Technique Tuesdays: Mixed-Media Faces Made Easy

Creating mixed-media faces is fun and inspiring, and portraits add so much to art journal pages, collages–even stitched projects. But rendering a face can be daunting–how to make features look realistic? What’s the best way to play with proportion and positioning? These 10 artist’s tips and techniques are designed to help you get started creating faces, or refine your skills. With a little practice, you’ll be making faces come to life in no time.

  1. The key to drawing a lifelike face is in the details, and Dina Wakley lists those in her book, Art Journal Courage. Tip #1: If drawing a face with a thick pencil, skip the eyelashes—drawing them in can make them look unnatural. Instead, use a darker stroke on the lash line to give the look of eyelashes. Tip #2: Don’t draw a straight line between the top and bottom lip; this can make the lips look clown-like. Include a small dip in the middle of the line, and make the bottom lip rounded or a little square. Tip #3: Don’t draw in too much hair. Trying to draw every strand is a common mistake. Just draw in the suggestion or overall shape of a hairstyle.
Create hair for mixed-media faces by drawing in the shape and coloring it.

No need to draw every strand of hair; drawing the shape and adding color is all it takes. (Art by Dina Wakley, photo by Christine Polomsky)

  1. To render mixed-media faces in fabric, start with a photo printed on printable fabric, converting the image to black and white and adjusting the contrast and exposure so the image is very faint. In her article “Girl With Blue Arms” in the Fall 2015 issue of Faces magazine, Karin Winter says that after printing the photo, she cut it around the edges and pin it to a fabric collage background. Create hair by making straight stitches, starting with the darkest shade and adding lighter thread. Stitch in details around the eyes, nose, and lips, enlarging the photo if necessary to see fine details. Use fabric pieces to define areas of the face that are highlighted. Karen incorporated regular fabric, pink tulle, and sheers to create a face with depth and dimension.
Add dimension to mixed-media faces with fabric and stitch.

Add dimension and texture to mixed-media faces with fabric and stitch. (Art by Karin Winter, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Classic face proportion finds the eyeline in the middle of the face, and the nose and mouth in the lower quarter. But in her book Imaginary Characters, Karen O’Brien says it’s okay to break the rules and play with proportion to develop your own unique mixed-media faces. Draw face shapes that are round, oval, elongated, or pear shaped. Draw a classic guideline grid for the features, but play with the shape, size, and distance of the eyes, nose, and mouth. For example, keep the nose and mouth on the correct guidelines, but move the eyes up or down, or make them more narrow or wide. Make the features oversized, petite, or a combination of both.
Change up the positioning and proportions of features for unique faces.

Changing the proportions and positioning of facial features results in unique faces. (Art by Karen O’Brien)

  1. Carve a portrait stamp and you’ll have that face forever to use on art journal pages, cards, tags, and invitations. Start with a photo (ones with strong shadows work well) and prepare it for transferring, says Julie Fei-Fan Balzer in her book Carve, Stamp, Play. Convert the photo to black and white, erase the background, darken the photo if necessary, and, if using Photoshop, choose the Cutout filter in the Filter Gallery. Transfer the image to a carving block, mark the parts you’ll be carving away (Julie covers those areas with colored marker), and carve, using the smallest blade first. Bonus tip: Trust the transfer; don’t try to correct what seems wrong or weird with the image.
Photos can be turned into hand-carved stamp portraits.

Transform a photo into a hand-carved stamp portrait to use on art journal pages, tags, and more. (Art by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, photo by Joe Coca)

  1. Not crazy about your portrait drawing skills? Kari McKnight Holbrook has a solution, and she revealed it in her article “Faux Faces” in the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. She started with a photograph, then colored it, using pastels and other mediums. Choose a photo with a plain background and a subject with a strong definition. Turn the photo to grayscale, increase the contrast, and create a toner-based copy. Choose light, medium and dark shades of PanPastel skin tones, and lay a sheer layer of the medium tone over the entire face. Massage the darker tone into the shaded areas of the face, and then apply the lightest color to the highlighted areas. Add color to the lips, cheeks, and hair, and use pastel pencils to color the eyes. Bonus tip: Once the pupil is colored in, use a slightly dampened paintbrush to deepen the black color.
Turn photos into painterly portraits by layering pastels.

A photograph can be transformed into a painterly portrait by layering pastels. (Art by Kari McKnight Holbrook, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Sculpting a face is much easier than you might think. In the article “Stick Figures” in the September/October 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Rebecca Ruegger used air-dry clay to create ethereal mixed-media faces for her twig assemblages. To create a realistic head, form a solid egg shape from the clay, making sure the size is in proportion to the body. Create slight indentations for the eyes, and taper the chin. Create a nose and ears from clay and attach them to the head, using wet fingers to make sure the pieces stick to the surface. Make basic shapes; they can be refined later on. When the clay is dry, remove any bumps with sandpaper, and fill in any holes or depressions with clay. Draw the eyes and mouth with pencil, and paint the face with oils or acrylics.
Air-dry clay can be used to create sculpted mixed-media faces.

