Legend has it that John Singer Sargent would tell people who complimented him on his drawing ability to capture a likeness of someone that likeness is more in the shape of the person's skull, the way a person "holds" his or her body, and the basic location of the features than in the details. That's why you can recognize someone far down the street. For Sargent, the placement of the eye sockets and the shape of the head are the crucial aspects in drawing people. "Do not concentrate so much on the features," he was quoted as saying. "Paint the head. The features are only like spots on an apple." A good example of Sargent's theory at work appears on the cover of our Fall 2006 issue of Drawing, a sketch of the writer William Butler Yeats.
Many people throughout history have asserted that likeness is in the eyes. They are the "windows on the soul," the feature people often comment on (perhaps also because comments about the eyes are almost always either netural or positive, as opposed to possible comments about someone's nose or chin). Hair, in contrast, can change in both color and shape depending on fashion and whim.
Many artists begin a drawing or painting with one of the sitter's eyes. Some artists start with an ovoid shape and place the line going down the middle of the face, intent on the gesture and posture of the head. Others think strictly in terms of value or color temperature, using light and dark or warm and cool to situate the head and to suggest the features.
What facial feature do you find to be the best indicator of a sitter's likeness?