Illustrated Portraits

Schin Loong’s Butterfly Kisses

According to Stanley, the eyebrows are the most important area in capturing an expression. “Like the human face, the eyes pretty much stay the same shape; it’s eyebrows that help create an expression.

“You can say a lot with the position of the eyebrow in relation to the eye,” he says. “The higher the eyebrow, the more of a surprised look is achieved; the lower it is, the more of a scowl you get. Having one eyebrow higher than the other creates a cheeky expression.”

Fascinator and Persephone by Kath Morgan

Paying attention to lighting and composition can also give a portrait impact. “Using the flow of hair, lines or objects, I try to direct the viewer’s eye to the face,” says Schin. “This can also be done using colour gradation or just manipulating the space around it. I try to keep it so there is no dead space in my painting and [there’s] always something interesting to look at, even if it is just flat colour.”

Flattering angles
A head-on face-to-face pose is best for capturing the whole face but, according to Peter, a low angle is less favourable if you’re going for flattery, as it will accentuate the chin and neck. “For me the ideal facial pose is three-quarters,” he says. “A half-turn of the head looks slightly less formal, less passport photo-ish and also shows off the nose slightly better.”

Painter Michael C Hayes ( feels you can get good poses, movement, expressions and a sense of life by combining two things. The first is to build “a visual library and an aesthetic sense, through experience and practice, of what works well visually”.

Paul Nixon by Anje Jager, for the German magazine Intersection

Michael says that when you draw from observation and you see something that jumps out at you as extraordinary – from the twist of a dancer’s body to the subtle parting of a person’s lips – you should make a note of it in your head.

His second piece of advice is obtain a good selection of reference materials for the particular expression or pose that you want for your piece.

“A good camera, lighting and model will pay dividends,” he says. “You use the photo reference to fill in the gaps of your memory, and you use your memory, experience and aesthetic sense to improve upon or deviate from your reference where it falls short.”

Princesita and Yes You, by Vincent Bakkum

Michael likes to use a main light source. “Even when I add in secondary light, I make sure to keep one [source] dominant,” he says. “From there it is a matter of physics: no area in the shadow can be brighter than the areas in light. It sounds simple, yet so many artists really struggle with it.”

Peter feels that good directional lighting – where one light source is cast against one side of the face – is preferable. “A light source above will cast shadows over the eyes and may create problems in getting a hold of the likeness,” he says.

Another common issue is keeping the proportions consistent, particularly if the figure is standing.

“You can easily end up with big feet and a tiny head,” advises Kath Morgan. “On paper, tilt your image so that it’s in line with your face, and your eye will stop trying to compensate for perspective. Digitally, make sure you look at your sketch zoomed right out from time to time, and flip it often.”

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