Why I Find Certain Faces Easier To Draw AND a TV SHOW Recommenation

March 27, 2015


Above: Two Pentel fine-tipped pigment Colorbrush sketches, with shading done with their dye-based brush pens and a Niji waterbrush. Background color is Montana Marker with some washi tape. Click on the image to view an enlargement and read below to see why I've put this image here today.

Since I've already looked at Jean Reno once this week (Wednesday's post on the Kunst & Papier watercolor journal had a sketch of him) I thought I'd wrap up the week with another look at him and a TV recommendation.

First I have to say that I find Reno's face fascinating. Second I have to say that I find symmetrical faces (i.e., the ones that society seems to find more beautiful) almost impossible for me to draw.

Today's post is an example of this. Now one could argue that the face on the left of the page spread opening this post, was my warm up. But I'm not going to be that kind to myself. The actor I was sketching is pretty much gorgeous by all the standard measures of TV "beauty." Just look at that square jaw which is the one thing in the sketch that is NOT exaggerated.


Left: Detail of the Jean Reno portion of the first page spread so you can see some of the layers of ink.

One could argue that because I was just warming up I didn't have my measuring in line yet and made his eyes too close together and his head too narrow (in some areas) and his nose too long…whatever.

I will just tell you that yes it was a warm up, but I'd drawn earlier in the day and all those sketches turned out wonderful. I just get stymied by symmetrical features. I need a little bit of wonkiness to hide my wonky lines. And there is no hiding when you are drawing someone conventionally beautiful.

I also need a little bit of "wonky" to hold my interest as I sketch. Sketching a symmetrical face typically isn't fun for me. I like to see the wear and tear of life on a face.

After finishing the sketch on the left I spent a few moments watching the rest of the show and then stopped the video (I was not drawing from memory so I don't even have that excuse) and drew Jean Reno, French actor and star of "Jo" a police procedural show set in Paris (more on this in a moment).

I had absolutely no difficulty drawing Reno, five minutes and I was adding shading. (The mid-line on the nose isn't a restatement, there is actually a shift in his nose there and originally I thought I was going to paint over this sketch so I wanted a "note" to remind me of a value shift.) I think we can all agree that the finished sketch bears some resemblance to Reno, while the sketch on the left looks rather like a superhero cartoon poorly sketched.

Will I stop trying to sketch "beautiful" people? Of course not. I learn something every time I try. But I will spend much more time sketching faces that have been lived in, because it is more fun to look at those faces, see those shapes and lines and values of light.

Now about that TV recommendation. I found "Jo" available for streaming on Acorn. There seems to be only one season from 2013. Reno plays a Paris police commander solving crimes that take place at iconic Paris sites. Believe me this isn't a tourist show, it's the standard type of police procedural, where a crime happens and the squad investigates. What is puzzling here is that his crew all seem to be native English speakers and there is no discussion as to why this is—perhaps this is the way things are in the EU now? It doesn't matter to me. I can suspend disbelief for that. I find it so fun to watch Reno act that it doesn't matter to me what is happening around him. The rest of the cast is typical to this genre: a good looking officer (who I'll probably never try to sketch—Tom Austen, look him up!), a funny-goofy-nerd-type, a female boss, and so on. Jill Hennessy has a recurring role as a nun who runs a shelter for battered women. When he isn't solving murders Jo is dealing with his own shortcomings and trying to mend relations with his estranged daughter (to tell you more about her and her mother would spoil the unfolding of things).

I've watched 3 episodes (there are only 8 so I'm rationing them for times when I want to sketch from the TV because you know I'm going to sketch Reno!) and enjoyed them all. If you like the original "Law and Order" (the Jerry Orbach years were my favorite; talk about sketching fun; and he got all the good lines), you'll probably enjoy this show. It's not as snappy, but it moves along at a good pace and has interesting story lines. And who knows, maybe you'll get a sketch or two done too.

Oh, yeah, and it doesn't hurt that as this character Reno has a beard! (Part one of a five-part series on why I love sketching beards begins at that link.)

    • RB
    • March 27, 2015

    Just looked and Hulu is also showing JO. Amazon sells the DVD but it won’t work in most US players. Thanks for the recommendation, it’s hard to find the good shows I know must be in there. The recommendations based on what I watch are so off.

  1. Reply

    Is your pretty boy James Norton from “Grantchester”? In that case I think you kinda nailed him. I actually find his face a rather interesting mix of masculine (jaw) and feminine (those lips! and that hair) that is more expressive than a regular model-pretty actor face. And not that easy to capture; I have tried and didn´t do anywhere as well. I wonder what he will look like when he reaches Reno´s age.

    Or maybe it´s not him at all, just someone who looks like him?

  2. Reply

    Viktoria, no, sorry it isn’t James Norton—though there’s a funny story there, I think he is beautiful and I have tried to sketch him (just a contour drawing (and I think that in 30 years when he’s elderly it will look just like him). When they do another season I will try again.

