Every artist is plagued with nagging doubts or ideas about what they’re good at or not good at. Sometimes the doubt is planted by others (a 2nd grade classmate who can’t tell your hand-drawn sheep from a giraffe, let’s say); and sometimes the suggestions are put there by our own self-doubting selves.
My problem? Faces.
If you were to sift back through my first pencil drawings, then to charcoals and paintings in high school, college and beyond, you would see that from the beginning I’ve had a problem with human faces. I’m sure it started with an off-hand comment from someone or maybe with a drawing that didn’t turn out the way I’d planned. But for years and years, I was convinced that I could not reproduce a human face on paper.
Here are some brilliant compositional shortcuts I took to avoid painting actual faces.
- Hats with wide brims, big shadows;
- Goggles and other dark eyewear;
- Painting people that are walking away or turned demurely to the side; and my favorite,
- Skipping it all together and calling it “artistic license.”
Some people actually thought the faceless paintings were cool. So did I actually, and still do. Most of them were scenes where a human face might have been distracting; the painting focused somewhere else.
I was fine with it.
But as I started painting more and more – like, everyday – I started seeing things differently. When I look at something – anything, really – I break it down by shape, line, contrast. I started seeing faces this way too – and realized that faces are really just riffs on the same formula, if you’ll allow me to mix metaphors. How hard could it be?
So I tentatively painted a few portraits – one of my son on vacation at Big Sky (I employed the goggle technique, here) and then another, bolder portrait of my daughter at Disneyland. They turned out okay, but it wasn’t until I painted this portrait of Amanda Palmer and then this one of Martha Stewart that I thought, “Hey, I can do this!”
This week I’ve painted three 5×7″ portraits and they’ve been well-received. In fact, I’ve had more comments on my little rinky-dink self-portrait than on most of my other pieces combined.
2010 will be the Year of the Face.