Approaching Portraiture in Lockdown

A few weeks ago, the country (and the world) came to a standstill under enforced lockdown, to protect us and the vital health services from Covid-19. Many people took this as the perfect opportunity to learn something new and I knew that I was definitely going to need something to focus my mind on, to distract from the anxiety and impending sense of doom! Not only that, but with two small children to care for and attempt to homeschool, I also needed something for me. 

I've had many requests, in the past year, for human portraits, alongside the pet portraits I already offer and I've always turned down the requests. There is so much pressure that comes with painting a human face, knowing it needs to perfectly emulate the subject, and I have little (ok well basically no) experience in this area. The last portrait I drew was a shoddy self portrait back in college, 15 years ago! As much as I love a challenge, I would never accept money, or offer up for sale anything which I didn't think was good enough. 

But, with the need of something to challenge me and occupy my mind in lockdown, learning how to produce decent portraits sounded like the perfect idea. Not only would I be entertaining my brain but I'd also be working on something that I would eventually like to offer my customers. 

One of the good things about this situation (I know there aren't that many) has been the abundance of free or discounted courses that have popped up online. I quickly signed up to the two months free on Skillshare and watched a few classes to get my eye in before I hit the paper. 

Pencil sketch self portrait by Anna Hughes, Anya's Studio

I thought I'd start off in pencil in order to really work on proportions but this was actually trickier than I thought. I'm not used to spending much time with a pencil in hand as I tend to sketch in some quick outlines and then go straight to paint so it really made me work hard! Using my phone camera as a mirror I sketched out the above self portrait and, despite the miserable look of concentration, I was actually pretty pleased with it.


I then went on to sketch the rest of my family from photos ...

Pencil sketch portrait of a man's face with beard by Anya's Studio

I found my husband by far the most interesting to draw, especially as the photo I took had some great shadows on it. The kids, however, I found to be a real challenge. I'm not fond of children's portraits as a rule and their faces just don't have as many interesting lines and crinkles in them. 


Pencil drawing child's portrait by Anna Hughes, Anya's StudioPencil drawing of a child's face portrait, by Anna Hughes, Anya's Studio


Neither are perfect but both are recognisable as my children which I think is a pretty good start! 


I definitely think that starting out with some simple visual online courses and some pencil sketches really helped me learn about the proportions of the face and what to look at and concentrate on but I couldn't wait to get back to my paints!


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