- Lesson details
Master artist Steve Huston brings you his highly-anticipated advanced head drawing series. In the 6th installment, he discusses the process of taking what nature gives you (the model’s natural facial structure) and modifying it for your own characterizations. Steve will do several demonstrations working from photo references, which you can find attached to this page.
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In this chapter we’re going to talk about characterization.
We’re going to talk about how to take the shapes that are there, the natural proportions
that are there, the natural character of those shapes and push them a little bit farther
and maybe even a lot farther.
It’s a secret of cartooning of caricature design.
We’re not going to really take it that far because that’s not
in the nature of this course, but we’re going to play with it, we’re going to try
and push things and pull things so that it’s more
real, not more real in terms of more accurate with
calibers but more real in terms of the feel of what it needs to be.
So I think it’s going to be fun, let’s get going.
I’ll see you in just a moment.
Transcription not available.
and posture and his expression all have a bit of comedy to it and so we can play with
that any way we want really.
So I’m going to go ahead and draw this out and just lay it in more
or less like I do any drawing.
I’m going to have my own style, we have our own little
peccadilloes the way we do things and that’s a bit of a characterization, a caricature
right off the bat.
There’s going to be certain things that we tend to do that will have an effect and
make it not quite the same and sometimes erratically different.
Like if I’m Michelangelo the models that I choose will never look like
the models, they’ll look like Michelangelo’s.
So the character of the model is completely subsumed
into the style of the artist and that happens a lot with major stylists, you know, people
who have a real personal way to do things.
And as I’m drawing this, I’m starting to,
the way I’ll usually start is I’ll say well, as I draw these
shapes do they tend to want to be squarer or rounder.
Is there a lot of curves or is there a lot of corners or is it a pretty good, pretty
good balance between and I start, usually right
off the bat with shadow shapes as I’m getting to know something because the shadows are
shapes and those shapes then have their own particular design.
Okay, at this point I’m not too critical of likeness or whatever else, I mean, I’m
never all that interested in likeness.
Frankly, I did movie posters for a lot of years and always had to do
likeness so I don’t pay it a whole lot of attention to it usually.
It’s, I just let it go where it wants to go unless I have a real point to
make with that particular character or it’s just a,
beautiful shapes in that young woman or old man or whoever I’m drawing.
There’s that masseter muscle, we’ve talked about quite
a bit in the, in these sections.
You can see he’s clenching his jaw, we’ve got a lot of action,
a lot of complexity in here so that’s all ripe for
working with or playing with or playing against, had a great jaw and face
I’m just doing enough in each area to kind of introduce
myself and let that feature, that area introduce itself so we can get to know each
other a little bit, alright, so we’ve got that.
Now one of the things that I noticed as I was getting into this is this idea.
We saw that here strongly and here strongly and so that might
be something I want to play up a little bit.
So, let’s see if I can work that in there and
now I’m also going to look at what’s going on here
and let’s see if I can push this around a little bit more so it’s a little more
So he has this really beautiful silhouette, you
know, that sharp cut back there.
I want to play that up and I’m going to now, there’s also
a real slope, this comes down this way with all its
architecture and then drops back here more strongly and I can play that up, that drift
back coming out along the upper mustache area
and then going back along the jaw and chin, and playing that up, I’ll also play it down
and go with the obvious choice of giving a bigger jaw.
So I’m also going to play up the perspective a little bit more.
I’m straight on or even a little on top of this character here, really
a little on top.
I’m going to get a little bit underneath his brow here and play that.
Piazzetta, he was a rococo artist around the time of
Watou, its two z’s actually I believe, and he would always, he’d do these three-quarter
views underneath because he did a lot of murals on the ceiling and high up in a castle or
cathedral or something.
Instead of doing this to the box it would be underneath that young
man or young woman or angel or whatever it was, he’d, he’s do this extreme perspective
and that’s a little much, but he’d take the eyes that should have been here and he’d
push them up here, and overdo it.
So he’d actually distort the perspective and the reason he did
that is this figure was going to be, we were going to be standing here looking and that
painting with that figure in it that character on a cloud say, would be looking down at us
and by extreme exaggerating that perspective pushing it up way higher, it would give that
underneath-ness quality to it.
It would really add to the illusion that it really was not only
above us but leaning back away from us in real space.
You will never know how many times I’ve had a student say yeah, this is best thing
I’ve ever done, it’s perfect, it can’t get any better,
you know, give me an A basically.
Just be so excited and it’s sweet, of course, and you want
to encourage that.
So excited with what they’ve done that they’ll just think there’s no
other way to do it and no other way to do it better and
you don’t have that attitude.
You want to enjoy your successes, of course, but you don’t want to have that attitude, it might limit
how you can see greater possibility.
