What’s In a Face?

When you are portraying someone in a portrait it is amazing what details are- or are not- essential.  I’ve drawn, painted, and cut full face portraits and it seems like the more detail you provide, the more exact you have to be.  I’m drawn to the less is more approach. I’ve painted someone’s hair, eyes, nose, mouth, cheekbones, and after I destroyed the teeth- the piece went with it.  If you get someone’s teeth wrong, it’s a goner; that goes for all the other features as well, I guess.  However, if you draw their facial outline with nothing but blank space within, you can achieve a spot on identification.  I will say the more identifying characteristics to accompany it help, i.e. a usual hairstyle, typical earring choice, even the position of the head, or posture. We know from classic silhouettes that “less is more” can really capture the essence of someone. Very much like the Cambridge study that has shown that as long as the first and last letter of a word remain the same, it can be read with relative ease regardless of the arrangement of the letters in between.  So, it stands to reason that as long at the chin and forehead are properly positioned (and ear to ear, for that matter), facial recognition can remain consistent, even with variations.

The first pictures below show a portrait I did of a friend as a birthday gift. Obviously the most identifying characteristic is that she is wearing a veil; important because she is Muslim and she always wears it. But interestingly, those of us that know our friends, recognize more nuanced features like cheekbone structure, chin shape, and the “shape of expression.” I know I made a special point to highlight the eyelashes, just as one of the those things you notice about people.

I really enjoy simple (speak for themselves, simple) pieces like this, and even more, it’s interesting to think about what’s “in a face.” What frames a person? What pieces of them can you use to “communicate” them to someone else?

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Someday I will be clever enough to frame using light boxes, but for now, it’s just a glimpse at how much illumination can accomplish for a piece of artwork.

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On a side note, people ask me all the time how I started paper cutting. I try to compromise between dressing up what I know for a more interesting answer and being honest about what I DO remember. The two truths are: I don’t remember and I wasn’t very good with any other medium (or patient enough to become “good”). Speaking of faceless portraits, the only “beginning” of paper cutting for me that I remember was wanting to portray a photograph of my mom and not being able to properly draw or paint it. In case you’ve never tried- drawing and painting can be difficult, drawing and painting faces can be extremely difficult. The photo of my mom was so interesting, very shadowed, so I decided to try something relatively new to me. I wanted the picture to “imply” her, more than mimic the photo. I’ll try to find the original to compare the piece to, but it is shown below. I apologize for the very poor quality.
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