Drawing the Head and Hands

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A Short Chat with the Reader

How fortunate it is for the human race that every man, woman, and child is tagged with an individual and identifiable face! If all faces were identical, like the labels on a brand of tomatoes, we would be living in a very mixed-up world. When we think of it, life is mainly a continuous flow of experiences and contacts with people, different people. Suppose for a moment that Jones, the egg man, was the exact counterpart of Smith, the banker; that the face across the table might be that of Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Coldblatt, or Mrs. Trotsky—you couldn’t be sure which. Suppose all the faces in the magazines and newspapers and on television were reduced to one male and one female type, what a dull thing life would be! Even if your face has not been your fortune, even if it is far from beautiful, still, nature really gave us all a pretty good break, for at least we are individuals and can each be thankful for having a face, good or bad, that is undeniably our own.

This individuality of faces can be an intensely interesting study for anyone, and especially for anyone with the slightest talent for drawing. Once we begin to comprehend some of the reasons for the differences, our study becomes all- absorbing. Through our faces, nature not only identifies us but tells the world a good deal more about each of us. Our thoughts, our emotions and attitudes, even the kind of lives we live, register in our faces. The mobility of the flesh—that is, the power of expression—adds more than mere identity.

Let us give more than casual attention to the endless procession of faces moving in and out of our consciousness. Setting aside the psychological and emotional phases of expression, we can express in simple language the basic technical reasons for the smile, the frown, and all the variations that we call facial expression. We say that a person can look guilty, ashamed, frightened, content, angry, smug, confident, frustrated, and a host of other ways too numerous to tabulate. A few embedded muscles attached to the bones of the skull provide the mechanics for every expression, and these muscles and bones are not complicated or difficult to learn! What a wealth of interest lies within!

Let me say at the beginning that to draw a head effectively is not a matter of “soul searching” or mind reading. It is primarily a matter of interpreting form correctly in its proportion, perspective, and lighting. All other qualities enter the drawing as a result of the way that form is interpreted. If the artist gets that right, the soul or character is revealed. As artists, we only see, analyze, and set down. A pair of eyes drawn constructively and in correct values will appear to be alive because of craftsmanship, not because of the artist’s ability to read the sitter’s soul.

The element that contributes most to the great variation of identities is the difference in the shapes of the skull itself. There are round heads, square heads, heads with wide and flaring jaws, elongated heads, narrow heads, heads with receding jaws. There are heads with high domes and foreheads, and those with low. Some faces are concave, and others convex. Noses and chins are prominent or receding. Eyes are large or small, set wide apart or close together. Ears are all kinds of shapes and sizes. There are lean faces and fat faces, big-boned and small-boned ones. There are long lips, wide lips, thin lips, full lips, protruding lips, and equal variety in the sizes and shapes of noses. You can see that, by cross multiplication of these varying factors, millions of different faces will be produced. Of course, by the law of averages certain combinations of factors are bound to reappear. For that reason people who are not related sometimes closely resemble each other. Every artist has had the experience of being told by someone that a head he has painted or drawn looks like that person or like an acquaintance or relative of the speaker.

For the artist’s purpose, the simplest plan is first to think of the skull as being pliable and having taken a certain shape as a result of pressures—as if one squeezed a rubber ball into various shapes without changing its actual volume. Although skulls have a great variety of shapes, actual measurements tally very closely, which means that the volume is about the same and only the shape is different. Suppose we model a skull in soft clay, then, between boards, press it into various shapes. Thus out of the same volume we can make a narrow head, a wide head, flaring jaws, and all the other types. How heads got to bee this way is not our prob­lem, which is only to analyze and thus determine the type of skull in the particular head we wish to draw. Later, when you become more familiar with the construction of the skull, you will be able to show these variations so successfully that you will be able to draw practically any type you choose and make it convincing.

At the same time you can set down understandingly any type before you. By the time you understand how the flesh is distributed over the bones of the face, you will be able to vary the expression of the same head. The thing to remember is that the skull is fixed in position, and, with the exception of the jaw, immovable, and that the flesh is mobile and ever-changing, and also affected by health, emotion, and age. After the skull is fully matured, it remains the same through life and is a structural foundation for the varying appearance of the flesh. Therefore the skull is always the basis of approach, and all other identifying features are built into or upon it.

