While I am not a portrait painter by any means, a good number of my works have required me to capture a person’s likeness as “accurately” as I can. In my experience, I have found that what many would understand as “likeness” is most effectively established and cemented in the notan stage (for more on the idea of the notan, please see my recent post on the SNAG concept.) Unfortunately, many are quick to leave the notan stage prematurely—leaving the artist with a less-useful, more nebulous pattern instead of a foundational pattern that already communicates a strong likeness.
Here at my studio, I encourage students to break the notan stage down into two parts:
1. The Simplified Pattern: This is the general shadow pattern sub-stage. The perimeters of each shadow shape are left somewhat simple, similar to general envelopes. Basic proportions are the focus here (as plotted by the visual survey of course.)
2. “Refining your Shoreline.”: This is the stage that many tend to sail past far too quickly. It is here where I take my time in establishing all of the variations that I had simplified away or fused in the first part of the notan stage. It is like adding all of the nooks and crannies to the map of shoreline (as seen at the top of the attached graphic.)
I find that taking this extra time to develop the notan stage makes a massive difference in the quest for strong likeness. Give it a try. Don’t leave the notan stage until you have it and you may find that the rest of your pursuit(s) unfolds far more effectively and efficiently.