I finished the painting of Bunny just a day after she left, in a sugar-fueled dawn-light sprint.
Venus of Wilmersdorf by Suzanne Forbes April 21 2016
Although I much prefer to paint my models at night, in electric light, I often finish the details of paintings in as much bright daylight as I can tolerate. While I was working on the details, I remembered a couple of things from when she was here.
As we worked, during the second sitting, Bunny talked about her days with the Glamour-Bombing group. And when she left, she paused in the hallway to take a long look at one of my very few creepy paintings, the one called Chupacabra.
So I decided to give her fey eyes.
Or rather, the brush decided for me, surprising me, and I was pleased.
On the left you can she has a large, centered single highlight on each pupil and on the right, one small and one large on each pupil. You can also see the shadowing of her corneas has increased slightly on the left, making the the highlights seem brighter. This gives the effect that the pupils reflect light the way a cat’s eyes do (which is because the back of their eyeball has this reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum).
Then, because I was still thinking about the “spooky eyes” phenomenon today, I made a couple of eye studies.
As you can see, the highlight in the “regular” eye is offset to the left and double. In addition, it is placed below the shadow meridian cast by the eyelid. The whites of the cornea are most prominent to the sides of the pupil, while in the “spooky” eye the brightest whites gather below the pupil, emphasizing the reflective property of the eye.
Your skull? My skull? Anybody’s skull? We’ve all got skulls inside our heads.
I’m getting ready to teach a class on drawing faces, and the foundation of the face is understanding the skull. Skulls are beautiful and amazing, and much of how our faces appear is produced by their hard shapes, under our skin. So when I draw people, I start with a construction that represents the hard stuff- the lovely round top and the boxy jaw.
I come from a traditional school of illustration where a system for drawing the figure is always based on a construct, a manikin you build inside your own head. The great drawing teachers of the 20th century, such as Andrew Loomis and Burne Hogarth, each had their own system for creating the manikin. And many basic drawing classes start with the idea of representing the head as the simplest possible form, as a circle or oval.
I’d like to share my personal system for drawing the head, which is based on neither a circle nor an oval.
I treat the head as a ball or sphere with a little shape attached- a shape like the box strawberries come in, or the basket you ride in below a hot-air balloon. The ball has a line drawn around its latitude and longitude.
The jaw shape or plate claps onto the front of the ball, like the hinged faceplate of a suit of armor. It attaches halfway down from the latitude line. The longitude line continues down the front of the jaw plate as well.
Becoming comfortable with visualizing and rotating a simple construct like this can give an artist much greater confidence in drawing the head.
My system also creates placement for the ears, attaching to the head at the latitude line and the top of the jaw plate. I know if I’ve drawn the latitude line curving around the ball carefully and I place the top of the ear along it, the placement of the ear will be believable.
The jaw plate creates a surface for the mouth, which is set at the middle of the plate. Its curved surface follows the curve of the sphere, which is very helpful when projecting placement of the mouth in upshots and downshots.
Having a base model as a starting point is also helpful in portraiture. I use it to measure the distinctive features of an individual as well, by the amount they might vary from the base.
I believe you should take what you like and leave the rest, so if my base model doesn’t feel natural to you, why not try Loomis or Hogarth?
No, not emotional perspective, silly! Perspective drawing, the technique for translating three-dimensional space seen by the artist into a two-dimensional picture plane.
Perspective as a system for artists was mostly devised by the painter Paulo Uccello, in the late Middle Ages. He was obsessed with the vanishing point, and also birds (cute!).
You can see him working out the concept in his most famous painting, The Battle of San Romano, where the fallen spears on the ground are used as perspective lines towards the single vanishing point. But these days artists most often use a two-point or even three-point perspective to draw a scene.
Last week I gave my students a horrible unpleasant homework assignment, and a tool to help.
I had them draw an U-Bahn or S-Bahn car interior from one end, which is the worst kind of observed perspective drawing- a deep, narrow space with many rectangular objects. In order to draw something like this, you need to accurately measure the angles of the objects in the scene as they appear to you.
Measuring the angles is hard, even using the traditional tool of a long paintbrush or pencil, because your brain is fighting you.
Your brain says, but I know that seat is really horizontal, it only appears to be angling away from me at 45 degrees. Your brain pushes the angle down, tries to make you draw it too shallow. I thought there had to be a way to fight this tendency of the brain to convert the visual information observed by the eye back into what it knows the space to be. So I made a little tool!
You can make this tool too, in about three minutes. All you need is the clear plastic lid of a takeout food container, a Sharpie, and a round dish.
Cut off the edges of the lid so it’s a flat plane, and trace the circle of the bowl (or any other round thing about 9cm/4″ across) onto it using your Sharpie.
Then draw a clock face on it. Include the numbers! Take your plastic pane and use the hour hand of the clock face to measure the angles of the space you’re drawing, and say to yourself, 3pm, or 8pm, as you measure.
This will help you retain the information more accurately as you go to use it in your drawing.
In class I set up a diorama with the plastic kitchen organizer shelves I use to display my action figures and a 6″ Spidey figure. You can set up a diorama to practise this at home with any rectangular objects on a table, before you go out into the world to practise it in a cafe or bus.
This kind of precisely observed perspective drawing is like wheatgrass for your draughtsmanship. Do a couple of these, and your next drawing will be better. I promise.
You know they do. If human hands were like kitty hands, they’d be easy to draw.
