Drawing in general entails four distinct elements: line, value, texture, and form. In the special case of pencil portrait drawing we can refine the list of elements to six: form, proportion, anatomy, texture, value, and planes.
In this article we will give a detailed description of each of those pencil portrait drawing elements.
(1) Form or Shape – The illusion of three-dimensionality in drawing and art in general has been central to Western art for centuries. The carving out of form using line, structure, and value was a vital component of almost all Renaissance art.
On the other hand, oriental and lots of contemporary art emphasize flatness of form although this period in contemporary art is drawing to a close.
All form in drawing can initially be reduced to 4 basic 3-dimensional solids: bricks, cones, cylinders, and spheres. The proper use of these forms together with perspective and value leads to the illusion of 3-dimensionality even though the drawing is, in actuality, located on a 2-dimensional sheet of drawing paper.
In portrait drawing, the arabesque of the head, the square structure of the head, and all components within the head (nose, eyes, etc.) are all 2- and 3-dimensional forms that contribute to the overall illusion of 3-dimensionality
(2) Proportion – includes all sizing and placements of form. Proportion refers to the concept of relative length and angle size.
Proportion gives answers to these two questions:
1. Given a defined unit of length, how many units is a particular length?
2. How large is this particular angle? Answering these two questions consistently correctly will yield a drawing with the correct proportions and placements of all form.
(3) Anatomy – refers essentially to the underlying structures of bone and muscle of the head.
It is important to learn as much as you can about anatomy. There are many books available on anatomy for artists. For a portrait artist it is particularly important to understand the anatomy of the head, neck, and shoulders.
Anatomy studies unfortunately include a lot of Latin terms which makes it somewhat difficult to grasp. The idea is to study slowly and a little bit at a time because it can be quite frustrating.
(4) Texture – in portrait drawing expresses the range of roughness or smoothness of the forms. The rough texture of a concrete walk way, for example, is quite different from the smoothness of a window.
There exist several techniques and tricks to help you with the creation of the correct textures. Creating textures is an area in drawing that gives you the opportunity to be very creative and to use every possible type of mark you can make with a pencil. In portrait drawing textures occur in places such as hair, clothing, and skin.
(5) Value – refers to the variations in light or dark of the pencil marks and hatchings. Powerful portrait drawings employ the full palette of contrasting lights and darks. Beginning artists often fail to achieve this full “stretch” of value, resulting in timid, washed-out drawings.
(6) Planes – produce the sculptural sensibility of a portrait. The head has numerous planes each with a different direction and therefore with a different value.
The idea is to think of the surface of the head as a collection of discrete planes with a certain direction relative to the light source. You should try to identify each of the planes and draw its correct shape and value.
The correct handling of planes contributes very much to the likeness of your subject as well as the illusion of 3-dimensionality.