Michael Britton

Portrait Drawing Lessons - Learn to draw portraits

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Where does an artist now go for their foundational training? The past five years have seen many art schools falter and close their doors. The ones that remain are prohibitively expensive for many and based in New York City and Chicago. Even then the quality of instruction lays more with an individual teacher than the institution.

In the United States the two major artist magazines are now owned by a single corporation. I fear that soon the older, weaker magazine will be subsumed into the larger publication. And that will be a pity. A single voice cannot possibly present the myriad banquet of realist art today. At best a magazine article provides a glib overview with little technical substance. At worst, an article is self-congratulatory palaver.

The internet is a vast sea of information. Wade into it for a distance and you realize that it is shallow.

The beginning artist is confronted with a monstrous challenge: choose the wrong path and years, even your entire art career, will be lost. Most will quit out of sheer frustration. This difficult choice is even more vexing than it appears -- the beginner has little experience on which to base their decision. They are at the mercy of wolves. The self-taught artist wanders in circles.

Drawing and painting is essentially about shape. The likeness of a portrait drawing is determined by the overall shape of the head followed by the succinct placement of the shapes of the features.

A beginner's foundation is to first acquire the skill of accurately transcribing a given shape: how wide, how high and fixing the angles. Everything else is built upon this all important precept. Most of my students acquire this ability within a few weeks of dedicated study.

In portrait drawing your first step is to learn how to strike an arabesque. This is more commonly known as the contour which is the entire outside shape of the head. Terminology implies intent; for me, arabesque implies rhythmic movement whereas contour is static. Everything counts in drawing!

Once you acquire the skill of accurately and consistently striking an arabesque your portrait drawing will literally rocket upwards. Everything flows from that one skill.

The curious thing, however, is that it is very difficult to train artists how to accurately strike an arabesque in a classroom. The reason for this is that everyone is at a different viewpoint relative to the model, hence everyone is dealing with significantly different shapes and proportions.

Online Portrait Drawing Lessons - Verna

Michael Britton, Verna, 2008, Sanguine Conte on Paper

The impetus of my teaching is to train you from beginner to a very advanced level by instilling in you a technically sound practice of drawing.

The arabesque, when you know how to do it, takes less than 10 seconds. And within the arabesque is found both the likeness and spirit of the portrait.

You should always work from general to specific. In portrait drawing that means beginning with the outside shape of the head and working inwards.

Sanguine conte is my favorite drawing medium and I prefer to use it with a painterly approach. Mine is an additive/subtractive process of building tone and this is a procedure that I demonstrate comprehensively in my workshops.

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Michael Britton is an internationally recognized artist and teacher trained at the Ontario College of Art (Toronto), the Art Students' League (New York City) and the New York Academy of Art Masters Program. He also holds both a BA and MFA from Columbia University, NY.Artacademy.com evolved from the Vancouver Academy of Art (1997 - 2004) of which Michael was the Artistic Director.

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