Symmetry Is For Animals...


It is said that in order to paint well, you must learn to see.

And it's not as easy as you'd think. Most of us "see" - but we don't "observe."

Rule #1 
Assume nothing.

When you are struggling for a likeness, make it a point to observe each side of the face separately.

Never ever assume that one side of a person's face looks like the other side.

Thanks to the miracle of Photoshop, I have "rearranged" Hillary's face, i.e., put right sides with right sides and left sides with left sides.

As you can see, her unique likeness gets completely lost when I do this.

Rule # 2 
Assume nothing.

Even cute little Ryan has an asymmetrical face. And the older a baby gets, the more asymmetrical they become.

I think that asymmetry is one of the things that make us human.

Mother nature reserves symmetry for animals...not people. 

Maybe that is why animals are so much easier to draw and  "likeness" is seldom such an issue with a portrait of your pooch, goldfish, gerbil or cow.

So if you want to draw or paint people really well, you have to learn to "observe" each side of the face and see what is really there.

Rules Review: 
Never assume anything is "true" unless you observe it to be so.


Hylla said...

The left sides composite of Hillary looks like Jane Pauley. Maybe Jane isn't a real person after all?

Anonymous said...

fantatic site I'm learning so much, thanks...
I'm an animal artist, so have to disagree a bit and to me your cow is different that the original when you put both sides together, just like the people, but then I'm really tuned into them and can tell individuals apart even in a herd if I'm there long enough.

best portrait blog I've encountered and really love your work,

My Painting Studio said...

Thanks, I'm glad the blog helps you.

I know what you mean about animals. I have a "generic" black lab but I could certainly spot him in a herd of other "generic" black labs - Sarge is uique if you know what you're looking at.

I think that a successful animal portrait would be to capture that particular uniqueness. And it wouldn't be easy for most of us to tackle it.

Anonymous said...

Very good illustration of your point!

I think animals are as asymmetrical as people, but fur can obscure the "flaws." And, I think most of us think most animals of any given type look pretty much the same, unless we have a lot of experience with them... brown cows look like brown cows, giraffes look like giraffes, field mice look like field mice, etc.. We see nuances in humans, the beings to which we have near-constant exposure, and those animals with which we have the most interaction. Thus, as another commenter said, a "generic" black lab does have a unique likeness, and as the owner, he/she can recognize it. The owner can tell if an animal portrait doesn't capture the likeness, but someone with no experience with the animal might, even when looking at a photograph of it, think the painted portrait is "good." In a similar situation in which the subject is human, a stranger comparing a photo to the painting is likely to detect when the likeness is "off," and be critical of the painting. I think this is largely because we humans have near-constant life-long exposure to other humans and we are more used to reading their faces.