Monday, January 3, 2011

Assumption Will Kill Your Portraits, and Destroy Your Soul

The second you think you know better than what your eyes tell you, that's the second your mature and manly prince starts looking like all those flouncy anime chicks he's been eying.

(The irony is that my own habits made this illustration nearly impossible to draw.)

That's the second you start drawing a profile nose on your 3/4 veiw picture.


That's the second you start drawing stupid eyes with stupid things on them that don't exist.


We have assumptions about what looks good, the way things are supposed to be, and our own abilities.

One of the first, and easiest assumptions to break when we start drawing, is our color choice. The ocean isn't always blue, leaves aren't always green, and faces aren't always pink.


The world isn't made out of homogeneous masses of self-illuminating pigment.
It's a mess of opaque and semi-transparent layers that can be lit by an infinite array of different colors.

I think this assumption was cured around seventh grade after that Chuck Close assignment. I liked that self portrait. Though it doesn't look like me at all.

Something awful happens when I like what I've drawn.


Instead of picking it apart and finding what's wrong, like I would with a bad image, I simply call it good and internalize everything I just did.

I've picked up some really bad habits, just by liking my own work.


I drew the following in high school. At first blush, I had trouble with flat noses. You can see this in a lot of my stuff. If you look a bit longer, you can see that I'm just desperate to line things up like things are at a "normal" front view.


I remember drawing this in class, I was trying to "bring more light into his eyes". This ultimately meant that his eyes aren't as tired.

Also telling, there's no hair on his arm. Whether this was a choice, or an oversight, it was no doubt influenced by the fact that the men (or man, as the case was) who I found attractive, wasn't hairy.

I have a theory that we all carry around a personal impression of what the average face looks like. By this, we measure what we think is possible, or matches our feelings about some one.

We all tend to like these generic, average faces better.
Conversely, when we find some one more attractive, we see them as more average than they are.


So we draw them that way. Then we get confused if it doesn't look like them.


I found this picture of Sharky--Gareth Bale--while googling images of him. It intrigues me.
If we look back at the original study of what makes Sharky look like Sharky, how many of those characteristics has she put in here?

How many of Bale's characteristics fit this generic, "attractive" architype?


How much of Bale has been distorted?

Pretend A. that you trust me and B. that I just told you Bale looks generic, can you trick your eye into making him look more like Mr. Attractive up there?

The moral of the story is, if you're having trouble with a picture, give yourself a rest. It's not your eyes that need it, it's just that your judgmental smart-ass brain needs to shut the hell up.


Symptoms of a Chronic Assumption Infection (CAI) include over generalized statements like ",I totally figured out how to draw eyes"; frustration with unusual subjects; and receiving neutral or negative responses to images the artist feels positively about.

If you or some one you, or some one you care about has been affected by CAI, ask your doctor about Humility. Used as directed with a regimen of Actually Trying, you too can regularly feel like an idiot but ultimately be far better.