Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Strange Exercise (And Some Thoughts on Lips)

One of the hardest things to do (for me) is to draw realistic characters with appealing, precisely constructed noses and lips that are well-constructed enough that you can draw them from any angle as they move through space (mostly on pretty girls). I know a lot of great artists that seem to understand the complicated planes of the underside of the nose (no small feat) and can draw them in a simplified and appealing way from any difficult angle (no small feat either).

The way that the front and sides of the top of the nose blend and transition into the complicated bottom plane of the nose is extremely complex, especially the way the "wings" of the nostrils curve around back up into the nostrils. Almost as complex is the planes of the lips, particularly the way the flesh of the lips is fullest under the nose and turns under to "tuck" into the cheek. Again, when trying to draw a pretty girl all of these things are at their most challenging. When drawing men you don't usually have to be as delicate with these areas, and usually with men you don't have to draw the lips at all, unless they're whistling or some other activity that requires puckering their lips, or biting their bottom lip or something. In those kinds of cases you might have to indicate the shape of the lips to get the action to read correctly.

It's interesting to note that the bottom of the nose, the lips and the hair of the eyebrows all have "twists" to their form. Also straight hair (especially when it is long) seems to twist back upon itself when it comes off the head. Of course curly hair does this in an even more pronounced way.

Keeping all of these shapes anchored and consistent on a face as you draw it over and over is also very difficult but it is absolutely imperative to put over any kind of convincing performance in an animated character. The relationship between the frontal plane of the face and how the brows, eyes, cheeks, nose lips and chin relate to each other must be kept consistent even as the features squash and stretch and as the head moves around on the neck. Of course it goes without saying that the acting occurs in the body as much as in the face, but this post is about the face and it's structure.

What I'm looking for, more than anything, is an understanding of all the complex planes of the face so I can know and understand all of them and come up with such an innate understanding of every aspect of the face so that I can draw it from any angle, in any expression, with confidence and appeal and with strong unique expressions. I don't want to just copy the way someone else does it or learn a "method" or shortcut for doing it...I want to understand the real thing and find my own way to portray these things the best way I can. I don't feel like just reading anatomy books will get me there.

So I thought of a new approach. I found some high-res pictures of faces online and drew over them to try and understand the planes better. Hopefully I can lock them into my brain this way and solidify my understanding. Unfortunately I couldn't find too many high-res pictures on the internet, but I found a few pictures of celebrities here. There's no particular reasons for why I picked the actresses I picked. I was just looking for shots that had a big area of the face to draw. Many of the pictures on this website seem to be emphasizing other parts of the body, if you get my drift....many of the pictures are full-body and many are racy, so you've been warned.

A half-finished one.

Here's one without the picture underneath.

Let me know if you're aware of a better place to get high res pictures of faces.

If you don't have Photoshop and a Cintiq you can do this yourself by drawing over pictures in magazines with a thin tip pen (I've actually done this too). Or print out pictures from the internet and draw over them.

If you're going to try doing this exercise yourself I would say try to draw straight lines as much as possible so you are forced to make definite changes in direction. Rounded lines don't make you think of definite delineations between the planes as much as straight lines with decisive changes in direction. Don't forget to draw the planes of the hair and how the hair originates from the top of the head.

If you're having trouble understanding the planes of the faces and where they break and change direction, then try and find pictures of faces where there's a lot of contrast - ones with harsh black and white lighting so you can see where the light changes into a dark area - that'll be where the plane changes direction. Or better yet, stand in front of a mirror and turn out the lights, then use a flashlight to see how it works on your own face.

I didn't spend more than about five minutes on each of these. I'm not belaboring them, just quickly sketching in the planes on each. I don't seem to have any difficulty in knowing where the planes are, just as I don't think anyone would, because after all, we spend our whole lives concentrating on other people's faces.

