Capturing Expressions in Portraits

The above drawing done here at the studio is a wonderful example of a well drawn face created by a talented aspiring artist. I always tell my students that in learning portraiture, the primary goal of the novice should be to make their picture look plausibly human, which of course hinges on getting proportions correct.
Without correct proportions and an understanding of structure through the recognition of the anatomy of bone and muscle, a face can end up looking like a monster. Getting consistent with proportion and structure is something that takes a great deal of practice, and unless a student is luckily gifted, there will be quite a few monsters drawn along the way towards mastery.
But once an aspiring artist begins to consistently achieve proportional accuracy, the focus of their aim becomes that of nailing what we call “likeness”. Likeness in portraiture simply means that the representation of a face is that of a specific person, with all attendant details described faithfully (gender, age, racial characteristics, individuality of features etc.). All of these further descriptors are defined again, through proportional accuracy, e.g. size, shape, alignment, angles. 
A further level of subtlety that a portrait artist strives for is that of capturing the expression of the individual, those subtle clues that let us understand one’s emotional state. A request that I’ve heard more than a few times over the years is how to convey the “smiling eyes” of an individual. That one has honestly stumped me because as I see it, the eyes themselves, along with the lids, have a limited amount of emotion they can convey, of which “smiling” or “happiness” wouldn’t be among them. Off the top of my head, some of the emotions that I feel that the  eyes themselves, without any other cues from surrounding features, can convey are alertness, fatigue, fear, surprise, anger. These all have to do with the relationship of the iris and pupil to the eyelids. We’ll take a look at this more closely in the following post.
So what are the parts of the face to pay particular attention to when describing a broad range of emotions? In the next blog post, I’ll give my thoughts on what I feel they are.

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