So what you want to do, enjoy that success, do your work and say it’s the best thing I have ever done,
there’s no way I can do it better and then look at it a few weeks, a few days,
sometimes it just takes the next morning.
Dan McCaw who’s a dear friend and was my mentor in painting
used to joke, he’d say I do these masterpieces and I’d go home, go to bed, I come back
in the morning and some dirty rotten scoundrel had
snuck in my studio and ruined my painting.
As he’d come back the next day and he’s see just how, just what the flaws were in
it that could be, could be fixed.
So here I’m going to bring in this idea and notice how these shapes have changed.
I’ve taken the position in space, the perspective which is a visual component we didn’t put
up on our board and I have taken the shapes and I’ve taken the proportions and the line
now and bringing in line ideas.
I’m making each of these shapes like this section of the shadow, that core shadow.
Look at how it basically did its job.
Here is the corner plane, here is the front plane and here’s the side plane, but it
just was, there was nothing exciting, nothing unique.
If that’s a journey it wasn’t a particularly memorable journey.
It got us where we needed to go, but it wasn’t, there was no real excitement or it wasn’t,
you couldn’t put an adjective to it.
Whereas now we can feel that, you know, it’s a bit of a wild ride.
Of course, I can do exactly that, put an adjective to it and that’s a great way to begin creating
concept, you know, drawing with intention, designing with intention.
How can we get from eye to jaw, how can we track that, how can we move, it’s always
How can we move from the eye socket into the cheek.
Now what kind of journey should I make down here, should it be just a generic kind of hook nose with a
bit of blunt end or can I make it more interesting.
Since I’m a light and shadow guy I’m an indoor
painter, shadows become my vehicle into this stuff, but you might find a different vehicle.
You might, it might screw you up and make you render too much if you put in shadows
and you get caught up in the little things and
don’t pay attention to the big things.
So you might stay very kind of blocky, sketchy and everything
starts out with little faceted straight lines that you, you work your way around, whether
that’s you’re way of doing them and then slowly you bring in the organics.
So there’s not one way to do it, you know, one of the, this
is a very cool, coolest highlights I’ve ever seen on a nose there.
This kind of zig-zag look, that’s a very cool bit of information in
this kind of broken yin and yang thing of that into the
nostril could be something I’d pick up on as well maybe.
So now I’ve kind of, notice I’ve also pushed the head forward, the angle has come
forward as I talked about and I’m setting that
up for this move back.
One of the reasons I kind of, rather than hooking the nose down it
kind of blunted that transition, made it a smoother transition.
I don’t want it to be a sharper transition, and that might take me three or
four or five sketches to do that.
We don’t have the time for that, of course, so I’m going
to do just a couple here and then we’ll do one more
or so, or whatever we have time for.
Then you can spend months playing with this, years playing with this, I mean, really play up
that mustache and I’m very interested in this negative shape.
I studied Klimt work quite a bit early on.
Just so careful of shapes, and more importantly with the art nouveau, Schiele the same way, Mucha
not quite as much but yes still, how close to the edge, so he really played things against
the border and he’d have this tortured elbow, you know, bending and in this articulating
arm and it would become against that, and we’d end up with an actual tangent as that
arm took off there in this really kind of wild position he would put them in.
So I’m always pushing, mentally pushing a frame up against it and see this negative
space in here, make sure it’s really interesting.
Again, a great journey, it’s a great journey that I’m taking my audience on because after
all they’ve taken me, showing the interest and taking the time to pay attention and so
there’s a responsibility there.
Here’s that zig-zag back again, they’re repetition and you can pick it up again in here.
Maybe I’ll crowd that hairline there to make this more interesting.
I’m thinking of this shape in here now and I like that slice of the sideburn on back here.
I’m going to kick that jaw back rather than just round it under or chisel it.
I’ll throw it back a little bit that way and this is dropping straight down.
So the moustache goes around
the mouth maybe the ghost of his beard is having an effect there too to add to that.
Kind of the massiveness of this lower structure.
Then I’m going to kick this chin back farther and it really goes and all of a sudden it’s
changed his expression some hasn’t it?
Given this kind of obstinate, just make me kind of look,
and a pouty, plane of the poutlines based on this motif I picked up.
Here we have it here to some extent too.
Okay, so you can ease into a solution, you can have a flash of inspiration, say ah-ah,
this is what that needs to be or maybe I’ve been drawing this guy like NCY as Christina
series, I’ve been drawing this fellow for years and I know his face so well, I know
where I like to take those shapes and the shape theme that’s most successful for what
he’s offering me as a model or as a personality.
I’ll make that a little stronger so it’s going back, it’s going back, it’s going
back, it’s leaning forward, going a little higher too, and that thrust him forward more.
I’m more worried about that so much.
Give this a little bit more personality maybe.
