Drawing Portraits From Memory
For the next set of exercises in my figure drawing module, I was to draw a portrait from memory – my boy Kai’s face.
You would think when it comes to a face you spend hours looking at every day, this would be easy . This exercise proved surprising in how untrue that was. It also made me realise how little we REALLY look at the faces of those around us every day, and it was a re-discovered joy to really study my son’s face. I remember gazing at him like this when he was a new baby, and it was wonderful to trace his bigger boy lines and shapes with my eyes, observing the way his eyes turn down slightly, studying his round face with pointed chin, his short, round nose, trying to memorise the curve of his thin lips and the freckle sat upon his top lip.
The numpty I am, I posted off my sketchbook to my tutor this morning without photographing the preliminary sketches that I did to warm up to this exercise, but I first tried quick sketches of Kai as he was playing, trying to practice and capture something of the shape of his face and the proportion and arrangement of his features. Even with him right in front of me, none of them seemed to come out looking much like him! I was struggling to get Kai to sit still long enough to get many decent sketches done, with the added problem of him interrupting me every other minute, so I looked at photos too, trying to memorise the lines and patterns of his face. A beautiful hobby , one I’ve started to do with John’s face after numerous drawings too.
Even if you’re not an artist I can recommend this as a pastime – it doesn’t even have to be someone you’re very close to, if you can get away with covert looking. Learning to really look at the faces of people around you is, I think, a wonderful way to appreciate new kinds of beauty. It becomes very difficult to see someone as ugly once you’ve really studied the unique play of line and expression, and hinted-at biology and family resemblance on someone’s face. It’s like having a hundred thousand walking little picture shows to watch and delight in.
Once it was time to put all reference aside and work completely from memory, I tried to work as fast and instinctively as I could, concentrating on face shape and the main features of eyes, mouth and nose. My attempts certainly don’t look exactly like him, but they DO capture something of him, I think. What’s interesting is that some of the drawings seem to depict an older Kai, capturing the proportions but not so much of the softness and still slightly baby-featured immaturity of my four year old’s face. It felt like I’d inadvertently been given a pencil time machine, and I will love looking back at these pictures in a few years to see how accurate my accidental ‘predictions’ were!