Focus on the Face
Edward Howard demonstrates how he paints the human face and why precision is so important in communicating with the viewer
Our task as artists is daunting: we must communicate an entire story or moment in just one image. We must say so much with so little.
Eugéne Fromentin said that, “Art is the expression of the invisible by means of the visible.” With that in mind, I believe that the depiction of the human face is the keystone in our communication of the invisible. Visually, we immediately seek out the human face for emotional cues when we engage an image. This is evident when I look at a piece such as Illya Repin’s Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan (1885); it’s hard to miss how a well-executed face has the ability and power to carry an entire narrative.
The face is an intricate construct of semi-symmetrical peaks and valleys, flesh and muscle, wrapped upon and within a bone lattice, all working in concert to communicate human expression and emotion. The face is a truly amazing feat of evolutionary engineering, which is incredibly difficult to accurately produce.
We as artists must seamlessly merge each technical, topographic facial element until they become one harmonious emotional depiction to truly communicate with the viewer. If any element fails, if the proportions or the perspective are off just a little, then the viewer is lost.
In this workshop, I take a look at how my piece entitled Rescue of the Last Turtle King began and my initial stages of preparation. After discussing the piece as a whole, I focus on the faces. I go through, step-by-step, the process of building the faces up so that they tell a story.
For me, depicting the face is the most difficult and most rewarding. There’s nothing like getting it right, and there’s nothing worse than getting it wrong. It’s about practice. It’s about observation. It’s about patience. Use reference, constantly measure, and don’t be afraid to start again. Every failure is a success because of the knowledge you gain.