A guide to structured, expressive portrait drawings with Ned Mueller

This is a series of portrait drawings and photos of the step by step process. This shows the process from initial block in to the finished portrait. It does not show or explain everything that I am thinking and/or am actually doing, but gives a pretty good general idea of how I approach most of my drawings. The online videos go more into detail about the whole process that I use and covers more things as to proportions, structure and more details on the generic make up of the eye, nose, mouth, and ears. I think the hardest thing to understand and do..is to see beyond the details of the face and get the underlying structure of the face by understanding the planes of the head and how they are so important to not only getting a more expressive portrait, but also a solid looking portrait! Hope that you enjoy these examples.

If you are interested to learn more about the portrait painting process CLICK HERE to see my full feature videos.

1: Photo of the subject-  It is an advantage and almost a necessity when learning particularly to have a great model or photo with strong, (and interesting) light and shadow patterns. 

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2: Simple initial block in  to get the general shape and proportion of the head. Get something down lightly, even if it is way wrong so that you can compare and see with the model whether it is too long, too narrow, too wide, etc. Block in loosely and lightly until you feel that you have the large proportion and shape of the head- width to the height. If we get this too wrong..everything else will not fit properly. 

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3: Block in the shape of the hat in proportion or relationship to the rest of the head. Block in (again lightly) the location of the eyes, nose, mouth, cheek bones, moustache, goatee and collar..constantly comparing their size and relationship to each other. I explain the simple proportions and other important relationships of all of this in the video. 

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4: Start to block in the shadow side of the head with the the shadows, cast shadows and half tones. Mostly working large shapes to small shapes...important to learn how to look beyond the little shapes and detail and see those larger shadow and half tone shapes. Learning the planes of the head and how light is affected by them can help to see how the larger shape relationships are important so that the head does not get too busy and loose its larger structure.   

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5: Develop the light side of the face and collar..here again trying to see and interpret the larger dark and light shapes into an interesting design or composition as how the collar, hat and background relate to each other in an interesting way. Try to remember that it is our job to make shapes and values , darker or lighter, edges sharper of softer in a way that it  is all orchestrated into a pleasing drawing..no easy task and often trial and error and doing a lot of drawings is the best teacher and learning from our mistakes.       

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 6: Working on fine tuning the drawing..sharpening or softening edges. Example: Sharpening the shadow of the nose as it falls across the structure of the eye..helping to explain the shape of the eye and its folds...softening the bulbulous part of the nose as it disappears into the shadow. Usually sharper edges will be found where there is bone as opposed to softer edges as in the cheek and areas around the mouth. All of these smaller adjustments take close observation and really make the difference between just a good portrait and a great portrait. Try and have fun with all of this..we are all making mistakes and learning to see them and make corrections in this wonderful learning process!     

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Extra Portrait: Actual Photo of Model, drawing and a close up.


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If you liked this post and would like to learn more about the portrait painting process CLICK HERE to see my full feature videos.


Gabor Svagrik8 Comments