    This guy up above was actually in the same episode of “Jo” I can’t remember his name. He played the chauffeur in the NEW episodes of “Upstairs Downstairs” that came on over here a couple years ago. He has a relationship with the Upstairs sister.

    At least I think that’s where I recognized him from.

    Norton’s face seems more round to me.

    I actually enjoy sketching Norton because he/his character has such angst in his face.

    If you saw this actor (whose name I can’t remember and Norton together you wouldn’t think they looked alike except both are blonde. But someone might think they were brothers or cousins because when you really stair there are perhaps some similarities.

    Viktoria, often too what happens when I sketch is that I go so far off track with my initial ink lines (I work directly with the brush pen and no pre-drawing) that at some point I just follow the lines I have and try to put something together that looks like “A FACE” and bears no real relation any longer to the person I was looking at. So if I don’t list an actor it means that I don’t see it really looking at all like what I started from, OR it’s a random person I drew from life (because I do a lot of that too, and that’s actually more fun because then there’s no way anyone can say, that doesn’t like the person because that person is long gone!)

    I am focusing a bit on blonds at present (or gingers) because I’m trying to come to grips with Dick’s eyebrows and so I’m trying to see what other blond/gingers have going on so I can maybe come at Dick from another angle. We’ll see.

  3. Reply

    RB, good to know about Hulu, thank you. I’m enjoying the show for what it is and what it allows me to do (sketch Jean Reno); frankly I would watch anything with Reno in it from a cat litter commercial to whatever. I absolutely LOVE his FACE, it is amazing.

  4. Reply

    Roz: you have touched on several triggers for me.
    1. yes, I like RENO too w/o reservation. He elevates the mood of the room in any drama
    2.Symmetry is a stumbling block to drawing, as are social ideas of beauty. When I teach drawing I caution students not to choose PRETTY people. I define this as SHARON STONE/GRACE KELLY models. THye seldom can depart form the symbolic imagery in mind to truly draw what is observed. I want them to draw what they see, not what they think they see. From past experience I can tell you, the conventional PRETTY GIRL drawing ends up looking like a generic version of the new flat faced BARBIE, complete with spider veined eyelashes and some brand of tiny symbolic nose. When I give a list that includes the following people, I receive sensitive believable drawings in response: DAME EDNA, BARBARA CARTLAND, ROSSI DE PALMA, KURT VONNEGUT, STEPHEN KING,LEAD BELLY, CHARLIE CHAPLIN, BUSTER KEATON, etc…
    WHY IS THIS I SUPPOSE???????? A couple of hundred student results have been consistent.
    PERHAPS WE ALL DRAW TO EXPECTATION? That is my current theoty.
    I love these drawings that you are posting and will show them to my class.

  5. Reply

    HA HA….pardon spelling mistakes. I didn’t know I could have a THEOTY!!! I guess I must.

  6. Reply

    I love that show. Was so sad it was canceled after one season. Boo hoo!! But drawing him. Super idea. Will have to do that?!

  7. Reply

    Ps the show is Canadian as are the actors which explains both American accents. Except Jo who is actually Spanish but lived in gmfrance a long time. What can I say I looked the show up to see if there were more episodes.

  8. Reply

    Margaret, I figured it must be Canadian as they are more linked with France in some ways. But it makes me wonder why they didn’t just do it in Canada? It would have been cheaper. Perhaps Reno wouldn’t leave Paris.

    Whenever I watch a show and the season I’m watching is the last one posted and the date on it is more than a year away I get a sinking feeling as I know if I love the characters I’m out of luck, there won’t be more episodes, but if it’s an actor I really like I’ll risk it. I’m glad I did in this case.

    • Bill Burrell
    • April 7, 2015

    I may have missed this in a previous post, but I have questions about sketching from TV. It looks like a good way to study shapes and value, oh! and movement too. Do you pause the action to carefully observe the subject. And if yes, doesn’t that drive fellow watchers crazy?
    Thanks, bill b.

  9. Reply

    Bill, I do both, sometimes I pause the action (with the digital DVRs most things pause as a very crisp image). Today’s sketches I paused for. It is particularly useful to do when practicing odd facial expressions that even trained models can’t hold, or weird high-speed gestures that you want to stop and examine.

    Other times I let the show run and work as fast as I can. This is particularly fun and useful when working from animal documentaries. It is the closest I’ll probably get to an African Safari for instance.

    And yes Bill, if I watched TV with others it probably would drive them crazy, but I watch TV alone most of the time. And if Dick is watching with me it’s so we can talk about the show afterwards. In that case I’ll just note down an area I want to return to when he’s gone, e.g., 20 minutes into the show.

    (He likes to point out that he wouldn’t even have a TV if he didn’t live with me. Fine, that means I have the conn.)

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