Charcoal Portraiture: Window on the Soul
Focus on the Eyes
The eyes also offer infinite opportunities for the application of tone and sculptural detail. Remember that no part of the human face, least of all the eyes, is ever perfectly symmetrical. Pay close attention to the angle and placement of your subject’s face as a whole, while also noticing the variety of angles contained within it. The gaze may well represent the most important part of your composition, as all veracity of life and animation resides there. Those viewing your piece will instinctively refer to the eyes first for confirmation of its realism and believability. Any specific shading you lay down will drastically affect the shapes you are seeking to convey, but as always, the charcoal medium gives you ultimate control, and you can back away from, or even obliterate, any erroneous choices if you choose.
As you progress, use your kneaded eraser to lift out tone and value from the face, illuminating areas touched by light while simultaneously clarifying its source and direction. Each of these will contain multiple, varied tones; there are no flat or monochromatic planes in portraiture if one is seeking a realistic likeness. Look for every perceptible subtlety. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards still stands as an extremely intuitive, effective means of learning to see this kind of detail, especially for beginners.
Finally, add finer elements of definition to the values and edges within your drawing. This point in the process marks the best time to add subtle lines; beginning your portrait with them, rather than with larger shapes and values, can make for an artificial effect. Use your chamois as often as you like to soften the entire composition, rendering a texture and smoothness similar to that of human skin. With the emergence of three-dimensional expression, you have achieved your goal.