Thursday, April 21, 2022

Drawing the Adult Head

Drawing and painting an adult portrait can be daunting at first, but it need not be. If you understand proportions, you can begin to get a good idea of where to place facial features.

One of the easiest ways to figure out the proportion of a face’s features is to begin with a basic egg shape and divide it into thirds, starting at the hairline and ending at the chin. The top third will fall between the hairline and just below the center of the eyes.

A third of the way down from the eyes is the bottom of the nose, which lies halfway between the eyes and the chin. The bottom third is the area between the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin.

Dividing further, the bottom of the lip lies approximately halfway between the bottom of the nose and the chin. The length of the ears extends from brow line to bottom of the nose.

Looking straight at the face, if you draw a line straight down from the middle of the eye, you will touch the edge of the lips. There is one eye width between the eyes, with the head being approximately five eyes wide. If you draw a line straight down from the tear ducts, you will touch the outer edge of the nose.

In profile, the head fits a square. If you draw a horizontal line through the halfway point of your square, it will pass through the lower part of the eye, while a vertical drawn through the halfway point will pass directly in front of the ear.

Not all heads are the same, and head shapes and sizes vary with age. Use these measurements merely as points of reference to compare to your model and make adjustments where necessary. For example, your model may have a high forehead or a wider jaw.



“The reason some portraits don't look true to life is that some people make no effort to resemble their pictures."

-       Salvador Dali

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Bones and Muscles: The Foundation of the Human Body

To continue on the subject of anatomy, we’ll compare the male and female skeleton and muscles of the human body. Most artists will eventually be challenged with drawing a human figure or portrait. Figures are added to landscapes to depict daily life, record events in history, display symbols of religious faith, and to simply make a statement. Well before photography became popular, portraits provided a historic record and a status symbol of a person’s worth. Then as today, a well-done portrait captures the personality of the subject. As an artist, it’s important to understand the underlying structure of the body and its proportions before you tackle figure or portrait drawing or painting. When you gain this understanding, you will have a strong foundation that will look original, natural and convincing.

The Human Body

Capable of performing all types of tasks, flexible and strong, renewable, and self-governing, the human body has the resilience that is unmatched by any manmade machine. Cartilage and muscles are the glue that hold bones together and upright and aid in movement, with the bones bearing a body’s weight and acting as protectors for the eyes, brain, inner throat, heart, lungs and other organs.

Differences Between Male and Female Skeletons

Though men and women share a few structural similarities such as bone types and muscular shapes, there are quite a few differences.

The male skeleton’s shoulders are set wider while their hips are narrower. The jaw is more prominent than a female’s, and the neck thicker. The arm muscles in the male are larger and more evident than a female’s muscle structure. The hands are larger, the muscles and bone structure of the fingers more prominent.


The wider hips, longer waistline, lower and larger buttocks, along with more defined thighs and a wider pelvis of the female are designed to support the extra weight of carrying a child. Other than the thighs and buttocks, the female’s muscles are generally less noticeable. Additional shapely differences between a female and male body, besides the obvious ones such as hair and breasts, are the female’s thighs, which are flatter and wider, and the female’s feet, calves, ankles and wrists, which are smaller and more delicate.

Abstract drawing of the proportions of an ideal female figure.


When drawing the male figure, the ideal proportions are at least eight heads tall, with the navel and the elbow landing on the fifth head position. The waist is slightly wider than one head unit, and the space between the nipples is one head. The male figure is two and a third head units wide. The ideal proportions for the female figure are from seven and a half to eight heads, with the navel falling below the fifth head slightly, and the breast nipples centering at the sixth head. The waistline is one head unit wide, and the wrists are even with the crotch. The width of the female figure is two heads.

“It is impossible to draw the clothed or draped figure without a knowledge of the structure and form of the figure underneath. The artist who cannot put the figure together properly does not have one chance in a thousand of success-either as a figure draftsman or as a painter.”

- Andrew Loomis

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Women in Art: Why Biases Still Exist

Women today enjoy a lot more freedom to choose a profession and obtain education. Art professions are now open to both men and women, and women’s art has gained in stature, albeit slowly. For centuries, women were discouraged from becoming artists, and unlike men who studied art, their instruction was restricted until the late 19th century.

