Formula 1 Racing To Get Rid Of Its Grid Girls Drawing From Photos Without Using a Grid (or Any Other Visual Aide)

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Drawing From Photos Without Using a Grid (or Any Other Visual Aide)

The ultimate ambition of any portrait artist should be to paint by eye without using any visual aids or shortcuts. There are many books on the subject and all of them suggest a slightly different approach. We all develop our own techniques but I set out some time ago to study extensively the various methods used by various artists, take the most practical advice from them all and organize it into a systematic and orderly system. As a step-by-step formula for reliably capturing a person’s likeness.

Much is made of the ‘standard proportions’ of faces for men, women, girls and boys. These are a very useful guide and should definitely be taken into account but are only useful to a point because of course a person’s face is unique in what makes a portrait recognizable. Getting measurements of these personal characteristics requires a system that records exactly what you see and gives you multiple ways to check and cross-reference that information to make sure it’s absolutely correct. The most reliable technique we have for accurately plotting the position of points relative to other points is the ‘triangle’, which was used by the ancient Egyptians to make maps and is still used today by global positioning systems that use satellites to provide us with our position within a few centimeters of the Earth. Surprisingly it is not mentioned anywhere in the most widely read books on portrait-drawing. What a waste!

Let’s say you start your portrait by measuring the angle between the bottom of the ear. You will then draw a faint line on your paper at this angle. At this point you can place the bottom of the ear in any two positions on this line and doing so will determine the shape of the portrait. Now suppose you want to find the position of the ‘point’ of the chin. You simply find the angle from one earlobe to the point of the chin and faintly mark that line on your drawing. When you repeat this from the other earlobe, the point where it crosses the first line is the exact position of the chin point. Each time you add a new landmark to your drawing you increase your choice of reference points that are available from which to triangulate more.

This gives you a very reliable way to build an accurate framework for your drawing, working only by eye. The most effective approach is to use this technique to create contours. Once you have drawn the contour/’arabesque’ correctly you can effectively give a precise grid-reference to any point within it. Any position you need to place on your diagram can be plotted vertically below a particular point on the contour, vertically above another point on the contour, and level with a point on either side. Of course this seems like a terribly clinical approach to take with portraiture but what you are doing is training your eye to see these relationships intuitively. You won’t really formally go through this routine in such a cut-and-dry way until a few times before you start to slow down and read the shapes more fluently. This system gives you a very structured way to train yourself to read faces like a portrait artist.

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