I’m no expert but I think if you’re painting someone’s picture it should at least bare a slight resemblance to what they look like, otherwise what’s the point, it could be anyone. So I have a system and I’ve given it a fancy name:

paletteThe Nine Dot System

The nine dot system is just an easy way of getting started. It uses the fact that, in most cases, when a person is looking right at you their eyes are the same width, and the distance between their eyes is also this width.

This is how I start. On my blank page I put four equally spaced dots where I want the eyes to be. Then I sketch the eyes between the dots, just to make me feel like I’m on my way.

The four dots are now my unit of measurement to compare the rest of the face to.

To get the dimensions of the whole face roughly correct I use the inside of the left eye (as we’re looking at it) as a reference point and put another dot at the following points:

  • 1 eye-width down – top of the nostril
  • 2 eye widths down – somewhere near the upper lip
  • 3 eye widths down – the dip where the lower lip meets the chin
  • 4 eye widths down – just below the chin
  • 4 eye widths up – top of the head

Even though this is a generic head and everyone’s faces are different, nearly all features fall somewhere close to these points. However, as you know, a small change of position of any of these features makes a big difference to the likeness, so once the dots are in place that is only the beginning, you need to work out how that face fits the face you’re painting, which is the tricky part.

The awkward parts for me are the position and shape of the mouth and the height and slope of one eye compared to the other. Once I have these sorted I feel good about getting the rest of the features in place.

If the face is at an angle you can still use this system but the eyes will be slightly different widths, so just pick one eye and use that as your unit of comparison.

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

Portrait Painting System
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