Okay, so a little bit of a different, huh?
We can take that and by being a little dogged, and we
even take things, I’ll add something in here.
That’s not in there, I’ve doubled this up.
So you can take, take an idea you like, you can an
idea you like and you can replicate it, repeat it for effect.
We could have taken the mustache and take it down into that pouty area to give
that more of a hell’s angel biker look or something like that.
Maybe this is one of the, what’s that, Sons of Anarchy, I think it is, the
biker I’ve never seen it, but I’ve seen them advertise the biker gang.
The antiheroes I’m assuming is what they are.
So there you go, alright.
one we were just slightly underneath her.
This is more of the Piazetta angle, this is a great
forehead with the hair pulled back it exposes the wonderful shape of that so I’m going
to really play that up, and notice it’s very
round on top and nice and square, I’m going to think of a box below.
So I’m going to think of an egg or a dome or a top of a bullet that kind of thing.
If I want to feel like I’m underneath I want to make sure that this is a little shorter
so I’m going to have to balance between one
into make that a bigger shape because it’s such a powerful big shape on her to the
foreshortened perspective where things are shortening up,
the length is getting shorter or shortening.
So how short do I make it, do I make it this short, this short and if you lay in loosely,
lightly, you can always change your mind.
I do that a lot as I deluded to last time.
Okay, so on the three-quarter always this, the hair of the eyebrow is here and nose is
here and if you don’t want to do two drawings
like we did before you can what I’m doing here,
it’s what Michelangelo did in the simple drawing and the masters of all time they do
their drawing here and then they come over here
and work out a big toe or a thumb or something like that.
So right here this is the bottom plane of the forehead.
If we think of this as wedge here without the eyeballs and without
the interruption of the nose, it’s just a wedge.
It could have a round top, but the eyes, eyeballs sit in here.
So we’ve got to feel the bottom plane so that eyebrow goes around and
we got to step in to that eyeball.
Okay, so I’m going to a little bit of an odd thing,
I’m going to make this eyebrow, as this goes away
from us I’m going to make it recede an extra amount and as it comes towards us I’m going
to do kind of a fish eye perspective.
It’s not going to distort the perspective itself, but it’s
going to distort the proportions, and I’m always kind of curious about proportions like
in my boxes, of course, I use super hero’s
proportions, bigger and badder.
So I’m using that idea, but in the workers I was using kind
of the beast of burden, so they had shorter legs,
not always but sometimes shorter legs and thicker, bigger hands, bigger forearms, so
almost like they were bred to be, to be workers, an almost dystopian kind of idea of, you
know, they’ve been engineered to only be able to do what they’re doing.
So that’s pretty done big there isn’t it, and then if I took, took the time, we
won’t be able to do it, but you can do it at home, take this
and push those proportions even farther.
Make these almost like a, a fast sports car design,
these kind of sleek aerodynamic lines that speed away from that larger idea.
So coming up with emotional answers it’s an angry
shape, it’s a vengeful shape.
It’s, or metaphorical imagery, it’s a whistle notch, it’s a sleek
aerodynamic, those kind of things are really useful.
Notice how I’m letting those half tones kind of wonder and create these, these rhythms
and secondary structures in helping to tie things together, and that’s very much of
a kind of engineering way of drawing, you know,
that vis-com in design schools.
Visual communication where you’re designing product often
times automobiles or planes or sci-fi such kind of stuff and it’s vis-com and this
is a kind of sweeping Syd Mead, look him up, Syd Mead.
He designed, he helped design Blade Runner and he’s the wise, wise old man of vis-com
and a lot of the style that’s out there is based on
his, his inventions and his way of seeing things.
So that massive eye kind of dominates things and you go that’s the coolest thing I’ve
ever seen, there’s my new style or eh, not like it so much.
It was fun to think about but it doesn’t really hold water or I think it’s a good
idea, but it really needs some development.
It needs four or five or six more drawings or it needs
a sketch book of five or six hundred sketches playing with the idea and see if I can replicate
it or refine it or get it to work in many situations and not just in this one accidental
opportunity, but something that I can base a
consistent worldview on.
Her poor ears have been neglected today, I haven’t, never seem to get time for them.
Let’s stop there.
I want you to do kind of a straight lay-in and then I want you to take that and push
whatever direction you want to push, play with it and see what happens.
Shape, design, angles, organic, architectural, simple, complex, perspective, proportion,
all those possible ideas and do a view drawings and I want you to do each drawing twice, take
one drawing to get to know it and then one, two, three, four if you want to be ambitious,
I encourage you to be ambitious to see where you can take it.
It can go from extreme caricature all the way back to that original straight realism.
Alright, so go ahead, have some fun and I’ll see you in a bit.
Alright, you had your turn now I’ll have my turn.
