A Portrait of This Artist as a Young Woman
By Lucy Cao, IV Form
During this past fall, I dedicated my time after school to studio art, and I designed my own studio art ACE. After taking Studio II last year, I decided to spend the fall season further improving my drawing skills and experimenting new mediums and subjects.
I have always been interested in drawing people. I started off with a plan focusing on portraiture. I aimed to draw people of different ages and genders, envisioning that I would create portraits from photos and images rather than by sitting with a
real person. In fact, my first drawing was based on a photo from the Internet along with my own modifications. Meanwhile, I found myself more immersed in making this single drawing perfect instead of exploring the techniques of portraiture and pencil sketching. Hence, I turned to self-portraits for my next few drawings. It is never easy to draw from life, let alone drawing a real person even if that person was myself. Luckily, I saw a great leap in the first few self-portraits. While I gained more skills in capturing the characteristics in my eyes, nose, and mouth, I realized that the greatest improvement was found in my way of dealing with spaces on my face that are not features. I managed to use smaller and looser strokes to make the bone structure, complexion, and shadows look softer and more natural. I also perceived the significance of accurately depicting the shape and the structure of one’s face in portraiture.
If those self-portraits were providing a basis for later works, drawing portraits for other people was a bigger challenge. I made around 25 portraits throughout the season. Not only did I make a substantial progress in my drawing techniques, I also experienced the different emotions and feelings as I was sitting in front of my subject – a real living person. My first portrait was not successful at all. To be honest, I gave up half way through. Part of the reason was that I realized how hard it was, but more was because I felt pressured to make my drawing look like my subject. The degree of resemblance is the first and one of the most essential standards when evaluating a portrait. Though some might argue that it is more important to reflect one’s own drawing style in a portrait, as a beginner in portraiture, I paid more attention to how to accurately depict the person sitting right in front of me.
Everything needs practice. That’s the phrase I learned well during my ACE. Rather than delving into a single drawing, I found it more beneficial doing quick sketches everyday. Drawing and observing different people especially helped me improve my ability of capturing certain characteristics on faces of various ages and genders. Though having enough drawing techniques is required to do a successful portrait, the ability to observe keenly is indispensable. It might not be essential to look up every minute or so when depicting a table, but portraying a person is a process of combining all the essential and unique traits on a person’s face. I kept the track of drawing one daily portrait. My subjects varied from peers in my ACE to any faculty or friends who were available in the afternoons. My works developed in terms of details of hair, skin, features, and the depiction of transitions, light and shadow.
Another thing I learned from drawing portraits was how to incorporate the background into the whole piece. Background can be very effective in revealing and introducing the occupation or interests of the person in the portrait. However, it was also important to ensure that the background did not take over and deemphasize the portrait itself.
Portraits tell part of the story. Drawing portraits is not solely a unique experience for me as an artist but also definitely deepens my understanding of how art depicts and tells a story.
Lucy Cao is a IV Former from Shanghai, China. She enjoys all kinds of art and music, and she loves traveling. This is her second year living and studying in the US.