Published October 9, 2020

There’s something endlessly fascinating about the human face, but I find it so difficult to capture a likeness.  I can usually get the features in roughly the right place, but catching the essence of someone is all about shapes and shadows.

I’ve been working on portraits for the last couple of weeks as I am doing an online course with Pauline Agnew (one of my favourite online teachers), called Expressive Portraits.  These are some of the results from exercises in the class.

I was happy with this self portrait that focused on looking at the highlights and shadows – it actually does look like me.


Our warm up at the start of the course was blind contour drawing.  This is a really great exercise for loosening up – you basically draw (without lifting your pen/pencil if you can), keeping your eye on the subject and NOT looking at what you are drawing at all.  It’s really hard not to glance down at your paper, but drawing blind makes you think differently.  You are trying to judge the relationship between elements and let your pen travel to the right place in relation to where you’ve just been.  It can create some wild abstract results!  I did three blind contour drawings before working a more realistic sketch – all done with a ballpoint pen.

From the chat on the facebook group that accompanies the course, it seems we have an urge to straighten up faces and often lengthen the nose.  This portrait (of a young actress playing Joan of Arc in an old silent movie) shows my original with long nose next to a photoshopped version which shortens the nose and makes the proportions of the whole face look so much better. (I didn’t spot that weird shaft of light across the page when I took the photo – she’s not a unicorn, honest!)

Our goal for the second week was to capture emotion.  The sketch below was drawn while thinking about three women in or connected to my family who have lost a child, partner and husband between them recently.  They are all incredible, awesome, strong women and I wanted that to show up through the sadness.

I am sure I will be back with some more exercises from the class soon and hope to carry on with some portrait work in the future.


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Hi, I'm Glenda

artist & web designer

I live by the sea in southern Scotland and paint contemporary artwork for people who love a splash of colour on their walls.

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