Fo­cus on the Face

Ed­ward Howard demon­strates how he paints the hu­man face and why pre­ci­sion is so im­por­tant in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the viewer

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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.

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