Lines: Achieving a Likeness with Different Approaches

August 9, 2021
My first sketch, my “warm up” sketch, is actually I think the best. I’ve focused in on what I think are the definitive lines in the face that say “Robert Morely.” 

I love working in a series just in an evening—sketching the same subject over and over to see how I can approach it with different tools, media, or even just something like line which is infinitely variable.

I’ve posted three sketches of British actor Robert Morley in this post. I became a fan of his work while a child in Australia. His black and white films replayed over and over in the 1960s and 70s when there was no color TV in Melbourne.

Sometimes it seemed to me that he must be in everything. The range was vast:

  • “Beat the Devil” directed by John Huston, with Humphrey Bogart, Morely, Peter Lorre—my brother and I were both Humphrey Bogart fans. (Also with Bogart and Huston, “The African Queen.”)
  • “Take Her She’s Mine” a goofy James Stewart comedy in which he goes to Europe to retrieve his high spirited daughter and runs into Robert Morely’s character.
  • “Murder at the Gallop” a Margaret Rutherford “Miss Marple” offering, which I was watching when I made these sketches.
My second sketch, the same paper, and the same brush pen. I think I was over thinking this one, and the lines seem tighter to me, and not as convincing.

He was at turns silly and bemused, or stern, and even threatening. In other words a generally well-rounded character actor who needed to convey all this variety with a set of pronouncedly recognizable features, from the bald, egg-shaped head; the long drooping ears; and a rather monumental pair of lips that are so much fun to sketch.

Some of the difference I see in the images of today’s post lies in the angle of the actor’s face. In the second sketch he has tucked in his chin and this draws his view down. He seems to me to be thinking intently about something, instead of staring off into the distance. I haven’t defined the chin as well because it’s tucked back. To me he seems more serious here, even a bit sinister, and the fun I’m used to seeing in his face (in his goofier rolls) is totally absent.

Each of the sketches took about 15 minutes. I would stop sketching, view the movie some more, and then when I found an angle I wanted to work from I’d stop the video and sketch again. Despite my permanent double vision, I do have times when I can get in a groove and put down just the line I want. I feel I did that most successfully with the first sketch.

These three sketches were made in a Hahnemühle Drawing and Sketching sketchbook that is about 9 x 11 (not exactly, but it’s in storage now so I can’t check on it).

For the third sketch I used the same paper again, but switched over to the Pentel Ultra-fine Sign brush pen—it’s individual synthetic hairs yield fat or thin lines depending on pressure and angle of attack. That makes it easy to do the very thin, scribbled hatching. This is a correction. I didn’t have the original to view when I wrote this post.

I did a series of posts about this line of brushes, you can find them in the blog’s search engine. Here’s one to get you started. 

I still see Morely in that sketch, a very stern Morely.  But I have to look past my tiredness, and sloppiness over the shading lines. This third sketch is not so much a sketch as it is a set of notes to myself about his face. 

At that point I felt I had the features down well enough that I could stop.

I usually stop when I feel I have enough information to use as the basis of a finished portrait, either with refined minimal lines, or with minimal lines and some wash (ink or watercolor). 

And that’s the point I like to be at when I finish an exercise like this.

Will I make a finished portrait of Morely?

I don’t think so. I’m off thinking on other things and exploring other faces. (The good news is I can apply all my insights on line work that I gained doing this exercise to any portrait in the future.)

When next I watch a movie he’s in I’m sure I’ll sketch him again at least once, just to be friendly—and maybe to savor my childhood.

If the first sketch wasn’t in a journal I am sure I would frame it and hang it in the entry, along with all the other faces of people I don’t really know, but love to be greeted by.

One of the most important things we can do when sketching in ink, especially in brush pen, is to find our lines, the essential lines, and use only them. The tool(s) we choose and the paper we work on influence the line and the final look and feel. The line we leave out is as important as the one we include. The journey to that omission is a fun life of adventure.

Whose face are you going to explore today?

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