Jun 11, 2011

Getting Your Portrait Proportions Right!

Recently I have gone back to using oils and painting portraits. I think of all the subjects I have painted portraits are my bliss.


I have had to review some of the basic rules because it has been a few years and thought I would share them with you. I prefer to take many photos of my subject and then paint from the best photo. I prefer to work from a black and white photo when possible.

There are some things that are basically the same on all faces more or less even though we all think we are one of a kind! Once you have a full understanding of these it will be easier for you to capture the true essence of the person you are painting.

Let’s start with the size of the head. The distance from the crown to the chin is the same as from the back of the head to the front. The only exception to the above rule is with a very young child. The child’s head is larger and the features are lower.

One of the interesting facts about the head measurements is that you can also use the head as a measuring tool for the rest of the figure in a full body portrait.

For example two head lengths below the chin will take you to the belly button. Add another head and you come to the crotch and then another one will reach to mid thigh. As a rule humans are between six and seven heads tall and the head is five eyes wide.

Now lets look at the eyes, the space between the eyes is approximately the same width as one eye. A person’s eyes are always half way up his or her head. In a three quarter profile the corner of the eye furthest from you will now be hidden by the bridge of the nose. If the person is looking straight at you the iris is round, however if the head is turned a tiny bit the iris will become somewhat elliptical as it is turned away from you.

The eyebrow is above the half way point of the head, on a person with a ‘normal’ hairline and extends beyond the eyes. In a profile the distance from the corner of the eye to the jaw line and from the corner of the eye to the back of the ear is usually the same.

The distance from the hairline to the eyebrow, the distance from the eyebrow to the underside of the nose and the distance from the underside of the nose to the chin are almost exactly the same which cut the dimensions of the face into thirds.

In a younger adults the top of the ears usually line up with the eyebrows. The bottom of the ears line up with the tip of the nose. 
However, as people age their ears get larger and the lobes drop down.

If the subject in not smiling the corners of the mouth align with the center of the eyes. The line where the two lips meet is slightly above the halfway point between the end of the nose and the chin. When the subject looks straight at you, the corners of his or her mouth usually line up vertically with his or her pupils. The underside of the bottom lip usually falls halfway between the underside of the nose and the chin. These alignments still work in a three quarter profile with the exception of that now you will see a quarter of the width of the mouth.

The bottom of the nose is the midpoint between the eyes and the chin .The tear duct is vertically aligned with the outer edge of the nose.
Learning this will help you as you can compare the measurements as you paint to make sure you are getting the proportions right on! Just remember that there is always slight variations, so look carefully at your subject as you paint.


Sharon Teal-Coray

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