If you have any ideas of a better way to figure all of this out, feel free to let us know. In the meantime here are just a couple of pages with some information I've come up with from thinking about lips recently. Ignore the noses in these pages...they are just there to orient you, I didn't take the time to really write about my "nose theories"....maybe some other time I will. These are strictly about drawing lips.

I could go on and on....but that would defeat the point. Like I said, I'm not looking for a formula and I don't want to end up giving you ten pages of lip "formula" either. Instead, you can do what I'm doing, study the real thing and make some observations. Anyone can do it. Study the real thing and come up with your own simplified, caricatured way to draw lips.

Some closing thoughts to set you on your way....

The reason that the idea of a lip "formula" is bad is that everyone's lips are unique. I could cut and paste a hundred different photos of lips to prove this to you but that''s a lot of work. Go look some up yourself and you'll see it's true. Some people have thin lips, some people have full lips, some have crooked lips, some have a thin upper lip and a fat bottom lip, etc. So draw what's going to be unique to your character and what fits their personality.

Always remember that the lips project off of the face. They are connected to everything else and when they move everything else on the face is affected. Keeping both of these points in mind will keep your drawings from looking like the lips are just "stuck on" to a flat face.

Sometimes it's all right to draw all the lines inbetween all of the teeth and sometimes it's better to just draw the teeth as one solid white shape. Look at your favorite artists and see how they've approached this problem. When drawing pretty girls or attractive characters I would say it's usually the case that artists draw the teeth as plain white shapes without interior lines. Drawing lines between the teeth works fine for more comic characters.


mechis said...

wow. This is a fantastic post... if you can find the time, I'd love to see what you have to say about the nose as well!

Thanks for sharing!

Adam Norwood said...

I've done similar exercises for myself in the past (tracing contour or directional lines in Photoshop over a photograph). Part of our rational brain seems to shut down when we're looking at other human faces, so it's a really useful way to analyze methodically how things are laid out.

I was about to suggest looking at John Vanderpoel's book "The Human Figure" for some of the best writing I've come across on how the planes of the human form interact -- then I remembered that you had already written some great posts on him a few months back! I love that book.

Thanks for these posts, reading other people's thoughts and techniques for life drawing is always inspirational.

Scott Sackett said...

Similar to the 'folds' post, I read this right at a time when I am struggling with a pair of lips.

Of course, I struggle with everything so any art tips you post will be relevent.

Thanks for the help!

Germantown Studios said...

A friend of mine, a sculptor, recently lectured my 3D modeling class on the construction of the face. He made the point, which I think might be useful here, of how the lips are actually the inside of the mouth being turned out. He demonstrated this with a lined shirt, which he turned a small portion inside out.

While it might not be helpful in terms of planes and contours, it certainly helps me when I'm thinking about volume and direction. It's certainly a good complement to my usual approach, which is sort of based on Bridgman.

Mike said...

Great post! It's always interesting to read this kind of thing.

Nathan Black said...

Flickr is a great place to find higher resolution photos. Check the People Portraits group or any of the other self/other groups on flickr and you will have millions of photos. Might even want to limit the search with "B&W" or "faces" keywords. Just hit the "all sizes" button on an individual photo page and you can usually get a higher res version.

Also you can do something similar with google image search: will get you there and it is nice since you can specify only large (or huge) images.

Dan Yu said...

thanks for sharing! i'm gonna try them out.

christopher said...

Hey Mark, try it's a lot of high quality film stills and publicity photos of golden age celebrities.

Thanks as always for these informative posts! A question about boarding: How on model are you expected to draw? Most feature boards I've seen are pretty liberal in terms of being on model but in this post you seem very concerned with consistency and not just getting over the emotion. Does it vary between something like Meet the Robinsons and Frog Princess?

Joanna said...

Has some nice photos of celebrities.

chickennuggets said...

You're pretty hard core Mark Kennedy.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks so much for posting this. I've always struggled with drawing lips (especially from odd angles) and this is a great help.

Thanks for sharing!

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