But instead, human hands have a renegade element, a fly in the ointment, a crazy uncle who makes everything complicated. You know why thumbs ruin everything?
Because they operate on an entirely different plane of existence than fingers.
Or at least, they move through a different spatial plane, at a right angle to your fingers.
Let’s look at the basic structure of the hand, then examine this whole spatial plane problem. First, of all, hands (like feet) are wedges. They are not flat.
Why are hands wedges? Partly because the heel of your hand is a thick, muscular body part, with significant bone mass. And partly, because of thumbs.
Your thumb lives downstairs from your hand and fingers, maybe in the janitor’s apartment.
And it’s not just living in a different apartment. Because of opposability, the thumb is anatomically different from the fingers in important ways.
(As you can see in this helpful public domain image I got from wikipedia, verified by my own personal knowledge, thanks to Minerva Durham my incredible anatomy teacher at Parsons!)
The thumb is missing one phalange, the intermediate phalange.
It might be more helpful, however, to think of the thumb as attaching to your hand in a different place than the fingers.
Your thumb and fingers have the same amount of knuckles, three, but the third knuckle of your thumb attaches to the base or heel of your hand instead of at the top of the palm!
It’s like we’re creepy mutants or something.
Your fingers splay out from the top of your palm in a group; your thumb projects from the bottom, on a much larger axis of rotation.
Your thumb rotates from the crazy midden heap of your carpal bones, where things are much more dynamic than at the top of your palm.
So your fingers travel in a pack, while your thumb has its own adventures. A good way to understand this is to draw broad arrows on your fingernails, as shown in the drawings, and observe the difference in the way your thumb points for a few days.
A great way to understand the limited rotational arc of the fingers is to visualise a pack of french fries.
Seeing the hand as a wedge is also important for understanding how the hand attaches to the wrist.
Basically you have a wedge of meat and bone, your hand, pivoting on the junk pile of carpal bones, which are cupped into the ends of your radius and ulna. Your hand doesn’t join your wrist- it pivots on a ball of bones which attaches to your wrist. BJD dolls provide a fabulous reference for this. If you want to draw some awesome wrists, get yourself a BJD doll arm and practise drawing it from every possible angle.
Of course, the best way to draw great hands is to draw bad hands for as long as it takes.
At Parsons I was notorious for choosing the cruelest, harshest, most obsessive teachers and doing whatever awful things they demanded with glee. One of my favorite teachers insisted we spend two entire weeks drawing nothing but hands, and then two weeks doing nothing but feet. I was thrilled, and everyone else was miserable.
I drew hands at home at night, on the subway; I studied my hands obsessively and read my books on how to draw hands for hours.
I wanted the confidence and power of being able to draw hands as accurately as I drew figures, so that I would never be limited in the poses I could draw.
It was really, really hard, and it was worth it. I can’t recommend it enough, taking the time to learn to draw hands really well.
And once you can draw hands, feet are no big deal!
Intellectually, you know this. You can feel it, round as a ball bearing, spinning in the aqueous humour of your eye socket.
Yet most people instinctively draw the eye as two ellipses, meeting at their pointed ends. ()
This is a perfectly serviceable beginning, but it’s only the beginning of understanding the proportions and dynamics of a human eye. First, consider the pupil. It takes up a relatively small amount of the eyeball sphere, but nearly a third of the visible eye.
We see only a section of the eyeball, one orange segment.
The rest is hidden behind eyelids and the fine skin that stretches over the eye socket, from the browbone and zygomatic arch. If you touch your eye sockets with your fingertips, you can feel all the eyeball underneath that thin skin, and all the floaty liquid that cradles your eyeball in its bone housing.
Your eyelids are like slices of baloney draped around your eyeball.
Like wrapping a baseball in horsehide, the eyelid skin has to follow the curve of the sphere. The skin has thickness of its own, a couple of millimeters.
The eyelashes project from the leading edge of the top surface of the eyelid, not from that couple-millimeter perpendicular plane. You’d be awfully sad if your eyelids didn’t have thickness.
The pupil has dimension that makes it project forward a bit beyond the eye sphere, and when the thin eyelid passes over that extra dimension it makes a little extra curve to follow it. The highlight on an oily or made-up eyelid will be noticeably located over that curve.
Your browbone and cheekbones project further out than the corners of your eyes, because the sphere of your eye is smaller than the roundness of your skull.
Put your fingertip on the inner corner of your eyebrow, rest your palm on your mouth, and blink. You see how much space there is at the inner corner of your eye, where your tear duct is? If you have an epicanthic fold, that space will have thin skin stretched over it, but you can gently press to feel the curve of your eyeball. The sphere of your eyeball curves back into your skull, leaving a shadowed hollow below your brow. This also means that the whites of your eyes are brightest around the pupil and shadowed at the corners, by the core shadow of the sphere itself.
Your eyeball is shadowed by the thickness of your eyelid as well.
That cast shadow curves around the sphere just like the eyelids, and throws darkness into the top of the iris. The highlight on the pupil will sit right at this meridian of cast shadow. The shadowing of the iris is especially pronounced in people with an epicanthic fold, because the skin over the eyeball is projecting out further over the surface of the eye.
If you really want to understand the shape of your eyeball, try putting on false lashes a few times.
Very few experiences bring home the structure of the eye like the pain-in-the-ass process of applying falsies!
I hope this look at your gelid spheres is helpful; I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments.
That’s it for this time. Maybe next time we’ll talk about the most crucial thing you need to know to draw a perfect hand.