Don’t Worry if You Don’t Get a Likeness—That’s What I’m Telling Myself

May 24, 2012

120427TVRight: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen Sketch on the blue paper in that journal from England. Cropped in scanning, height about 11.75 inches.

Don't even bother to guess which actor this is. Dick knows all the TV shows I watch and he just stared and stared at it until I got impatient and told him.

It's like a bad game. I draw someone, he ponders and doesn't guess, I tell him. After this sketch from a couple weeks ago I've stopped showing him.

On the other hand when I draw a bird or dog or a puffin in the zoo, he knows exactly which one I'm drawing—so what's up with that?

It doesn't matter. The point I'm trying to make is don't over think it. Some people are going to immediately recognize who it is you're drawing and you'll have a successful life as a portrait painter. Other people are going to simply smile and hold their breath until you tell them who it is you drew.

Sometimes people pay me to draw people and then I take much more care, study a lot of photos, study the person (if they are alive), make lots of sketches, and then make a drawing that looks like the person. Everyone is happy.

But what I enjoy more is simply looking at someone (or in this case the TV) and just trying to capture something very, very quickly. That's more fun for me. I can look at the finished sketch and say, "that bit is right there; I really like that bit over here; oh, that bit didn't work at all."

What has happened is I've created a dialog with myself about looking at that person's face. The sketch is that dialog and it contains some details about that person, but it contains even more details about what I think about the process. So when I look at that sketch I see where I want to go in my process.

That to me is more important than someone recognizing the person I drew. I bring this up to suggest you consider how you view your "failed" sketches. There's a lot of good stuff in them that you can enjoy, and the enjoyment of that good stuff will push you along to make more sketches, containing even more good stuff. And isn't the search for more good stuff ultimately more rewarding than pronouncing something "failed"?

If you shift the way you think about your sketches you're going to make more of them and as a consequence you're going to find more good in them.

And one day you might be at a show of your work and someone will come up to you, point to one of your paintings and say, "Hey, when did you meet my dog? That's him over there on the wall."

    • Christine F
    • May 24, 2012

    Looks like Alec Baldwin to me….LOL
    I guess that’s why I’ve avoided drawing people…I do get hung up on making a likeness.

  1. Reply

    Christine, that is Alec Baldwin. Thank you for noticing.

    Keep drawing people. Sometimes I totally nail the eyes and then everything else goes wonky. Sometimes I just focus on the ears and the nose. I just think it’s a whole lot more fun to do quick sketches that don’t quite make it than labor over exact likenesses. But then sometimes I just like the lines in my sketches, independent of anything else that is there, just a given line. So I guess I really have this enjoyment of the particular down. I maybe should be worried, but I’m not.

    • May 24, 2012

    This is a very timely post for me. I just started a face-book (you know how I like themed books) with Andy Warhol. But the drawing kept looking like Grandma Pat! I took a break then just sketched until I liked it. It now looks MORE like Andy than Grandma, so that works for me. 😀

  2. Reply

    Wow… Christine and Roz… I don’t see Alec in there at all…but as Roz says… that’s ok. I want to get better at sketching people, not great likenesses but quick looks sorta like a person sketches… I have a real problem with hands, feet and faces..

  3. Reply

    Liz, I think taking a break is always a good strategy too. And I find that if I do a lot of sketches of the same person (or bird) from different angles, then they sort of begin to look more like themselves as well because I’m building up more memory of how the subject occupies space. Maybe you just needed to get your memory of Grandma Pat out of your system!

    I’m glad you have a themed sketchbook for faces. That’s a great way to keep working on something and have all your progress in one book! (Or several. I have 43 books of Dottie.)

    • Miss T
    • May 24, 2012

    I guessed it was Alec Baldwin, but he looks older, like maybe a Sam Waterston sort of Alec Baldwin. If that makes any sense.

  4. Reply

    Miss T, that’s my special aging technique, which I’ve honed over the years—projective drawing: see what you’ll look like in 10 years! I think the PPBP also accentuates age because of the way I use it to make hard lines. He definitely has a sort of Sam W. look on his face.

    I’d rather sketch Maxwell as a pirate!

  5. Reply

    Capt. Elaine, I appreciate your honesty and would expect nothing less! (And you’re in the group with Dick so you’re not alone.)

    If you want to work on quick sketches, esp. hands and feet have you thought about going to a life-drawing co-op? Just because everyone is drawing the full model pose doesn’t mean you have to. The great thing is you can focus on whatever it is you want to focus on and the model is standing/sitting still so you can get some real work in. Often, if it’s a long post, you can get several series of sketches practicing one area. Then you can go out and about in town and deal with less stationary models. Good luck. Have fun.

    • JanT
    • May 24, 2012

    At initial glance I wasn’t sure who he was but almost as soon as I scrolled off the sketch, I thought “Alec Baldwin”. Glad to read I was able to guess. You did a good job, the eyes are definitely him.

  6. Reply

    Thanks Jan, I like the eyes too. I tend to always make my noses too long which throws things off!

  7. Reply

    I was actually thinking Sam Waters on, but I can see Alec Baldwin too. I’m just happy when mine turn out to look like actual people.

  8. I knew it was Alec Baldwin, too, but I thought maybe it was Alec After Four Months on Jenny Craig. (Which would not be such a bad thing, perhaps.) (Not that there’s anything wrong with his middle-aged paunch. No judging.)

  9. Reply

    Actually Karen, Alec is much thinner this season (which just ended) than he was the previous one. I hope he is taking care of himself because I think he’s a great actor and I want to enjoy his performances for many decades to come!

    But I’m glad you could see some resemblance.

  10. Reply

    Being happy that they turn out looking like real people is actually something I enjoy too Lisa!

  11. Reply

    I knew it was Alec Baldwin and I don’t watch much TV but his face is pretty “out there”. It was the smirk and the eyes that told me. Your point is well taken though. So far my people drawings are unreadable to most but that’s okay because I am on a journey and plan to get there someday but enjoying the trip along the way!

  12. Reply

    Timaree, thanks for noticing the smirk. I am glad that you are happy going on the journey. I agree the point is to enjoy the trip along the way. Today a smirk in the eyes, tomorrow perhaps the right length of nose, the day after that, the right chin!

    Have fun sketching people.

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