Alright, so we’ve got this fun character here, great neck, I love that.
If you go to some of our other chapters and look at say aging or male to female and look
at the shape design possibilities that happen with each of those
variations on the theme of human, you know, we’re all homosapiens where we have these
wonderful variations of coloring and proportion and size and all the other good stuff and
so those are all characterizations.
It’s a black character, African character, it’s a young character, it’s a female
character, so those all give you possibilities and then it’s the character of your world,
while you see everything is colored by your, your stylization.
And isn’t it fun to observe and enjoy and then kind of take a little spin with those
shapes and see what happens and then indulging,
you know, treating yourself to not just a one off, just do it and well that was the best
I could do, but actually spending time and saying okay, that was terrific or that was
a little questionable, however, you feel about your attempt there, but now, however, I feel
about it I’m going to do it again and do it again.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that there are people, companies out there that will pay
you to do it again and again and again.
You can say oh, what a drag having to repeat over and over again and sometimes
you’ve had enough of something and wish you could move on in a series of paintings
or in a job for a company, but for the most part to getting paid to delve deeply into
something is a pretty special way to live your life.
Alright, so we’ll leave that there and let’s try a different one now.
Alright, and here have a quite different character, of course, so you get this great,
broad forehead, a lot of forehead.
Notice that forehead bumps forward and drifts forward and then the nose thrusts forehead
I want to play that up and that again is something we can play with over several stages, but
I’m not going to allow myself for that luxury, but you can take that luxury.
He’s got quite thick eyebrows so notice the, excuse me, notice the simplest strategy
is just to take what was there and push it whatever direction it’s going, push it in
that direction and that’s the safest way to go in terms of doing a portrait too is
take those, and you would take, if you’re doing a portrait you would take those flattering
A stronger jaw or broad brow to show intelligence if this was some inventor of the,
some Tesla type or something like that.
There’s also a real horizontal qualities, everything is pulling out wide this way, which
his very interesting.
So we get these kind of rectangular, trapezoidal shapes, the eye here.
A bit of a receding hairline if you’re doing a young comic book brewing a kid who is
mistakenly creating the death rate to destroy us all maybe you’ll, he’s got too much brain
to allow, his brain uses too much blood supply to allow the hair to grow or something, something
So notice how I’m going to really play this up now, just for a big finish to our talk here.
Really, I’m going to stretch everything this way and notice even the hair, this still
thick hair, even though the hairline is receding can take us out this way, maybe he has, these
blast of inspiration.
I remember Ted Talks has an Elizabeth Gilbert, she wrote Eat, Pray, Love, she’s got this
great talk on creativity.
She said there’s this one poet she, I think, she interviewed, I can’t remember how she
learned of this, but this young, this woman would be outside at her little farm house
and all of a sudden she would feel the wind, the creative wind blowing literally and it
was the inspiration of a poem, and she would race to her writing desk trying to get the
desk before the poem got to her and she would sit down and madly write down word for word
what the poem was, you know, what the inspiration was telling her, the muse was telling her,
and if she didn’t get there in time, you know, she’d write it down from start to
finish and if she didn’t get there in time sometimes she could grab onto the tail of
the poem, tail of the inspiration and write it down that way, but she would have to start
So she would write down the whole poem backwards.
It was the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s a great
metaphor and she believed.
She swore and as Elizabeth Gilbert who interviewed her believes the story.
So why not and but it’s a great metaphor or inspiration coming to you, you know, in
spirit, inspire spirit is Latin for breath, breath of God basically or the Gods, whichever
and so that’s why not let this guy have the inspiration for these great discoveries
and maybe the great trouble that it’s going to get him into in the story.
By having that hair kind of blowing in the wind
and then you can, so you can actually start the other way in effect.
You can say well, I’m going to start out going pretty crazy, I’m not even going to
worry about the mouth here because I don’t have time for it.
Oh, so I’m going to just go crazy with this and just push that horizontality in this case
see what happens and then I’ll back off, this is supposed to be a respectable portrait
for some scientist, scientific institution maybe, it’s not a kid show or a comic book
or an animated series or the next Marvel adventure or whatever it is.
So then I’ll back off and bring it back down to earth, back down to
more reality, but I’ll sneak in some of that dynamic design into that, that theme,
theme of width or theme of inspiration these shapes are being buffeted, the power of this
creativity whatever it is.
Alright, that was the chapter on characterization.
We’ve got it wrapped up now, I hope you learned something.
We’re really taking shapes, it’s all about design.
Good drawings, good design and so taking what’s given to you
by nature, by that personality that you’re working with and seeing if could heighten
that or twist it or even subvert it, play with it and look for possibilities.
Always saying what if, that’s what we’re after,
that’s what we accomplished in this chapter.
Thanks so much for joining me.