Portrait Drawing Challenge Takeaways

Amy Beach, one of the first well-known female composers from the U.S.

My January portrait challenge taught me a number of things. The most important?

I don’t ever want a job drawing just composers. Especially ones with wigs. Take a hike, Mozart.

(Here are round 1 and round 2 of my month-long challenge.)

More insightful revelations also surfaced.

For one, our brains lie to us all.the.time. They tell us that the eye line for faces is higher than reality. That eyes are ovals, that ears are squished up tight to the face for profile drawings.

For instance, these tabletops are the same size. My left brain still doesn’t believe me. Measure them if you don’t believe me!

My skill development plateaued around week 2-3. I wish it simply coincided with being siiick of drawing old dead guys, but I think it was because I was just doing drawings vs deliberate practice and exercises to improve my beginner skills.

I’m slowly working on overcoming left brain bias via Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but I simply didn’t dedicate enough time to the exercises. There are still so many basics I need to focus on to continue improving:

  1. Perceiving negative space
  2. Positioning of facial features
  3. Sighting (aka measuring relative sizes of things and transferring it to a drawing)
  4. Light logic (aka shading, but I sound cooler using art expressions)

Deliberate Practice Works Better

My friend Jono sent me a blog post on a portrait drawing challenge from the author of Ultralearning. That dude spent a month drawing FIVE HOURS (!!) a day, much of it deliberate practice.

Moving forward, I’m planning do follow his example and do the following:

  1. Study drawing techniques and practice them.
  2. Do multiple quick sketches to improve placement of facial features.
  3. Overlay drawings on the original image to compare them.
  4. Not draw only composers. Maybe I’ll do a mountain biker series?

To be fair, I drew Taylor Swift and a self-portrait. The latter will be a good reference point for future development, even if it annoys me that my eyes are too narrow, my jaw too square, and so on. Baby steps…

All in all, this was a useful, enjoyable challenge that yielded solid improvement with only 30-45 minutes a night of effort. A benefit is that I’d listen to each artist’s work while I drew, so I exposed myself to new work.

But for now, it’s back to T. Rex fail drawings for awhile. Onward!

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This final round of portraits included: 

  1. Fabrizio Paterlini – modern Italian composer.
  2. John Lennon – maybe you’re heard of him?
  3. Taylor Swift – Chelsea rocked her music all last week, so why not draw Taylor?
  4. Phillip Glass – modern minimalist composer
  5. One of my favorite musicians: self-portrait of me!
  6. Upside-down drawing of Stravinksy – an exercise to decouple the left and right brain
  7. Joseph Kosma – composer of the jazz standard Autumn Leaves
  8. Dirk Maassen – modern German composer. I’m listening to this excellent album by him right now.
  9. Mozart – yup.
  10. Amy Beach – one of the first famous female composers from the United States.
  11. BEETHOVEN, BABY! He’s looking rather serious, but his long lashes soften the stern aspect.

And as a reminder, here’s where I started earlier this month…

Ludovico Einaudi portrait
Portrait #1: Ludovico Einaudi…eyes wayyyy too high and so on!

Let’s make this easy: here’s the 2nd batch, followed by the first! Satisfying to look back and see progress.

Second round:

First round:

2 replies
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      I don’t know about STAGGERING progress, but at least there’s some shading now! If nothing else, I had fun…even with those ridiculous tilted head angles, which I chose for the challenge. I thiiiink Uncle Jesse’s portrait would be easier?


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