As a part of my upbringing, I was formed to favor autodidactism, so it should come as no surprise that I recently discovered a new art-instruction resource on the internet and have been liberally applying my newfound knowledge. The videos cover everything from color theory to figure drawing to the particular behavior of a secondary light source. The instructor insists on several basic principles. Here are a few:

  • Full-scale masterpieces serve almost entirely to reveal your weaknesses as an artist.
  • Style comes in when you know the rules and choose to break them with purpose.
  • You should have no problem erasing half of your canvas because art doesn’t happen by accident. If you lost your piece, you should be able to recreate it.
  • Practice rectifying your flaws instead of using style to accommodate them.

Now, it is this last point which has consumed hours upon hours of my time most recently. Sure, I’m a decent artist. I thought I’d probably learn something from her touted ’14-day challenge’ (in which the artists attempts 14 pieces to fix a selected problem area), but really, would I get /that/ much better?

Yes.

The answer. Is. Yes.

Sometimes we become so used to waltzing around our deficiencies that we forget to view them as weaknesses. Maybe we even think it’s ‘just the way we are’.

I elected to do 14 faces, front-view, female, with minimal expression, in grayscale. Simple enough, right? Yeah, right.

Please, before you scroll further, be warned that this first image might be alarmingly awful.

Are you ready?

Okay. You were warned:

1

1-4 of 14 faces

In the first four ‘paintings’ I learned that I had been using several artistic crutches, both mental and software-related. Without harsh shadows or stylistic choices, I realized I didn’t know that much about the form of the face and how to make it appear using shading.

So I educated myself. Hence, the stark improvement with the next four.

2

5-8 of 14 faces

Part of my initial goal was to be able to do a female face without a reference. I realized I wouldn’t be able to do so if didn’t start with reference sometime or other. The third portrait here had a photo reference from Pinterest, but the fourth was just me trying to use what I had learned from that reference. I can see the improvement it had on my work.

3

9-12 of 14 faces

At this point, I was really starting to grasp my form, but my proportions had strayed a little off course. Pro tip for a 14 face-challenge: put in ears and the top of the head – it frames the face and forces you to acknowledge when your lateral symmetry might be off kilter. It took me 12 pieces before I finally figured that out.

My last two were starting to look pretty darn fine to my eyes.

4

13-14 of 14 faces

There was a stretch in the middle where I worked longer and harder on the faces, but by the time I hit #14, I could start with a blank canvas and render within 2 1/2 hours (no sweat), something I wouldn’t have believed possible two weeks ago, and I wasn’t slaving over it, either. It wasn’t exactly effortless, but I wasn’t killing myself over the details anymore, finding references for every little thing. My style became less about buffing the skin to a marble-smooth sheen with a soft round brush, and more about the accurately placed brushstrokes. I had a set of lines and measurements I knew how to use by the end of the journey and knew how to plan a face. I understood my tools better. I had developed shortcuts for details which would have otherwise been painstaking. Broadly speaking: I fixed a weakness in 14 days. Now I don’t have to rely on hair or lighting to make a face look human and lovely.

One thing is certain: the shoddy work and sloppy thinking which produced face #1 will not be allowed back into my palette. I set out to achieve my goal with single-minded determination. You know what? I did it!

There was no magic involved, no waving of fairy wands or granting of empyrean blessings. I just focused, worked, and tried harder. My bum fell asleep a few times. My hand cramped up frequently. My parents wondered if I would ever leave The Cave again.

It took 14 days, and each and every one of them was worth it. I am not a master and I still have lots to learn, but dangit! That last face looks pretty awesome!

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