Portrait Drawing My Way: Workshop 1 – Loosen up!

Have you ever wanted to learn to draw but been too embarrassed?

Or tried to draw but felt that your drawings don’t look “right”?

Do you think you can only draw stick figures?

Well, this is where you belong! Join me for my portrait drawing workshop series, starting at the very beginning… in a slightly unconventional way.

I always wanted to draw but was held back by the above feelings… until a friend of mine told me that anyone can learn to draw – that it is a skill, not a talent.*

Obviously, there are people who have a natural facility for drawing, just as there are people who have a natural facility for accounts. But with practice and perseverance we can all draw, and all do basic accounts.**

My aim here is to inspire you to want to draw, to share some of my excitement with you. I came to drawing the wrong way around – I taught myself initially and inadvertently developed my own approach to drawing and then, when I studied at TAFE, learnt to draw “properly”.

Today we are going to be expressive and free – we’ll do some “proper” drawing next time.

Proportions of the face

I was disappointed when I found that there were rules in art. Made to be broken, but there nonetheless.

These great diagrams of the proportions of the head are from Arty Factory:

Proportions of a head

Proportions of a head by Arty Factory


Proportions of a head

Proportions of a head by Arty Factory

Proportions of a head 3

Proportions of a head by Arty Factory

Proportions of a head

Proportions of a head by Arty Factory

Their website: http://www.artyfactory.com/portraits/drawing_techniques/proportions_of_a_head_1.htm

In brief (and these are all approximate):

  • Viewing from the front, the width of the head is 2/3 its height;
  • The length of the face is divided into four equal parts:
    • Top of head to hairline;
    • Hairline to middle of eyes;
    • Middle of eyes to base of nose;
    • Base of nose to end of chin;
  • The top of the ears are usually level with the eyes;
  • The eyes are halfway down the head;
  • The length of the eye is the same as the distance between the eyes.

As an experiment, I did  a rudimentary drawing trying to squeeze my own face into the grid…but lo! it looks nothing like me. Good evidence that these proportions are a guide only.

Proportions of the face

Trying to fit my face into the standard proportions!

I generally draw from actual observation and only use these guides if I am trying to assess the accuracy of my drawing.

Loosen Up!

Here are two exercises to help you loosen up. We are not thinking about rules at all here – in fact, we know that the end result won’t look “right” so we should be able to relax and enjoy the process.

Before we start, a word about pencil grip. It is best to hold your pencil like this:


Loose pencil grip for drawing

Loose pencil grip for drawing


Rather than like this:


Writing pencil grip

Writing pencil grip


If you hold the pencil in a writing grip, you will be drawing from your wrist instead of using your whole arm. Drawing from the wrist can result in a tighter drawing than you may like.

When drawing detail, I use this grip:


My pencil grip for detailed work

My pencil grip for detailed work


But if I really need to be controlled then I resort to the writing grip.

Exercise 1: Blind Contour

I want you to draw from life instead of from a photo. And who might be a willing model? Who will remain still under your intense scrutiny? Who won’t mind (too much) if the result looks like a cubist still life?

Yep. You.

Please don’t leave! It’ll be fun, I promise!

Set yourself up in front of a mirror and grab a pencil.  Maybe set a timer for 2 or 3 minutes if you want to set yourself a limit.

The purpose of this exercise is to practice close observation.

There are just two rules in this exercise:

  1. You must not look at the page; and
  2. Your pencil must not leave the page.

Here is how I do it:

I focus my eyes on a starting point  and let my eyes closely follow the contour of my face. As my eyes move, I move my pencil. I concentrate very hard on observing every detail of the contour. It is best when starting out to do this exercise very slowly (slower than I am doing it) so that you can really absorb what you are seeing.

My 9 year old daughter took this video of my drawing… with my son playing “Plants vs Zombies” in the background.  Sigh. Here is the link to the short video on YouTube:

Blind Contour Drawing

(The quality of the video is not great – but you get the idea)

I love the way these drawings turn out! They have an abstract beauty about them.


Blind Contour with hair down

Blind Contour with hair down



Blind contour with hair up

Blind contour with hair up

Exercise 2: Scribbling.

This is a similar idea to the blind contour in that the pencil doesn’t leave the page, but I will let you look at the page this time.

We are concentrating on observing light and shade, in this exercise. You can be as vigorous as you like with your scribbling – large strokes, curly marks, whatever you like.

Here is a video of the start of my drawing:

Scribble Drawing

And here is the finished drawing:


Scribble drawing

Doesn't look "right" but I love the process


I would love to see what you come up with! If you are game, you can tweet me  photos of your drawings (@juliamjane). If you are not so game, please send me a message in the Contact Me section and I will give you my email address.

In the next workshop, we will do a “proper” portrait, and we will look at hatching, contour hatching and cross-contour hatching.

Please join me!

*She also said the same thing of singing, but I haven’t yet been able to prove her correct on that front.

**Except perhaps Bernard Black. But he is exceptional in many ways.

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Filed under Portrait Paintings, Portraits, Workshop

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