Social Barriers

In France, women were banned from receiving free training at the state-sponsored École des Beaux-Arts until 1897. Up until that time, women turned to the studios of established artists or to private academies, often at the cost of inferior instruction at much greater expense.

Women artists were not allowed to attend life drawing classes until the late 1800s. Without access to nude models, female artists could not receive the training necessary for the production of “important” works of art. As a result, women artists were virtually excluded from state commissions and purchases as well as from participation in official competitions such as the coveted Prix de Rome, a prestigious scholarship offered to history painters for continued study at the French Academy in Rome. To make a living as an artist, many women turned to lesser sought subjects including portraiture, genre painting, landscape, and still life.

Furthermore, it was considered degrading to one’s class if a woman aspired to become an artist, with many claiming that the profession detracted from their roles as wives and mothers. In a letter to the mother of Edma and Berthe Morisot, their private art instructor expressed the implications of the two girls’ burgeoning talents: “Considering the characters of your daughters, my teaching will not endow them with minor drawing room accomplishments, they will become painters. Do you realize what this means? In the upper-class milieu to which you belong, this will be revolutionary, I might say almost catastrophic.”

In general, the most successful female artists of the nineteenth century, such as Rosa Bonheur and the Americans Mary Cassatt and Cecilia Beaux, remained unmarried. And, as if staying single weren’t enough, those women artists who became successful were usually associated in some way with male artists as pupils, models or offspring.

The Turning Point

The slow rise of acceptance of women in the art world paralleled the activism of the women’s suffrage movement beginning in the late 1800s, the introduction of women in the traditionally male dominated workplace during WWII, and in the 1970s, the support of the Equal Rights Amendment and the introduction of birth control.

Still, there remains disparities in representation and income. Today only a few works by female artists enjoy representation in major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe. At major auctions, women’s artworks sell for a significant discount compared with men’s artwork. In fact, only two works by women have ever broken into the top 100 auction sales for paintings, despite women being the subject matter for approximately half of the top 25.

Why this inequality persists today is hard to discern. Differences in gallery representation; the cultural biases of art interpretation; the cliché of the art world “bad boy”; the sexism of aging; the imbalanced weight of parenthood; the proportion of curators, collectors, and gallery representatives who are female; and the lack of assertiveness among female artists have all been proposed as hypothetical causes.

Artists pictured, Top to bottom: Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Augusta Savage, and Frida Kahlo.

“I found that I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Paintbox: Ultramarine Blue

In London’s National Gallery is an unfinished oil on wood panel, The Entombment, by Michelangelo. Many of the unfinished parts of the painting, such as the cloak of the missing Virgin, would have required quantities of the expensive blue pigment ultramarine made from powdered lapis lazuli, the only blue worthy of the Virgin Mary’s robe.

It’s possible that lapis lazuli was in short supply and had not arrived from his patron, which could explain why the painting was not completed before Michelangelo’s departure from Rome to Florence in 1501.

Definition and Composition

Cennino Cennini said of ultramarine in his Book of Arts in 1400, “A noble color, beautiful, the most perfect of all colors.”

Ultramarine is a deep blue pigment, originally made by grinding lapis lazuli into a powder. The name is Latin for ultramrinus, meaning “beyond the sea.”

Lapis lazuli is a mixture of the minerals calcite, sodalite, pyrite, and lazurite. Finer grades contain more sulphur, which produces a violet color, while inferior grades contain more calcium carbonate, giving it a grayish tone. The impurities are removed in the processing to produce the pigment. 


 Between the eleventh and eighteenth centuries, the main west-east axis, the Silk Road, brought Asian materials, including silk, inventions and art to Europe. The Silk Road consisted of land routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with South Asia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and Southern Europe. Mediterranean trade between the Middle East and North Africa and Europe in the twelfth through fourteenth centuries was conducted largely by Italian and Greek maritime republics.

During this period, Italian traders introduced lapis lazuli to Europe from Afghanistan, most notably, from ancient mines in Sar-e-sang, the “Place of the Stone,” a settlement in the Kuran Wa Munjan District of Badakhshan Province. Today, it can be found in other locations including Asia, America, Chile, Zambia, and Siberia but only a couple of Afghan mines produce the highest grade (a very deep purplish blue) of this unique stone. In 1826, French chemist Jean-Baptiste Guimet created a synthetic version of ultramarine by heating kaolinite, sodium carbonate and sulfur. The result was a more vivid color and less expensive to produce than traditional ultramarine. The new color was named French Ultramarine.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Ochre, the First Color

The word “ochre” comes from the Greek language, originally meaning “pale yellow.” Ochre is a natural clay earth pigment made of a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. It ranges in color from yellow to deep orange or brown. It is also the name of the colors produced by this pigment, especially a light brownish-yellow.

