow). The advantage of this method is that it can be applied to different types of head. This will later serve to establish a correct lighting structure. The basic drawing structure that we have been seeing can be very useful in this step. Keep in mind that at this point, it is most useful to do this scheme with a maximum of 4 shades of gray, to keep things simple and easy.

When working with reference, it is a bit easier. Use the light seen in the image as a guide to establish the structure. Here I show you different ways of doing that shading, from a more complex vision to a simpler one. The last example incorporates the guide lines for the structure of the face, and you can see that the shape of the light and shadow areas match the shapes and key points of this structural guide.

In addition, to help capture the lights and shadows and, taking advantage of the facilities of digital programs, in cases where there is reference, it is useful to convert the image to grayscale so that the color does not distract. This is useful for both simple and realistic work, because those shadows define the shapes and help us capture them better, especially if the resemblance to the model is sought.

Even if you don't paint very realistically, it is very useful to make at least a small size, a quick grayscale light outline. Lighting is the best indicator to know the shape of the volume of the face.

My process when taking portraits and a review of what we have seen so far.

I'm going to show you step by step the drawing process for the characters on the cover of this tutorial.

1- Quick sketch of the posture and basic structure.

2- Refinement of the sketch, adding volume and characteristics.

3- Even more refined, size correction, addition of details and features.

4- Definition of the final sketch

5- Definitive lineart.

6- Base color + Lights + Shadows + Details.

(I used the same base for both drawings, that's why they are so similar)

Thanks and contact

I want to especially thank the support of family and friends who helped me with photos to analyze and who agreed to be immortalized on the internet by this means!

Thanks for watching this tutorial. Feel free to leave me suggestions for my next tutorials, or even this one!

If you like my work, you can follow me on my drawing Instagram: @barbara_brutti_ilustraciones


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