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Guidelines For Pencil Portrait Rendering - Rendering The Arabesq

In this commentary we imagine that you draw directly from life or from a suitable paper picture. In other words, we imagine that you do not use the so-called grid process. This process relies on a grid sketched both on the paper picture of your subject as well as your sketching paper.

If this is so, the first thing you will do is to produce a line-drawing. And the very first part of your line-drawing will consist of sketching the so-called arabesque.

In pencil portrait sketching, the arabesque is defined as the entire positive form of your subject's skull. In other words the arabesque is the outer contour of the skull.

The arabesque includes the proportions, the form, and the symmetry of the skull. This means that the arabesque expresses pretty much an overall likeness of your subject and often much expressive content.

In trying to realize the arabesque we confront our first test as an artist. That is, the test of "seeing the reality". Indeed, when we observe an entity a complex mental process is started which in part falls short of the degree of accuracy necessary to produce an suitable portrait.

The mind, for good reasons (one is to maintain our sanity), immediately replace the very complex object with the a symbol it has stored since childhood. For instance, we all know how a child draws a house. It really is more like a symbol of a house. But this is what the mind tends to bring up and often even adults draw a house like they did as a child.

Clearly, it is these iconic preconceptions (a left brain occurrence) that are the enemy of the artist. You must train yourself to ignore those icons and really see what the reality of, for example, a house is.

In general, learning to draw involves the reprogramming of the mind's eye. To this end, there is a skill-set that has been developed over the centuries since the Renaissance.

Applying this new found technique to the arabesque is particularly significant. "Striking" the arabesque is maybe the most significant step in the production of a first-rate likeness. Once you have this technique down path all the rest will follow quite effortlessly.

The first step in striking a accurate arabesque is to force your eyes a bit out-of-focus. This situation is called observing with a "soft eye". With a soft eye proportions and form are more easily seen. It also helps you to avoid the invocation of the iconic preconceptions we talked about.

To train your eye to improve your powers of seeing you must always draw first and correct second. There is not much to gain from pre-measuring. The habit of pre-measuring of the size of your subject's head will hold you back in the long run.

When striking the original arabesque at all times use short straight, i.e., architectonic lines. This will impart a sense of the skull's structure and the form of the underlying tissues and bones. Note that round or curving lines are iconic preconceptions.

Also pay attention to the symmetry of the skull. The term "symmetry" in the context of sketching

and painting does not so much refer to the correspondence of two parts but more to the beauty that comes from accurate proportioning and rhythm.

After striking the arabesque (without doing any sizing) you can correct the proportions. Take a measure of the primary

width (i.e., the width of the arabesque across the brow line) and set it off vertically beginning at the bottom of the chin. The end point of the width almost always ends up somewhere close to the middle of the hair.

The goal is to decide exactly where that end point is at. Best is to judge the smallest of the following two lengths: (1) the vertical length from the brow line up to the end point of the measure; (2) the vertical length from the end point of the measure up to the arabesque. The shortest length is likely to be the most correct. Do not forget, the arabesque encompasses the entirety of the head including the hair.

With practice your eyes will develop this critical technique. Then, once the size and form of the arabesque have been found you are ready to proceed with locating the so-called landmarks.