A variant of ochre containing a large amount of hematite, or dehydrated iron oxide, has a reddish tint known as “red ochre.” The range of earth pigments include yellow ochre, red ochre, purple ochre, sienna, and umber. The major ingredient of all the ochres, iron oxide-hydroxide, known as limonite, renders a yellow color.

Ochre occurs naturally in rocks and soil in any environment where iron minerals have pooled and formed, including valley edges, cliffs or in caves eroding out of the bedrock. Other than serving as paint, ochre was used to tan hides, as mosquito repellent, for protection against the sun or cold, for medicinal purposes, for use in the extraction or processing of plants, and as an adhesive, such as attaching handles to stone tools. Because ochre is a mineral, it doesn't wash away or decay, hence the existence of ancient examples of art and traditions using ochre.

  • The practice of ochre painting has been prevalent among Indigenous Australian people for over 40,000 years. Really good ochre was a prized trade item right up until the 1980s.
  • In Africa, archeologists discovered ochre mines dating back 40,000 years.
  • A highly prized form of ochre came from the Black Sea city of Sinope, in the area now known as Turkey. It was deemed so valuable that the paint was stamped with a special seal, known as sealed Sinope. Sinopia soon became synonymous for red ochre. 


Ochre was the first paint color. Traces of it can be found on every continent since painting began. Iron oxide is one of the most common minerals found on earth, and there is ample evidence that yellow and red ochre pigment was used in prehistoric and ancient times by many different civilizations on different continents.

  • The first American settlers named the indigenous people Red Indians because of the red ochre that they used as body paint.
  • Red ochre paint was used in ancient China, evident from early examples of black and red pottery dating between 5000 and 3000 BC.
  • Ochre is often found in ancient burials. It’s thought that the clothing was dyed with ochre, but as the clothing decayed, the ochre stained the grave and bones red. Originally thought to be the bones of an indecent woman, the stained red bones of the famous Red Lady of Paviland in South Wales, UK, was actually the remains of a young man who lived 33,000 years ago during the Paleolithic age.
  • Researchers diving into dark submerged caves on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula have found evidence of an ambitious mining operation for red ochre from 12,000 years ago.

  • Frequent references in Irish myth to “red men” suggest that the practice of body painting with red ochre was common to the ancient Celts.

Magnetic Qualities

Italian Scientists examining red paint are able to date frescos by studying the direction of the iron molecules in the paint. The molecules act like compass needles, aligning themselves with magnetic north during the time it takes to dry on the wet clay. Because Magnetic north changes every year and fluctuates over a range of 18 degrees, scientists are able to determine what year a fresco was painted.

Fresco, “The Flight into Egypt” by Italian artist Giotto di Bondone.

“The chameleon changes color to match the earth, the earth doesn’t change color to match the chameleon.” ~ Senegalese Proverbs

Monday, October 4, 2021

Green, Symbol of Hope or the Harbinger of Death

The word green is closely related to the Old English verb growan, “to grow.” In some cultures, green symbolizes hope, fertility and growth, while in others, it is associated with death, sickness, or the devil. It can also describe someone who is inexperienced, jealous, or sick. More recently, green symbolizes ecology and the environment.

Green is considered a secondary color created by mixing yellow and blue. Green pigments have been used since Antiquity. The Egyptians made green from natural earth and malachite.

Greeks introduced verdigris, one of the first artificial pigments. Copper resonate was introduced in European 15th century easel panting, but was soon discarded.

Green was once considered a secret color by the Chinese and more prized than gold, with only a select few able to obtain the dyes for it. In central Asia, celadon was for centuries thought to have secret magical powers. Celadon is a term for pottery denoting both wares glazed in the jade green celadon color, also known as greenware, and a type of transparent glaze, often with small cracks, that was first used on greenware, but later used on other porcelains.

