Faces – a new challenge

Somehow this term much of my secondary planning has the students drawing faces.

The middle school elective is all about the figure – proportions, methods to help them draw people more easily, the figure in movement and portraying emotion through our expressions. Challenging – yes. Fun – for sure. Well, for most of us.

It just so happens that the Unit 1 VCE students begin their studies by looking at faces and the figure too. Definitely a challenge for many. These are all students with an incredible ability to draw, to draw what they see and to do it amazingly well. As opposed to what they think they see – those symbols they’ve developed in their brains for how the world around them works. [See here and here for where that idea comes from. I read Betty Edwards book “Drawing on the right side of the brain” – fascinating.] Having said all that, it has been both a challenge and an adventure for all of us to improve the way we create drawings of people.

I say an adventure because, in my new found web browsing freedom, I have discovered there many people out there who have gone before us on this portrait improvement journey. And it’s been so exciting to discover them and learn from them.

How we generally start our elective figure unit is will a project from Zart Art – a company I usually get supplies from. It is a patterned face, pencil drawing that comes out looking bright, colourful and abstract. It is a great project to start with because the students get to do something straight away that doesn’t pressure them to have to get a perfect face drawn.

patterned face
Abstract patterned face

So fun, I think. This one has been highly influenced countries of the world. Usually we just create a lot of gorgeous patterns but the flags are quite effective. You can find instructions here.

Then we move on to drawing a real face and we learn the basic proportions of a face. It is at this point I really get excited. Usually we use a text book and follow the steps shown. It is a good, fail safe way for the whole class to know where we are going and to understand the steps to take. But a web browse of ‘how to draw a face’ yielded a myriad of great ‘recipes’ for drawing faces. The best one has got to be this one of a lecturer from a North London school of art using line to create a portrait. I also discovered a video of the same guy demonstrating  how to draw a portrait using charcoal. In fact I thought the charcoal drawing video was so good that I showed it to all the secondary art students I teach and they were mesmerised. I probably should say, at this point, perhaps I could have demonstrated myself (and did indeed work through the drawing with them) but having an extra port of call to provide some further information and stimulation was fantastic. I think the drawings the students created really had life and personality. I would love to post them at some stage – a future blog post – in the mean time, please just take my word for it, they were good drawings.

I also felt that doing this research yielded benefits for me. Even though my degree caused me to have to spend 4 years in life drawing classes I have felt my skills in this area a little lacking – especially as I have not really practiced them so much until lately, but I have had a desire developing recently to get better at that aspect of my drawing. So, like any good teacher, I have sought to practice what I teach. I have surprised myself. See what you think.

Demonstrating the proportions during class
Charcoal figure
Mixed media portrait - unfinished

I certainly have enjoyed challenging myself. I guess choosing venture as my 2012 word for this year is paying off – nothing ventured, nothing gained, hey? This is just the beginning.

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