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Methods of portrait drawing

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Portrait drawing is a wonderful skill that every artist wants to learn. Faces express ones physical and psychological state, facial features are windows into the life of a person, and to capture likeness, mood and expression requires precision, skill, and a deep understanding of human anatomy. Among the various techniques employed by artists for portrait drawing, the Loomis and Reilly methods stand out as comprehensive guides for achieving lifelike portraits. While both methods aim to enhance an artist’s ability to capture the essence of a subject’s face, they differ in approach and focus.

Andrew Loomis method:

Andrew Loomis himself was an American illustrator, writer and art instructor born in June 1892. Loomis is best known as the writer of a series of instructional art books printed throughout the 20th century, and as the inventor of the “Loomis method”. His book Drawing the head and hands systematically illustrates the step-by-step process of portrait drawing.

Loomis uses simple forms and measured landmarks to construct the human head, in any angle. The method starts with a ball, breaks it into four equal sections with two lines and then uses the created measurements to place facial features.

Step 1: Draw the Ball

Start by drawing a perfect sphere to represent the upper part of the head, or the section that houses the brain. This sphere serves as the foundation for the construction of the head.

Step 2: Add the Cross

Draw a vertical and horizontal line on the sphere to create a cross. The vertical line represents the direction of the front of the face, while the horizontal line represents the eyebrow line.

Step 3: Flatten the Ball

Imagine slicing off small sections on each side of the sphere to create a flattened shape. This represents the sides of the head where the ears attach.

Step 4: Divide the Middle Line

Break up the middle line into four sections: the hairline, eyebrow line, nose, and chin. These sections help establish the proportions of the face.

Step 5: Place the Ear

Position the ear at the bottom-back corner of the flattened shape, in line with the hairline and the eyebrow line.

Step 6: Consider Bone Structure

Remember that the flesh of the head lies over bone, so think about the underlying bone structure when drawing facial features. This will help maintain symmetry and accuracy in your drawings.

Step 7: Adjust Proportions

Use the established landmarks and distances to adjust the proportions of the facial features based on the individual you’re drawing. You can increase or decrease the distances between features to create different types of head drawings.


Step 8: Practice and Experiment

Practice drawing from real-life examples, such as basketballs or golf balls, to familiarize yourself with the Loomis method. Experiment with different proportions and angles to develop your skills further

Loomis method of portrait drawing is straight forward,easy to understand and precise, and its preferred by most of the beginners.

Reilly’s Abstraction

Born in 1906 Frank Joseph Reilly was an American painter, illustrator, muralist, and teacher. He taught drawing and painting at the Grand Central School of Art, and illustration at Pratt Institute and Moore College of Art. However, he is best known for his twenty-eight years of instructing at the Art Students League of New York and establishing the Frank J. Reilly School of Art in the early 1960s, where he taught until his death in 1967.

Reilly’s method of portrait drawing or Rilley’s abstraction’ seems to be bit complex and unlike Loomis, Reilly himself didn’t write any books illustrating his method.“Mastering Drawing the Human Figure: From Life, Memory and Imagination” written by one of the Reilly’s student Jack Faragasso is one source that documents the Reillys method. And people suggest that one has to have some prior understanding of anatomy to start using Reilley’s abstraction.

1: Establish the Major Shapes:

Begin by sketching the major shapes of the head, such as the cranial mass (skull), jawline, and cheekbones. These shapes serve as a foundation for the rest of the drawing.

2: Identify the Tilt and Angle:

Determine the tilt and angle of the head by observing reference points such as the eyes, nose, and chin. Understanding the head’s orientation in space is crucial for achieving accuracy in the portrait.

3: Locate the Plumb Line:

Draw a vertical line (the plumb line) to indicate the centerline of the face. This line helps maintain symmetry and balance in the portrait, serving as a reference point for placing facial features.

4: Construct the Eye Line:

Sketch a horizontal line across the head to represent the position of the eyes. This eye line serves as a guide for placing other facial features and ensures proper alignment and proportion.

5: Block In the Facial Features:

Using the major shapes and reference lines as a guide, block in the basic shapes of the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Pay attention to their relative size, spacing, and placement within the face.

6: Establish the Reilly Abstraction:

The Reilly Abstraction involves identifying specific rhythms and angles within the face to capture its unique characteristics and expression. These rhythms include the brow line, cheekbone line, and jawline, among others.

7: Refine the Features and Rhythms:

With the basic forms in place, refine the facial features and rhythms, paying close attention to their contours, proportions, and relationships to one another. Use light, confident strokes to convey depth and dimensionality.

8: Fine-Tune the Likeness:

Continuously compare your drawing to the reference or model to ensure accuracy and likeness. Make adjustments as needed to capture the unique nuances of the subject’s face and expression.

9: Add Details and Texture:

Once satisfied with the overall structure and likeness, add details such as hair, wrinkles, and textures to enhance realism and depth. Use varying line weights and shading techniques to create depth and dimension.

Comparison Loomis Vs Reilley

Andrew Loomis, in his seminal work “Drawing the Head and Hands,” introduced the Loomis Method as a systematic approach to drawing the human head. The method begins with establishing the basic structure and proportions of the face using simple shapes like spheres and crosses. Loomis’s clear and accessible explanations make the method particularly appealing to beginner artists, providing them with a solid foundation for portrait drawing. The Loomis head, with its emphasis on mapping out shapes and proportions swiftly, serves as an effective starting point for artists seeking to capture the essence of a subject’s face.

The Reilly Abstraction, attributed to Frank J. Reilly, offers a nuanced approach to portrait drawing that focuses on enhancing likeness, flow, and accuracy. Although there is limited first-hand documentation of Reilly’s teachings, as mentioned earlier his method has been preserved and taught by his students, such as Jack Faragasso. Unlike the Loomis Method, the Reilly Abstraction assumes a certain level of familiarity with basic anatomy and proportions, making it more suitable for intermediate to advanced artists. Through detailed guidelines and rhythm lines, the Reilly method guides artists in developing individual facial features and creating a cohesive portrait that captures the subject’s likeness with precision.

While both the Loomis and Reilly methods share the common goal of improving portrait drawing skills, they differ in their approach and level of detail. The Loomis Method excels in providing a straightforward framework for beginners, emphasizing the rapid mapping of basic shapes and proportions. In contrast, the Reilly Abstraction offers a more intricate approach, focusing on the development of facial features and the refinement of likeness through rhythmic lines and detailed guidelines.



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