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Sophisticated graphite pencil portraits, for kids and adults!

Ellie, age 11working slowly on her portrait of a woman.
Ellie, age 11 working slowly on her portrait of a woman, in progress. Copyright, LZM Studio, 2014.

A lot of people think that kids can’t draw as well as adults- a misconception that is really not true! Many children are open to learning the same techniques that adults can learn in drawing. ¬†The problem? Many kids just don’t have access to an adult who can draw and can TEACH THEM how to draw! Here is a little tip you can use with your kids, or yourself, if you’re interested in drawing portraits.

Kids can draw quite impressively: the proof is in the picture above.¬†Ellie has been working on this portrait for at least 5 hours. YES FIVE HOURS, at a minimum, maybe more, I’ve honestly lost track of the number of lessons we have logged on this image so far. It takes time, patience, mistakes and repeating things to create a successfully drawn portrait, for both adults and kids. Ellie has practiced shading for at least 10 hours before attempting to shade the skin tone here, and the manual dexterity she has developed is really helping her shade the facial structure in between the facial features. The facial features need to be connected by the structure of the face, and this is an important step in creating a sophisticated portrait. This is also important in our recognition of a person. At just one hour old, a baby prefers to look at a drawing of a face that has the features in the correct order, as compared to a mixed up order, according to Lawrence Rosenblum, in the book See What I’m Saying. In it, he also describes the “configural information” as key for recognizing people. Therefore when you are drawing someone’s face, you also need to pay attention to the spaces between the facial features.

DRAWING TIP No. 1: When your kids are drawing, ask them to spend a LOT more time on their drawings. If they aren’t racing through their drawings, they can observe so much more detail, and adding that to their drawing will really help their work. Over the course of a week or a month, ask your kids to draw a face for longer and longer lengths, by making it a game and setting a timer. Start with just 1 minute, then 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, gradually increasing the time they spend on each face throughout the week or month. They will build tolerance in focusing for longer periods of time. If they claim they have drawn everything they can see, challenge them to see the spaces between things and draw those spaces or redraw areas in order to perfect them.

DRAWING TIP No. 2: Concentrate on the face shape, and “configural information” or spaces between features as well as the eyes, nose, mouth while drawing portraits because this really makes a person look identifiable! There are subtle plane changes around the nose, in the cheeks, both above and under the lips, in the brow bones and forehead and temples. Shade those, too!

Remember, drawing faces is difficult primarily because we are biologically inclined to detect faces. Rosenblum states we are able to recognize our mother’s face by the time we are 4 days old! You don’t have to know how to draw to know a face doesn’t look right. But you never get better without making mistakes, so try again. And then try again. (Do I need to say try again, again?). You get the picture!

Feel free to post some results here, I’d love to help you out and cheer you on!