The most recently released Herman Mudget mugs have each been likenesses of a kind: the shrunken head portrait of Vincent Price.
There are dozens of very good resources available online for creating a portrait in clay, paint, or drawing. You can find ideas and methods for finding and evaluating good reference materials, measuring features, key points to look for on the face, anatomy, and so so so many formulas for creating the “human” face.
In case you missed it, Herman is particularly skeptical of proscribed systems for making a face, but that is not the focus for today, grumpy art advice is a thing for later.
Today let’s focus on something that is sadly neglected far too often. Gesture, the general feel of a person (or creature’s) face. That may seem like artsy fartsy mumbo jumbo, but we can break the concept down into more manageable and concrete ideas.
Really the “gesture of a face” is borrowing a term from life drawing 101. It means to quickly and succinctly jot down the most emphatic thing about a models pose. Identifying visually what stands out about that pose the most, what makes it unique. We as artists are taught to focus first on the gesture (overall impression) of a pose so that our other work and application of technique can be done in support of the gesture. This creates a more impactfull thematically unified artwork. And too often the concept of gesture is abandoned after figure drawing, we can apply it to the portrait as well and we should.
We are likely all familiar with the idea of characteristic expressions, we know when a friend just doesn’t seem themselves, or the feeling of interacting with somebody who is just off. The natural direction and inclination of a person’s features and expression that can lead to “resting bitch face”.
Some people have angular sharp features, some soft and rounded, most of us have a mixture. Often people take of familiar expressions that we feel fit their face, sometimes because they wear the expression frequently and sometimes because the shape and set of their features lend themselves to it.
Think Tim Curry’s ability to convey gleeful wickedness with his eyebrows and peculiar smile, or Shelly Duval’s large doe eyes practically personifying fear and panicked indecision in The Shining.
In the case of the Vincent Price mug, the late great actor left us with beautiful life casts taken throughout his career. Perfect representations of his proportions and the details of his features, that look kinda like the vincent price we all know and love. It needed that characteristic cocked eyebrow, and hint of a smile to convey Vincent Price.
When you set out to do a portrait don’t forget that Perfect proportions and anatomy don’t equal perfect likeness. Look for the aspects that most strongly communicate what is essential about the portrait you are trying to make. Emphasizing the features that convey what you want and even suppressing those that conflict will often yield a better portrait than a technically more faithful representation.
A final more concrete piece of advice, if the portrait is of a celebrity look for charicature when possible to help identify the most important aspects of the face to help you make choices even if you are not going for a cartoony look.