Mixed-media faces can easily be rendered in sculpted air-dry clay and painted with acrylics or oils. (Art by Rebecca Ruegger, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Eyes can often make or break a portrait—if they look unnatural or off, they can affect the entire piece. Take some tips from Jane Davenport from her article “A Whimsical Face” in the Fall 2015 issue of Faces magazine. Draw some eyes in the same scale as your portrait; these will be for practice. Create irises with black pupil centers, adding color at the center of the iris and working out to the edge, like the spokes of a bicycle. Cut out the irises and place them on your drawn face. You may notice that showing the entire iris makes the face look startled; trimming the top quarter of the iris can make it look more natural. Play with the position of the eyes, making sure they’re always aligned. Once you’ve decided how the eyes will appear, draw them in the piece the same way.
The position of the irises can dramatically alter a face.

Changing the position of the irises can dramatically alter a face. (Art and photo by Jane Davenport)

  1. Much of the guesswork when creating a face can be eliminated by mapping it. Pam Carriker shows how simple this process is in her book Creating Art at the Speed of Life. Create a basic head shape, and follow these tips for drawing the features: The eyes are at about the vertical halfway point of the face, and there should be one eye width between the eyes (the entire face is about five eyes wide). The bottom of the nose is halfway between the eye line and the chin, and the nostrils should align with the inside corners of the eyes. The ears are about the same height as the distance from the midpoint of the eyes to the bottom of the nose. And the corners of the mouth extend to the middle of the eyes. Use these guidelines, and you’ll have a well-proportioned face.
Mapping the features helps to create perfectly proportioned mixed-media faces.

Mapping the features helps to create perfectly proportioned mixed-media faces. (Art by Pam Carriker, photo by Joe Coca)

  1. Melissa Averinos loves creating self-portraits: “Each one tells the story of who I was at the time I created it,” she says. Her article “Mixed-Media Self Portrait” in the March/April 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine offers great tips for recreating your own features for a self portrait. First, release the pressure to make the piece look exactly like you; think of it as a symbolic representation of your face. Look in a mirror and think about these questions: Are your eyes almond shaped or round? Close together or far apart? Do you have thin or bold eyebrows? Is your nose short, long, or crooked? Is your mouth wide or narrow, and are your lips thin or plump? The key is to not overthink it, and to use simple shapes—rectangles, triangles, and wonky circles—for the facial features.
Examining your own features helps to create a successful self-portrait.

Examining your own features helps to create a successful self-portrait. (Art by Melissa Averinos, photo by Sharon White Photography)

  1. Funky faces are fun faces, as Denise White proved in her article “Festive, Funky Art Dolls” in the September/October 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Create a whimsical doll face with exaggerated features by first sketching the face, then adding color. She drew oversized eyes and a faux stitched line for the mouth, then added blush to the cheeks with acrylic paint and a big, scruffy brush. Next, block in large areas of paint; she painted the large oval eyes white, then added light brown irises and black pupils. Add more details, such as lines around the eyes and freckles. She drew a simple triangle for a nose and painted it dark brown. A number of mediums can be used to add color: colored pencils, fabric markers, paint crayons—even coffee. To finish, sand the painted areas when dry to soften the color and give the doll an aged appearance.
For funky mixed-media doll faces, exaggerate the features and use paint for bold, opaque color.

For funky mixed-media doll faces, exaggerate the features and use paint for bold, opaque color. (Art by Denise White, photo by Sharon White Photography)

Go on, make a face! Take your skills up a notch with these resources from the North Light Shop!

Learn how to create mixed-media portraits in this Fall 2015 issue of Faces magazine.

Learn how to create mixed-media faces with paint, stitch, found objects, and more, in this Fall 2015 issue of Faces magazine.

Mixed-Media Faces made easy with Kari McKnight Holbrook

No drawing skills necessary to create painterly mixed-media portraits; this Mixed-Media Faces Made Easy video with Kari McKnight Holbrook will show you how.

The Whimsical Face video with Jane Davenport

Let Jane Davenport show you how easy it is to create lovely mixed-media faces in this video, The Whimsical Face.

Art Journaling Live: Face Mask with Pam Carriker video

Start with a stencil to create unique faces; Pam Carriker shows how in this video, Art Journaling Live: Face Mask.

 

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