The portrait is probably one of the most popular, but also the most difficult disciplines in art.
The possibility to reproduce the image of a person with pencil, charcoal or paint on a two-dimensional surface fascinates artists since the beginning of time. But how do you actually learn portrait painting?
Anyone who nowadays enters an artist’s shop or the art department of a bookstore is almost overwhelmed with books bearing titles such as “How to draw a portrait easily” or “Portrait-drawing for beginners”. Books like those, however, require strict caution. Books of this kind often teach the drawing of a certain motif, for example, the portrait of a young woman, according to strict step-by-step instructions and convey a fast success experience. However, if one attempts to implement the learned techniques on their own motifs, one quickly finds great difficulties.
Bild: Diego Velázquez – “Portrait of Juan Pareja”
This is because you have to master the important principles of drawing, such as proportions, contrast, or shape, to successfully draw the portrait.
The above-mentioned textbooks skip this step, the learning of which often requires years of training. But as in all things that you want to master seriously, there is also no abbreviation in art. If you really want to be able to draw every portrait from any angle, there is nothing left but to start at zero and work your way through. An approaching portrait artist begins at the same point as an artist wants to paint a still life, flowers or landscapes.
There are some books on the portrait, which do not try to skip the basics: “Drawing the Head and Hands” by Andrew Loomis or “Drawing the Human Head” by Burne Hogarth are excellent books for the study of portrait art. Such books, however, require a great deal of prior knowledge and often accompany the artist all his life.
Bild: Ilja Repin – “Portrait of Modest Petrowitsch Mussorgski”
A classical drawing class at an academy, under an experienced teacher, also provides the necessary skills to become a portrait artist.
But the most important ingredient for success is the exercise. No book or teacher in the world can take the work to produce the thousands of drawings you need before you see the first successes.
The most important lesson in the art of drawing is thus: Whoever is looking for the fast way will always encounter unsolvable problems.
Bild: Nikolai Ivanovich Fechin – “Portrait of a unknown woman”