Project 6 Exercise 3 Portrait from memory or the imagination

The Aim

Draw someone you have seen momentarily or not at all. This exercise should prompt the question ‘What is a portrait?’

The exercise

I chose to draw with graphite putty because you can not get bogged down in detail using it. I wasn’t really sure who I was going to draw as I set up my paper on the easel. I definitely didn’t have a particular person in my mind. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be drawing male or female, I just started drawing. This is the result!

Who is this person? Graphite putty and water
Who is this person? Graphite putty and water

David Bowie was playing on the radio when I started and whilst I didn’t set out to draw him (and this certainly isn’t a portrait of him) I do feel the music playing provided some influences (the prominent cheek bones for instance). The spiked hair was probably influenced by the Zak Smith self-portrait in the course handbook. I started with the nose and the left eye (the person’s left) and worked outwards. I wet the paper in areas that I wanted a darker tone. I made a bit of a mess of the right eye and inadvertently got some water in the area. The problem with graphite putty is that it is hard to rub out once it is wet- it does erase to a certain extent but you are left with a stain. I have corrected the position of the eye but you can still see the original position. It is also still a little too high. I was hoping to be able to rub out an area for the left ear too, creating an impression, but this didn’t work!  I have also gone it too dark under the neck making the face float out in front a bit, but the shadow on the left of the face does serve to anchor it back!

So not an overly finished piece however it was interesting to think about what it was that made a portrait as I have clear done so with no great intention in mind when I set out. I showed the drawing to my husband and asked him who he thought it was and without hesitation said a ‘rock-star’. Perhaps he too was seeing the Bowie influence. Whilst traditionally a portrait is an image or likeness of a person’s face and shoulders, surely what needs to be conveyed is not just a series of anatomical parts arranged in a pleasing manner but something of the vitality of that person. I was reminded of the very first exercises on this course, those on drawing emotions. To work, perhaps a portrait must convey a sense of emotional state of the model – or indeed carry the emotional state of the artist. Given this is a portrait of no-one in particular but was created under the emotional influence of music the latter could be the more important of the two. However if this was to be a true likeness of someone, the essence of that person needs to shine through too- their spirit if you like or a psychological aspect. This serves to add a narrative to the portrait. Even if you don’t know the person the viewer should come away with a feeling of knowing something about that person other than what they look like. Looks are, after all ,only skin deep – except for eyes of course which allow us beneath the skin of a person. I obviously struggle with eyes. Perhaps this is why.

I think my drawing shows an energetic, happy, fairly carefree young person who quite possibly would be an interesting person to talk to. This narrative may be enhanced by including surroundings in a portrait but I don’t think this is alway necessary.

I think that I would have found drawing a really person from memory far more difficult. If I had more time I would repeat this exercise 10 times to see if I had could manage to draw 10 different people – or would they all end up looking the same.

Project 6 Exercise 3 Portrait from memory or the imagination

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