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Portrait drawing

Ann Witheridge continues her new series by explaining which elements are crucial to a successful likeness and how to achieve them, while Archie Wardlaw demonstrates how to put it all into practice in charcoal


In portraiture, a likeness and the emotions of the sitter can be achieved with just pencil or charcoal, which makes life so much easier – we don’t have to worry about oils, brushes or colour theory. There are so many drawing media we can use, from pencils to charcoal. The key is to simplify the process to one value to get the complete likeness. It is not the colour or even the modelling that creates a likeness but the big value patterns. You can recognise a friend from a distance just by the big shapes – the way they hold their head in relation to their shoulders – so recognition has little do with the colour of their eyes or the modelling of the lips. In fact, the simpler you keep the image the easier it is to find a likeness.

At London Fine art Studios we always discuss the idea of how important it is to focus on the process, as opposed to the product. With a portrait, there is so much to capture and the end product involves exacting proportion, emotions, psychology and so much more. If you rely on a clear structured sequential process, you are much more likely to achieve your goal.

Placement and scale

Consider first the placement of the drawing on the paper. Students tend to place the drawing in the middle of the page. Think instead about the portrait; it belongs to a body and there is nothing above the portrait and a whole figure below. It therefore makes more sense to place the head higher up the sheet.

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About The Artist

Welcome to our May issue packed with inspiring practical features to help you develop your skills in all media. Watercolourists will love Bob Rudd's invented colour schemes for dramatic landscapes, Amanda Hyatt's five steps to watercolour success, with an exercise to try, Ann Blockley's invitation to inject some magic into your watercolour washes, Paul Talbot-Greaves' deconstruction into three parts of the painting of a daffodil, and Deborah Walker's test report on a new Winsor & Newton watercolour paper. Paul Riley and Julie Collins show how to use pen and wash and ink and watercolour in powerful combinations, while Jo Quigley demonstrates why working en grisaille in acrylics can be so beneficial. Portraitists will learn different ways to obtain a likeness from Ann Witheridge and Will Teather; adapt your sketching kit with ideas from David Parfitt; try painting seascapes in water-mixable oils with Paul Weaver, and more. And don't forget to enter our summer sketching competition with fantastic monthly prizes!