From the skull we get the spacing of the features, which is more important to the artist than the features themselves. The features must take their proper places in our construction. If they do, we have little trouble in drawing them. Trying to draw the features without having located them properly is an almost hopeless task. Eyes do strange things; mouths leer instead of smile; faces take on weird and unholy expressions. In trying to correct a face that appears to be out of drawing, the chances are that we will do just the wrong thing. Instead of moving an eye into its socket, we trim down a cheek; if a jaw line is out. we add more forehead. We should know, in first laying in the outline, that the whole head is in construction.

This I am sure you can learn from the pages that follow.The big difference between the completely amateur attempt and the well-grounded approach is that the beginner starts by setting eyes, ears, noses, and mouths into blank white space, surrounded by some sort of an outline for the face. This is drawing in the two dimensions of height and width only. We must somehow get into the third dimension of thickness, which means that we must draw the whole head as it exists in space and build the face upon it. By doing so we are able not only to place the features, but also to establish the planes of light and shadow, and, further, to identify the humps, bumps, and creases as being caused by the underlying structure of muscle, bone, and fat.

To help the beginner to start out with this third dimension, many approaches are suggested by various teachers. Some use an egg shape; others a cube or block. Some even start with one feature and start building the form out around it until the whole head is encompassed. However, all these involve many chances for error. Only the front view of the head looks like an egg, and even that gives no line of the jawbone. In profile the head is not like an egg. As for the cube, there is no accurate way of setting the head into it. The head is totally unlike a cube from any angle. The only value the cube has in drawing heads is to help set the construction lines into perspective, as you will learn later. It seems more logical to start with a shape that is basically like the skull, one that is simple to draw and is accurate for purposes of construction. This can be done by drawing a ball resembling the cranium, which is round but flattened somewhat at the sides, and attaching the jawbone and features to it.

Some years ago I hit upon this plan and made it the basis of my first book. Fun with a Pencil. I am happy to say that the plan was received with great enthusiasm and is now widely used in schools and by professional artists. Any direct and efficient approach must presuppose the skull and its parts and its points of division. It is just as reasonable to start drawing a wheel with a square as it is to start drawing a head with a cube. By cutting off corners and further trimming the square you could eventually come out with a fairly good wheel. You could also chip away the cube until you had a head. But at best it’s a long way around. Why not start with the circle or ball? If you can’t draw a ball, use a coin or a compass. The sculptor starts with a form of the general shape of the face attached to the ball of the cranium. He could not do otherwise.

I present this simple plan in this volume since it is the only approach that is at the same time creative and accurate. Any other accurate approach requires mechanical means, such as the projector, tracing, the pantograph, or using a squared-off enlargement. The big question is really whether you wish to develop the ability to draw a head, or whether you are content to use mechanical means of projecting it. My feeling is that, if the latter were the case, you would not have been interested in this book. When your bread and butter depends upon creating an absolute likeness, and you do not wish to gamble, make the best head you can by any means possible. However, if your work is to give you joy and the thrill of accomplishment. I urge you to aim at the advancement of your own ability.

The drawings on this site show the possibilities of developing all kinds of types out of the variations of skulls. After you have learned to set up the ball and plane, you can do almost anything you please with it, fitting all parts into the construction by the divisions you make across the middle line of the face. You have at your disposal jaws, ears, mouths, noses, and eyes, all of which may be large or small. The cheekbones may be set high or low, the upper lip may be long or short, the cheeks full or sagging. By different combinations of these, you can produce an almost endless variety of characters. It will be great fun for you to experiment.

Although the construction of any head involves more or less the same problems, this page is divided into sections off drawing men, women, and children of various ages. As we shall see, though the technical differences are slight, there is considerable difference in approach and feeling. The technical problems arc explained in Part One, and the knowledge acquired from that is applied in the later sections on heads.

To be able to draw hands convincingly is also very important to the artist, and in this field too there is little material available. So Part Five has been included to help you understand the principles of construction on which realistic rendering of hands must be based.

Now let’s get to work in earnest.