Exercise: Portrait from memory

I’ve probably gone about this in a slightly peculiar way but I was sketching the photographer Charlie Hamilton Jones from the TV during his recent series I Bought a Rainforest. He was so nice to draw that I did three pencil portraits in different poses. I was quite pleased with these as I can see improvement. My sketches of faces are slowly but surely starting to resemble the people I am drawing. That is progress. Earlier on I had to be satisfied if my people sketches looked roughly human!

It occurred to me that after drawing Charlie three times, his features were becoming familiar and he would make a good subject for this exercise.

Initial three sketches (pencil, sketchbook)

charlie-3 charlie2 charlie-1

Portrait from memory
Before starting I made notes about Charlie’s features. His eyes are narrow and the pupils tend to be partly obscured. There is a line across the bridge of his nose. He has thin, quite even lips. The space between the nose and lips is longer than I might think (I didn’t get this right). He has an angular jaw, lines under the eyes and some indistinct ‘crows feet’, trace lines on his forehead, an Adam’s apple…

Then I jumped in with Quink ink and bamboo pen and drawing pen because I wanted to work quickly and spontaneously and I did not want to find myself constantly rubbing out. I may have achieved a better outcome by doing some initial sketches (as the exercise notes suggest) of the shape of the face, details of the eyes etc but I talked myself out of this…

The end result resembles Charlie but has lost the vitality of my earlier sketches, each of which had an interesting and thoughtful expression. This was what attracted me to Charlie as a subject. That and his intriguing discoveries and change of mindset with regards to his 100 acre piece of Peruvian rainforest.


Charlie Hamilton Jones from memory (ink and drawing pen) (A4+)


What works?
This is a likeness but with some faults, as outlined below. I quite like the scribbled pen lines for the hair, beard and eyebrows. The background is appropriate as is the green shirt, pulling together in my mind’s eye the glow of light filtering down through the canopy.

Overall, considering that this was drawn from memory without cheating (!), I’m not totally displeased.

What doesn’t work so well?
The main fault is that the face should be more square and a little more angular. Also the colouring is rather flat and there needs to be more tone around the ‘frown lines’ in particular to give the face more form. I have lost the life in the eyes, in particular. There needs to be more space between the nose and the lips. The left ear is a little too high.  Had the face been slightly angled as with my sketches, the outcome might have been more expressive with a little more sparkle.

What are the lessons I learn from this?
That lines, skin tone, shadows, shape of face… all are so very distinctive to the individual and vital to observe and capture in order to create a likeness and capture character. Also that the focus of the subject (what are they looking at / thinking about?) and angle of the face is important. A flat, straight on portrait can be difficult to make interesting.



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