Last week I wrote that one of the most satisfying discoveries for an artist is to find that your skills have improved. Even better: discovering that your skills have improved a lot. About three years ago I was part of a group on DeviantArt that challenged artists to kick their own ass. I thought this was a cool challenge and I created two new works that showed just how much my portrait skills had developed in a timespan of 5-6 years. Especially positioned next to the old portrait, it is just immensely satisfying to find that the new portrait kicks ass. 🙂 Today I will feature the second of my two challenge portraits.
This one is a bit different than the one featuring Ewan McGregor, because I did not use the same reference photo. Moreover, the time lapse is bigger, somewhere around 6-7 years. Although when I was pondering the other two drawings, I realised that the older one may have been even older than 2005. I didn’t always write the year on my drawings back in the early days.
In any case, for my second challenge I redrew a portrait of Captain Jack Sparrow. Even though I wasn’t all that much into Pirates anymore in 2010, drawing Jack is a delight all by itself. Who else wears a pirate hat, dreadlocks, golden teeth and a 2-braided beard and still manages to look sexier than a young Orlando Bloom?! That is a privilege reserved only to Mr. Johnny Depp, of course. Alright, here are the two portraits side by side:
So, what are the key differences?
‘Nuff said! Lots of practice taught me all the secrets of drawing with graphite pencils. For one thing, I have developed a better sense of proportions and measurements. I always draw entirely by eye, never use grids or anything, and I’ve become better at that. I’ve also become better at drawing what I see as opposed to drawing what I know. The hat is a good example. What I know is that the hat has three points, one of which protrudes forward. What I see, however, is a complex system of lighter and darker patches, which combined give the impression of the hat protruding forward. This impression is not visible in the shape of what is drawn, but in the light and dark parts. So, simply said, I have learned how to ‘watch’ better.
Choice of reference/liveliness
Back in the days I had a preference for simple, full frontal poses without any emotion/expression. Full frontal portraits can absolutely be interesting, but only if there is something in the expression on the face. For me, this means that promo photos are usually much less interesting than screenshots. The old drawing shows an amazingly expressionless Jack Sparrow, which in itself is quite an achievement. In the second portrait, I have managed to add life to Jack.
I have learned to be patient, to spend a lot of time on certain areas if needed. I’m still quicker than a lot of artists, this new one must have taken me about 6-7 hours, but the old one probably did not take me more than 4 hours.
What is interesting is that when I showed these two portraits to a group of primary school children (who all knew Jack Sparrow) and asked them which they liked better, they all went for the old portrait. Why? Because it is in colour. I thought this was interesting, because it betrays that kids that age simply don’t have any eye for technical skill. As long as they can recognise the subject, they’re fine with it. And then colour is apparently important to them. That got me thinking about my own progression in portrait drawing. When I drew the old drawing, I was very happy with it. In fact, I even had it printed on a T-shirt! So clearly I wasn’t able to judge my own work with a more professional eye yet. And that was a blessing, because I doubt I’d ever continued drawing portraits if I had been able to see how bad my initial portraits were. Somehow my eye for technical skill grew as my portrait skills grew. Or my eye for technical skill grew as I grew older. I can’t be certain which one it is, as I started portrait drawing around the age of 13 and was pretty good at it by the time I was 18.
Well, that’s all I’ve got to say for today. Do let me know your thoughts!