Alice the Amateur Illustrator, vol. 3

Alice’s drawing adventures have progressed into portraiture. For Alice, there is strange magic in faces.novice 002The model for this picture was a random stock image photo. The effort is far from perfect, but regardless, Alice is surprised. Unlike so many of her other efforts, this one crosses the ephemeral threshold from “something’s wrong with her head” to “hey, she looks fairly realistic!”

Faces are apparently a difficult subject in drawing. But what is fascinating to Alice is that this is not due to any inherent complexity or nuance in faces. Indeed, consider the following picture:

nun 002She is modelled after a painting by the elder Bruegel. Look at her! Her face is just a few squiggles and dots. Little complexity. And she still conveys a fair approximation of a person. Again, not perfect (distorted proportions…), but the semblance of realism is there.

Apparently, the difficulty in portraiture stems from the fact that faces are a kind of a blind spot for people. I don’t mean that people can’t see faces. (Prosopagnosia aside!) I mean that people see faces, but their brains interpret what they see in a funny way. There are some interesting ideas as to why this is the way it is.

So, in drawing faces in particular, you need to shut up your loudmouth brain and see what’s really there.

seer 002Alice modelled this picture after Michelangelo’s Delphic oracle. At a glance, the head and face seem proportioned pretty well. More detailed study reveals some faults, like the asymmetric eyes and cheeks. But, after that certain magic threshold has been crossed, people seem willing to believe a face, so to speak.

That’s why Things with Faces exists. It’s like our brains are hypersensitive to anything that just might be a face! So, the blind spot is more like a spot where your brain is over-interpreting.unimpressed 002This one is modelled after yet another stock photo. What Alice finds funny here is another aspect of the brain’s over-interpretation: in just a few tiny details, we see expression and emotion! The line of the mouth, and how the eye is set – and lo! She looks unimpressed! (Or whatever.) But still, it’s just a few random lines. Barely any ink at all.

(Alice may be a little too taken by this phenomenon. But it’s so wonderful!)

So what does all this gushing mean? People’s brains are wired to interpret. Sure. Cumbersome if you’re trying to draw! But it can be useful, too.

In simple terms, you can trust people’s penchant for interpretation and be sparing with details. This applies to writing as much as drawing. How? Alice will return to that topic in a future post, one that will deal with Alice’s favourite genre: Icelandic family sagas!

Until then, keep cultivating your various skills!

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