Longquan celadons produced in Longquan, Zhejiang, China in the 13th century.

Muslims believed the color green to have alexipharmic (antidote for poison) powers. If celadon tableware was used to prepare and serve food, the family was thought to be protected from poison. William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, owned a sea green cup that may have been given to him to protect him from poisonous food, since he was a taster for official dinners.

Green was associated with Indian mysticism, and was found in Asian poems and Buddhist artwork. During the Romantic period, green was considered akin to the beauty of nature. Chinese Wallpapers popular among the nobility from the time of Mary Queen of Scotts show green vines creeping up walls with all manner of exotic green plants and birds.

But there was a sinister side to the green paint used by artists during this time. A chemist, Carl Wilhelm Scheele patented a new brilliant green paint he named Scheele’s Green. He came upon it accidentally while experimenting with arsenic in 1775. Though he privately noted that the new color might be toxic, it didn’t deter him from obtaining a patent. Soon manufacturers were using the new pigment for paints, wallpapers and all types of household items.

Green wallpaper was thought to contribute to the demise of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Longmont estate where he was being held in exile on the island of St. Helena was subject to dampness. It is believed that the mold that formed on the walls reacted with the arsenic in the green patterned wallpaper, causing the air in the house to become infused with the poison. A strip of wallpaper was torn off of a wall and recently scientifically tested. Traces of Scheele’s arsenite was found in the patterns of green and gold fleurs-de-lis.

Around the same time, a sample of his hair was tested and shown to contain a level of arsenic twenty times the safest amount. Though at the time of his death he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, it’s possible that what led to this diagnosis was Napoleon’s exposure to arsenic, which is believed to be one cause of gastric carcinoma. Six years after his arrival at St. Helena, Napoleon died.

As it turned out, not only green, but yellow, blue and magenta held traces of arsenic. In 1888, Henry Carr reported that arsenic found in artificial flowers, carpets, toys, and fabrics as well as in paint and wallpaper was responsible for the deaths of children and adults. Still, the allure of bright greens over the dull grays and browns of that time was too strong and its use continued well into the 19th century before it was replaced with the safer cobalt green.

“It’s not easy being green.”

-Kermit: Sesame Street frog puppet, singing about identity 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Watery Reflections

Reflections give dimension to a picture, add color and depth, and suggest a mood. A reflection is not a mirror image of the object, though it may seem that way. When you paint a reflection, you are painting a distorted version of the reflector and its environment.

There are a few things to keep in mind when painting reflections. It’s important to determine the perspective of the reflectors, and your distance from them will determine the size and shape of the reflections. The type of surface of the reflector is also important. Is the reflected surface rough or smooth? A rougher surface gives a rougher, more distorted reflection, while a smooth surface’s reflection can be very clear.

Reflections are commonly found in water ways of all types because of the very nature of water. They also originate in inert objects like mirrors and shiny objects, like metals, and transparent objects like glass. The following are some considerations when painting subjects in water, such as buildings, the sun and the surrounding scenery and sky.

Reflections and Color

  • Dark colors in dry land become lighter when reflected in the water
  • Light colors on dry land become darker when reflected in the water.
  • The colors of the sky appear slightly darker on the surface of the water


The distance of the viewer to the water affects how clearly the image of the earth and sky are reflected.

  • When painting objects next to the water, the shadow cast by these objects usually makes it easier to view down below the surface, as the object blocks the reflection of the sky.
  • When standing close to calm water, the viewer will see only a weak reflection. Farther away, water will reflect details, acting nearly like a mirror.
  • When observing dirty water from a close distance you will be able to see the overall color of the water itself.

Shapes & Angles Reflected in the Water

Reflected images should not be rendered exactly as a mirrored object. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The reflected scene in the water is the actual object reflected from two different angles.
  • The reflected image in the water bounces off the surface of the water.
  • What you actually see is the reflected scene below the surface from an angle for as far as your eyes can see.
  • You are actually seeing more below the reflected objects and even reflection of objects that you cannot see at all when you look directly at them.

Painting Ripples

Ripples combine the reflected colors from light and dark areas.

  • Use quick, energetic brushwork with side to side strokes of a thin brush.
  • Drag paint from dark reflected objects quickly into the light areas, clean the brush, then drag the paint from the light areas back into the dark.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. “   

-         Charles Dickens