Human faces are great at teaching beginners the importance of proportionality when learning how to draw.
What makes the topic so fascinating, is learning that our brain is changing incoming visual signals to fit our preconceived conceptions.
For example, would you believe all four of these men below are of the same size?
Or how about this table. Does the surface of one look larger than the other?
As strange as this may same, the x4 men all all the same size, and the tabletop surfaces are of equal size too!
This phenomenon is called “visual constancy” and it throws us off when drawing.
The chopped off skull and misplaced ear
Two critical relationships beginners seem to struggle with is the location of the eyes, and the location of the ear in profile view.
Look at this early picture titled ‘Carpenter’ by Vincent van Gogh.
Early on in his career, van Gogh struggled with problems of proportion. Like most of us, he put the eyes too high, and the ears too far forward.
Two years later, you can see how van Gogh had solved his problems with this much more proportionally correct picture titled ‘Old Man Reading’.
The eyes on the human head are actually located ½ way down the face.
The the ears on the profile view are the same distance from the eye level to the chin.
Eye level to chin equals back of the eye to back of ear.
Once you grasp these non-refutable dimensions, drawing human faces becomes much easier. Here is an exercise where Betty asks her students to copy this picture called ‘Mme. Pierre Gautreau’ by John Singer Sargent.
The picture looks deceptively simple, but mastering and getting down the proportions is critical.
Here is my attempt.
It’s not great. It’s also not bad. I tried really hard to get the eyes, lips, and ears in the right place. But you can also see where I didn’t quite get the neck width right, or the mouth and chin (maybe this is a picture of her mother).
Anyways, the important thing to note is that there are critical maxims and rules of thumb to master if one is going to draw the human face correctly.
Back to the drawing board 🙂