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Proportions
and portraits

Joe's Creative Journal

1998, Year 1
No. 3, Aug 6

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Preface

This series is not intended to be a university course. I am not an art scholar, I am just a painter. I will tell you some secrets I stumbled about - as I later found out, I was not the first, of course, you can even find them in books. Nevertheless, it is hard to decipher them, so I will take the pain to spread the word. My motto will be, as always: Als ich kan (from a painting of Jan van Eyck, found as a citation in a modern mathamatical book, meaning: as good as I might).

Your appreciation will give me the power and strength to endure. It is for you and all the great masters that I do this work, and I hope you will enjoy it. So don't hesitate to send me your feedback in order to help me with that goal! This kind of journal is new to the net, so please tell me if the size is ok (images are great, but big!).

As I am writing in a foreign language, I am not sure to express myself correctly, but I hope you will be able to guess what I mean any time.

Also, I invite you to join in my effort. Send me your articles and comments to be published in this journal.

Yours truly,
joe

Proportions and portraits


Last week we did a children's game, drawing faces with extreme simple means. Remember, I gave you evidence that this is not so small a game? Charlie Brown made his inventor become millionaire, riding in a red Ferrari. And Picasso used simple drawings all his life to loosen his soul and get himself going. (In case you don't know where to see examples of this, email me, I'll be glad to show you.)

Of course, it was just a technique in both cases, this does not mean that you become rich whenever you try to be simple. We just want to have fun, feel good, and if we find our way to make some money with this, too, that's all right, but this is not our goal.

Ok, here we go: What is a portrait all about? After all, there are lots of people esteeming this to be high art worth a buck, so maybe you can finance your vacation in Paris by drawing portraits on Montparnasse! I know you can achieve this 'cause I taught my pupils successfully in one of my former lifes. We collected the first drawings to compare them to later ones, it was stunning indeed (maybe I'll show you later).

So here I'll tell you another secret: Portraying is all about proportions! And proportions is something we are not aware of in every day life, but our right brain is all the time and does all sorts of things with them.

This is really amazing! You are completely unaware of this mechanism. If you try to portray yourself or someone else, you will be totally shocked by the result! You won't understand at all how you could ever draw such horrible things! You will feel ashamed as you were when you first found out that things look different from what you drew.

First portrait
First portrait
Now this just shows that you draw what you think and not what you see. But how come? You tried so hard! You stared at the mirror or your loved one or whatever and you just could not get it right! No wonder you feel completely crashed. You just don't have no talent whatsoever and should keep miles from any pencil so that this experience won't disturb you never in your life again!

I know. This is really hard to bear. But it is easy. Really easy. You just did not look right. You were at your left brain. Analytical. Concept driven. Digital minded. What we all were trained at. An eye is kind of an almond shape with a ball in it. A nose is a very prominent organ. A face is what you wanted to draw. What is a face? Starts at eyes ends with mouth. The rest barely has a name. How do you call that part above the eyebrows? Forehead. And that above the forehead? Nothing. You have no name, so you can't draw it. That's why it looks funny.

Second portrait
Second portrait
Look at the self portrait I did as a young man, some 20 years from now! (The scribble is from my younger daughter, about 10 years later. Curly hair was cool then.) I pasted black lines at exactly 25 pixels distance each into this scan (check it with your graphics program, there is some optical delusion). The first line is at about the end of the chin, the second at about the end of the nose, the third at about the position of the eyes, the fourth at about the end of the forehead, the fifth at some point where my skull might have its highest point.

I bet you would not believe it if you were not to see this picture with my proof! The eyes are at nearly the middle of the head! There is as much space on top of the eyes as below! I got a big nose all right, but the nose is far smaller than you think! And the chin and the forehead are much bigger. A first exercise in proportion. Think about it! This should hit you hard!

Eye and mouth
Eye and mouth
If you were uneducated, you'd probably draw eyes and mouth like I did at left. You'd draw a concept. You would not draw what you see but what you know. You know that there is an iris swimming between eyelids and you would draw just that concept. The result would not be an eye as you see it.

It is very easy to get around this: Don't draw the lids and the iris! Draw the white in the eye! You ain't got a concept of that and that's why your left side is stuck immediately! You got to see! You got to really look at the white and the shape and the development of the lines bordering that white shape and here the right brain takes over! This is where it's great at! And you know nothing about it! Same with the mouth. And other stuff. Try it! It works! And you will get a perfect eye.

(Credits: This special trick with the white to concentrate upon is not my invention. You find it in Betty Edwards' books on drawing and the brain split.)

When I was at school, my teacher told me a trick well known among artists of old school: Stretch out your arm so that your hand is at maximum fixed length from your body, hold your pencil upright, close one eye, aim at your object and measure the size you're interested in with the tip of the pencil and your finger holding your pencil (could be a brush or anything like it as well). Then compare this with other sizes of your object, preferably those of equal length. You'll be astonished how fast you find out about your misconceptions about proportions. See my self portrait above. Perfect example. Once you get accustomed to it, you'll find yourself measuring all the time. It's fun! I vividly remember my pupils measuring the whole lesson.

Last week:
Strokes and faces

Next week:
Working towards Montparnasse

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