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How to Draw a Portrait

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

In the following Blog 'How to draw a portrait', Steve Huison, a very talented local Robin Hood's Bay Artist and actor known for his roles in The Full Monty and Coronation Street will discuss the methods he uses in his portrait drawing three day workshops. Next Workshop will take place at the Robin Hood's Bay Arts Group studio on Station road from the 24th to the 26th of March 2023.

Steve is also running a drawing workshop for us on the 11th of March 2023 focusing on the negative spaces. It will run from 10am to 4pm a delicious lunch, beverages and all materials are provided for £50, £20 deposit secures contact me Louise on 07749017351 to book your place. Look forward to seeing you there.

Portrait Drawing for Beginners by Steve Huison

Back in 2016 I came across a copy of Betty Edwards' best selling book 'Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain' [published by Harper Collins].

It was first published in 1979 and now in it's fifth edition, so clearly it must be hitting the mark.

Unlike other drawing tuition books I had read or tutorials I had watched on portraiture, Edwards wasn't suggesting finding that 'egg' form in the structure of the head, then adding the relevant features. Instead her approach was based on getting the artist to look, look and look again: to break down the childhood habits of drawing in 'symbols' and to really scrutinize what is happening with the light within the subject.

Portrait of Mark Addy by Steve Huison both stars from the Film The Full Monty
Mark Addy portrait by Steve Huison

She bases her approach on the idea that the two hemispheres of the brain control different parts of human thinking; the left for verbal analytic thinking and the right for visual and perceptual thinking. She works to block off the left- side impulses which try to rationalise what we are looking at, and instead to encourage the right- side in exploring the light and form, components that make up what we are actually drawing.

She achieves this through a series of practical exercises from drawing images upside down, to drawing the 'negative' space around an object. She shows us how the left-side of the brain is constantly trying to tell us the eye is an almond shape, containing a circle, with a black dot in the middle, whereas the right-side will allow us to see the myriad of shapes and shades of tone and colour that actually make up the eye. When an artist discovers this, then they can really and truly See the world.

I thought what a clear, simple and sensible approach to learning to draw and so came about my portrait drawing course for beginners.

Self-Portrait of Ayd
Self-Portrait of Ayd after

How often have you heard someone say 'I can't draw, or 'I used to draw all the time as a kid but I haven't since'? I believe for various reasons we stop drawing in our teens, maybe because we've had no or poor tuition, or received criticism from our peers or even from ourselves because the results looked 'childish' and not realistic enough. The development gets arrested and stays there unless it's properly addressed. As children we learn to draw through symbols rather than really looking at things. For example we'll draw a tree as a straight trunk with a lump of candy floss on top, or a house as a square box with four square windows and a door. If we're not encouraged to scrutinize what we are drawing we carry on producing these symbols and if this approach is carried through to our teens then we inevitably get disheartened and give it all up, often never to be revisited.

Self-Portrait of Rosie before
Self-Portrait of Rosie after

Nearly all the students that have attended my Portraits for beginners courses in the last four years have arrived on day one at that arrested development. I ask them to bring a recently drawn self portrait which usually causes a certain amount of embarrassment as they think it looks childish. Then we set about getting them to look at what they are drawing. By lunchtime on day one I get the satisfaction of hearing the proverbial pennies dropping as people start to 'get it '. They're finally LOOKING.

Betty Edwards suggests teaching these skills over one week. I find it's difficult for people to commit to that amount of time and expense and so I've reduced and condensed the exercises into three days. I'm very pleased to say that to date I've run eleven of these courses at the Robin Hood's Bay Arts Group Studio, and have had about sixty happy students attend and leave with a competent self-portrait and a different approach to looking at the world. I've even had students say it has helped them appreciate art more and visit galleries more often.

I can also say that I have benefitted from teaching with this method too and through sharing these experiences with my students my own artwork has noticeably improved as well.

Before and after of Gill Hilton.

So there we have it Steve Huison's How to draw a portrait, portrait drawing for beginners based on the book 'Drawing on the Right-side of the Brain' by Betty Edwards.

To enrol on Steve's next workshop please get in touch with him by email

Before and after of Darren Marshall.

These latest portraits are the result of Steve's most recent workshop.

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