Michael Britton

Portrait Drawing Lessons - Learn to draw portraits

Portrait Drawing Lessons:
The Profile Portrait in Sanguine Conte

Portrait Drawing Lessons: The Profile - 1

The time-tested learning process of progressing from drawing to painting involves several intermediate steps. Before embarking on working with paint, and the manifold technical disciplines of oil paint, for example, the traditional art academies would first introduce the studying artist to sanguine conté which can be pushed and pulled much like paint.

Conté is a hard earth-red pigment shaped as a long rectangular crayon. There are various brands available that bill themselves as conté but they are closer to pastel. You can use the side of a small piece of conté to block in large areas; it can also be sharpened into a chisel shape for drawing elegant serpentine lines; and also sharpened to a point using a safety razor blade and medium grade sandpaper.

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    For this drawing I started with a Koh-I-Noor light red ‘conté’ crayon on Fabriano Ingres drawing paper and then to push the darks down I switched to Sanguine Conté.

    The 7/8’s profile view is the pose where the far eye can be seen. The common difficulty with the far eye is if you’re not careful the eye will bulge out due to over-exaggeration both in terms of size and placement and also rendering it with too much detail. Highly rendered features will advance out of the picture plane. For some features such as the nose this is desirable, but with others like the far eye in the 7/8’s profile view this is less so.

    Using a sharpened Koh-I-Noor light red crayon I quickly established the arabesque of the entire head. Of important note is the facial angle: I have deliberately ignored the nose and muzzle (mouth area) and simplified it completely. If you try to incorporate the features at this point it is practically guaranteed that you will get it wrong. The short and simple answer is SIMPLICITY. This goes for both the beginner and the highly advanced artist.

    Portrait Drawing Lessons: The Profile - 2
    Portrait Drawing Lessons: The Profile - 3

    The Koh-in-Nor crayon is very soft and does not hold a sharpened point for long. It’s benefit though is that it is easily manipulated in terms of erasures and smudging.

    With the arabesque established, its’ height/width proportions and shape verified and corrected as necessary, the primary elements of the head are placed. These are the browline, the base of the nose, the hairline, hat, ear and Condyle (where the ear lobe meets the jaw).

    Having the browline and base of the nose placed I can now assess the negative shape that is formed by the nose and the simplified shape of the far eye. Using negative shapes in your drawing will help in more accurately rendering the positive shapes. i.e., the nose is a positive shape; the ‘<’ shape is the negative shape.

    Using the side of a ½ to ¾” piece of Koh-I-Noor crayon I block in both the background and dark pattern of the head. Yes, you can, and probably will, lose your carefully placed elements but if you can find them once you can find them again. Take heed not to over apply the conté – throughout the drawing you want to maintain control as much as possible. The caveat though is that the latter statement must not be construed as being ‘precious’. Preciousness is generally being overly cautious and treating the drawing as if it were fragile and easily broken.

    The blocked-in conté is vigorously stumped down with my fingers. My intent is to produce a flat even ‘wash’. It is nigh impossible to articulate small forms (details); the objective is to effect a ghost image. I am interested in only the BIG shapes. You should always work from general to specific.

    Portrait Drawing Lessons: The Profile - 4


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