Drawing people is hard!

Although I immensely enjoyed my portrait classes when I was an art student, once I fell out of practice, I could not bring myself to come back to it.

I’ve drawn several hundred animals over the past five years. In comparison, I’ve only attempted a handful of human painting studies and a few sketches (usually at the beginning of the year when I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to pick up portraiture again).

I think my personal hang-up has been acknowledging that my skills were lacking in multiple areas. When faced with the task of drawing people, I was quickly overwhelmed with what I wanted to focus on. Was it building flesh tones? What about creating natural wrinkles and skin texture? How much anatomy did I remember from 5+ years ago?

Instead of jumping into the deep end of the pool, I decided that in 2023 I’ll make small concrete steps to work on the fundamentals. I want to tackle just one aspect of portraiture per week with the end goal of having the confidence to render any person.

I put myself through a similar regimen in 2018-2019 when I wanted to become proficient in a new medium – pastels. I won’t lie – the learning curve was steep. The constant feeling of “what am I doing?!” to a confident “I got this!” was a solid six months.

At first, I tried to adopt the techniques of accomplished pastel artists. Not to discount their efforts, I did pick up some handy tips through YouTube and Instagram that I still use in my work today. However, being told to do something is very different from physically doing the action.

As an artist with a beginner’s knowledge of most common art mediums, I surprisingly found myself using techniques from oil painting and charcoal drawing in pastel work. In the end, I feel the biggest jumps in growth during my first year with pastels was through failures and accidental discoveries.

The principle of encouraging failure may seem odd. I personally like to allow myself generous room for failure before I begin placing expectations of my artwork. When I was an art student, I remember a few classmates being very fixated on submitting projects that were ‘perfect.’ Some even went so far as to submit projects late (and receive a late penalty every day the project was late) because they personally weren’t satisfied with their drawing or painting.

In the early learning stage – whether it’s trying a new medium (watercolors, colored pencils) or creating in a new setting (still life, live models, plein air), allowing mistakes to happen is invariably a part of the process.

Here are just a few of the aspects of human portraiture that I’ve identified as hurdles.

Human Portraiture Practice Points

  1. Anatomy
    1. Facial bone structure
    2. Muscles
    3. Fat distribution
  2. Color Theory
    1. Assess existing pastel collection for skin tone colors
    2. Form color palettes for light/medium/deep skin tones
  3. Draw a Variety of Subjects
    1. Age – children, adult, elderly
    2. Skin tone range – warm, cool, light, deep
    3. Male and female
    4. Skin texture – pores, wrinkles
    5. Facial hair

While I can’t promise an update every week on this site, I’ll do my best to document my lesson plans as I chip away at the large task list. In addition, I’ve also picked up several portrait-focused books. You can expect routine updates on my human portrait journey and an occasional book review.

Do you have any resources (videos, books, social media accounts, etc.) that you’ve found helpful with drawing people? Please leave a comment with them linked below and I would be happy to check them out.


3 thoughts on “Art Goal for 2023: Draw People!

  1. I would highly recommend watching episodes of Portrait Artist of the Year. It offers opportunities to see many artists working on their own version of the same person. Through this you will discover that there is no one correct way, but instead, a whole spectrum of ways to approach portraiture. Watching has freed my to follow my own path forward.

    1. I’ve heard great things about the Portrait Artist of the Year series Cathy! I’ll definitely be adding it to my watchlist.

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