Even if you don’t enjoy sketching beards as much as I do you owe it to yourself to practice some beards.
Because if you enjoy sketching people, some of the people you sketch will have beards. And all those beards will be different.
You’re working on your visual vocabulary.
The human face has a lot of different types of hair on it—there’s the top of the head hair (or bald skin), the eyebrows, the beard (in all the variety of styles it comes in), and then of course beard stubble—those tiny emerging hairs that create a shift of value and even edge dimension.
In each type of hair listed above there are additional break downs into categories like straight, curly, wavy. Hair color variation can give you a lifetime of study. Light and value in regards to hair volume—another lifetime of study.
So much to look at and sketch. Don’t overlook stubble.
Sometimes it might seem that your best approach is to simply put in some sort of dark, cool value of watercolor wash to indicate a 5 o’clock shadow. Other times, depending on the scale you are working at, you’ll need to break that stubble down.
I don’t suggest that you sketch every single stub of stubble. I don’t have the patience for that. (If you do, please go right ahead, that might be your style!) But I do suggest that you look at the stubble and look closely enough at it so that you can tell something about it—the direction it grows, the density variation of growth across the face.
That last item, that could mean the difference between catching a likeness and not catching a likeness, because while you think that your eyes are busy reading the big facial details our minds are actually absorbing all the minutia that screams this is Bill, Omar, Jaques, or Ted…
If you don’t capture what is unique, distill it into a visual vocabulary that’s recognizable to the viewer. they won’t believe the final portrait. (Do I need to mention this is another lifetime of practice?)
Don’t worry that the next time you look at a bearded face or stubble covered face that you have to spend all your time on that feature. Just start to be aware. Start to think how you can capture this feature in your existing style or style you’re developing.
Realize that there is a lot of information that goes into a portrait. The more you notice the more you can begin to “design” which noticed items are important to the cohesive whole, which of course is the likeness.
Stubble is one part of that journey.
And while you’re at it, have fun paying attention to ears!