If you’ve ever tried your hand at portraiture, you’ll know that drawing from photographs has its advantages and disadvantages. Deciding whether to draw from life or from photographic reference should be a matter of choosing the practical path. Drawing from life will allow an artist to see a fuller value range than what can be observed in a photograph, while drawing from a photograph of a child, say, rather than asking the child to pose, can make a difficult task much more manageable.
Either way, every artist should try drawing portraits from photos at least once. You never know – it might suit your style perfectly, or enhance your work significantly.
It’s easy to get started; just download this free tutorial.
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ZZZZZ by Sandra Angelo, 2003, 11×14.
Shades of Gray by Carrie Ballantyne, 2002, colored pencil, 15 x 12. Private collection.
How to Draw Portraits from Photographs
A lot of artists concentrate on the eyes when starting a portrait. Some concern themselves with the general shape of the head, while others may find that likeness resides in the mouth. But many beginners are filled with trepidation at tackling the most changeable, finely detailed, and idiosyncratic feature of a person: the hair. Sandra Angelo will teach you how to master the fine details of your subjects hair in light and shadow.
Untitled by Sandra Angelo, 1994, pencil. Private collection.
Choosing Reference Photos
Like most folks, even if you discriminate, you’ll likely come up with more good photos than you can draw in your lifetime. Be selective and choose only photos that lend themselves to creating dynamic portraits. You can do this by shooting several reference photos of the same scene from different angles, or enhancing existing reference images on your computer. There are plenty of tips anyone can try in this free ebook.
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