Drawing Portraits: Who cares what people think?


I have recently committed to a month of Rachelle Doorley's #TinkerSketch Challenge where she provides a basic prompt each day, that I then try and turn into some kind of visual representation of that word. Now, I tried this same challenge (with different prompts) back in April. And I went strong for several days. But then I went on vacation with my family, and found it harder and harder to get back to it. Ultimately, I quit. (I hate it when I do that!) Then, I let the nasty gremlins in my head convince me that there was no point in the exercise to begin with. Some trials were naturally going to be more successful than others, because some days I just have more time to sit and think and sketch. But many days, I don't have time to even try, or at least that is what I told myself... Otherwise, I would have had to admit that I was afraid of being judged, and still am. I ask myself questions like: What if it isn't good? What if people make fun of it? What if people roll their eyes at me, and judge me for such a lame effort? Or, the worst: What if I really have no talent, and people realize I am a fraud?

But then my husband, my partner for more than 20 years, who knows me better than anyone, will step in and say something like, "Who cares what they think?!" And he's right, of course. What others think isn't even the point of the challenge! It's really about showing up, doing the work; keeping myself honest, while trying to build a habit of practicing my craft.

So that brings me to yesterday's Tinker Sketch challenge. The prompt for Day #7 was OLD. I hadn't drawn anything for many weeks, and deep in my subconscious was the thought that I really am a fraud. To make matters worse, after dinner, my eldest teenager informed me that two of my most recent posts on Instagram were "lame" and were "killing my feed." (What?! Now I'm supposed to worry about my entire feed?? That's going to require another blog post for a different day, I'm afraid). But comments like that reinforce the gremlins. So, with that encouragement in my pocket, I forced myself to sit and draw something old. I began with the Internet and my trusty Google app, and considered old boots, or shoes for my subject. But the first images to appear were of precious elderly people. Oh no... I don't do people...

Full disclosure: For most of my life I have avoided drawing people, because I'm not very good at it. I have a tendency to mess up proportions, and I struggle to create something realistic on paper. (For example, the picture above, is a sketch of my son, running on the beach, when he was a baby. I drew this several years ago. Do you see what I did with the arm? And that weird foot? Something is just not right. That's a typical people-sketch of mine, that I then made so much worse by painting it. Let's not even go near my hurried attempt at beach pebbles.) You see, in my mind, drawing a portrait of another human being sets the expectation that the finished product be at least a close resemblance to the original version. So, I'm often frustrated half-way through my attempt. Also, I find it impossible to draw from my imagination; I always need a reference photo, which, until recently, I believed was cheating, thanks to the gremlins .

In my classes, I tell my students to draw what they see and not what they think they know about a particular object. And I always provide a real object or photograph for them to have as a reference. Why is it that I feel I cannot do the same for myself, when drawing people? Only in recent years have I let myself try this method when drawing portraits. Its taken many hours of practice, and several classes to feel more confident with that type of drawing. But the technique of using a photo-reference has helped to muster some courage to at least try to draw people. So, for Day 7's prompt, I willed myself to sit still long enough to roughly sketch an image that I found on the Internet of this cute, little man.

The photograph is by German photographer Karsten Thormaehlen, for a project titled Jahrundertmensch, where he shot portraits of elderly people who have reached the age of 100, also known as "centenarians."

This man's smile is infectious, and something in me felt compelled to draw him. I took out my box of graphite and a kneaded eraser, and began sketching lightly on bristol board. Once a vague likeness began to form, something inside my brain took over, and did not relent until well after midnight. I sketched and shaded and blended like mad, and it felt so good!!

This morning, I showed each member of my family what I had feverishly created the night before. The consensus was that my version of this 100-year-old man was scary. And, while I agree that it's not an exact likeness, I am proud of myself, for showing up, and doing the work. I drew a person. And he looks like a person; that's something!

What do you think? Did my drafting skills help conjure cute or scary? You decide. But while you are doing that, I'm going to be off, not caring what you think! #doitfortheprocess


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