The Trouble with Heads

Have you ever been working on a painting, specifically the head part of a figure and it just won’t materialize the way you envisioned. I recently had this happen and thought I’d share my remedy to “the head that will not work“.

It’s good in the beginning to realize the reference head is a difficult one. What makes one head more of a challenge than another? I’ve brought out some of my older portrait studies to see.

face1

The example above is a easier head because it has strong lighting which defines the planes, but more important it is straight on vertically and horizontally. Not the most interesting pose, but definitely the easiest.

example2

This one is more difficult, although there are some good defining shadows the head is not only tilted to one side, but tilted upwards, Notice how the ears are going lower on the side of the face, this is always the tell tail sign of a head tilted up.

example3

In many ways this head is more difficult than the one above because it is so slightly tipped to one side and tilted up (notice the under side of the chin being visible). This being a rounder, softer face makes it more challenging than one with sharp angles.

example4

An extreme angle like this is hard because it’s a strain to come to terms with the fact that the nose can appear to touch the eye. This is when you have to trust what you see and not what you think you know.

After I’ve made a few attempts at a face from photo reference and it just isn’t working this is what I do:

Making sure the photo head is the same size as the painting head, I draw a square box around the head, placing the head at one side. Label the size of the box, than divide it into eighths if need be. In this photo the right side of the box was mostly her hair, a shape I could easily grasp so I only divided the left side of the box.

example5

On the painting, draw the same size box where the head is. Using the divisions as guide lines, draw in the main elements in the correct locations. Sometimes I’ll do a dry run on a piece of scrap canvas.

IMG_2597

Here is the box and pencil drawing on the canvas. Now I see it! The hair line was off, but I know have a good guide to move forward.