Art hacks: Improving portraits

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’m obsessed with Miranda Kerr. I always draw her, but I can never get her face right. For example, these two older drawings.

I didn't say it in Instagram, but this was actually based on a profile of Miranda Kerr. When I painted over it, the portrait came out looking like Lady Gaga.

I didn’t say it in Instagram, but this was actually based on a profile of Miranda Kerr. When I painted over it, the portrait came out looking like Lady Gaga.

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Miranda Err, the sketch that wasn’t quite Miranda Kerr.

Which now lead us to my latest failure, the sulking Miranda.

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She’s not too pleased with how she looks.

Of course, my life would be so much easier if I just trace over Miranda’s picture on a lightbox, but I’m stubborn about how I should draw my portraits. I told myself that I’ll trace if and only if I’ve failed at every effort to do it by myself. I thought I was near that point, until I came upon this video on Youtube. It’s more of a drawing critique than a how-to video, but it mentioned something about using Photoshop to check your drawing mistakes. The process is easy; just overlay your drawing on the original and check where you’ve gone wrong. I decided to try it on my sulking Miranda.

Here are the reference photo and drawing side by side. I made the lines in my drawing red so I can see the errors easier.

side by side

And here’s the overlaid version. Overlaying the images revealed where my biggest mistakes were. The eye, shoulder, and jawline were drooping too low, giving Miranda the sulky look.

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I traced my original drawing on a tracing paper, making sure that I correct the mistakes from before, transferred it to a sheet of watercolor paper, painted it in, and voila! I now have a much improved version of Miranda.

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It’s not 100% her, (the face is too long, the hair too big, the brow just wrong), but she’s getting there. It’s much better than the sulking version. The video also said something about turning the reference image upside down, so we can see the mistakes easier. It’s similar to a tip from Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the right side of the brain where the author said that her art students had more success drawing portraits when the reference is upside down instead of right side up. It’s because her students were forced to draw what they see instead of drawing what they know from habit. Maybe I’ll try that next time, and I’ll also write about it here. For now, I hope this helped 🙂

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