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Old 11-02-2002, 10:21 PM   #11
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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Tim, I have no contribution to make about the topic, although I wonder how the French school treated head sizes.

I just love the paintings you have posted. I wonder if there is an interest in viewing more Orientalist paintings. I would post a whole bunch and I am sure Marvin would add several too.
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Old 11-02-2002, 11:15 PM   #12
Peggy Baumgaertner Peggy Baumgaertner is offline
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These are the portrait conventions I am familiar with. If you are talking about traditional rules for head size:

1) No heads bigger than life size.

2) No monkey sized people, (...who said this? Richard Whitney? Kinstler?)

3) The only exception is the 10 inch corporate head.

4) If you are cropping body parts, crop at mid-arm, mid thigh, mid-calf, not at the joint (...i.e., elbow, wrist, knee or ankle.)

5) In a head and shoulders portrait, place the head two inches from the top of the canvas, and place the eyes in the middle of the canvas.

6) The eight head figure is based on the way the painter views the subject when painting from a close position He looks up at the face, straight at the chest, down at the knees, and way town at the feet. This creates a natural elongation. Look at Sargent's paintings. Even in seated figures, he is looking up at the face and down into the lap, way down to the feet.

7) No candid's, even if working from a photograph, pose the subject in a position they can hold for 40 hours is they needed to.

That's a start.

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Old 11-03-2002, 10:18 AM   #13
Michael Fournier Michael Fournier is offline
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Hmm, I think I will to come to Sharon's defense here. Not that she needs it - she can hold her own

The 8 heads rule is a very good guide and one I use often. Especially in illustration work. Although, if you are going for accuracy and not idealizing, then 7 to 7.5 heads is closer to what most people are. Except maybe fashion models

And with kids, it is better to use 7 heads. But this is a guide, not a written in stone rule that you must follow in every painting. If I was to paint my wife, who is only 4'10", at 8 heads tall I would be idealizing her, not painting a accurate likeness. But at the same time if I painted her as a camera sees her she might appear dwarfish. So I strike a happy medium between the idealized figure of 8 heads and her actual stature. If you are painting from life, it helps to step back enough to take in the full figure as you sight size the proportions.

As for taking photos, it is very important you stand back and not use wide angle lenses to increase the view angle. The biggest culprit in camera distortion is holding the camera at head level then taking a full length shot. When you do this every thing from the neck down is foreshortened and gets worse as you go down. When taking full figure reference it is best that the camera lens be 70-80mm (35mm film camera) and held at about mid-level of you subject. This reduces the camera distortions.

As for how big a canvas and the size of head? I feel it is personal preference and intention of the painting. If you can paint a 1" head and still capture the likeness then you might be able to paint a small full length portrait on a 9" x 12" canvas. And if you are painting on the side of a building then you could paint a head 4 feet tall. Personally, I feel it is the intended viewing distance that matters a lot also. If the painting is to hang in a very large room, you could paint a larger-than-life portrait and it would work out great. But in a normal home, the normal viewing distance would be no more then 8-10 feet at most, so a life size or bigger painting might be disconcerting. I think that is the reason for the 90% life size rule some have mentioned. For me it is about the size of the head, I need a 4 inch head minimum to feel comfortable. I have painted smaller at times, but never on a commissioned portrait.
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Old 11-04-2002, 10:49 AM   #14
Timothy C. Tyler Timothy C. Tyler is offline
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Point is...

Here's the simple point: Sargent painted what he saw from life. No formulas. Do you think he made street scenes with formulas? What about the landscapes and still lifes? For painters who paint everything from life - EVERYTHING - no formulas are needed. That's the simple point. Measuring of heads is pretty rudimental stuff. Work like his, was well beyond this in scope. I'd argue that creative composition was more on his mind and I'll bet you he never counted heads after the age of 21.

Now, I agree that Sargent was wise enough to help some of his sitters, but like most of you I've seen the photos of those sitters and I recognize them all. Enzie, Sargent learned to paint in Paris; the English used to say he was too French in style.
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Old 11-04-2002, 10:56 AM   #15
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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You Win
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Old 11-04-2002, 11:04 AM   #16
Timothy C. Tyler Timothy C. Tyler is offline
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Sharon, I've been admiring your work on your site. You really know a great deal to make such lovely work. I don't wish to win-only discuss.

I've pointed out before that a human head will vary 4 to 5" in height. Some men that are not very tall have very large heads...the math thing is really unreliable.
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Old 11-04-2002, 12:50 PM   #17
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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Headless wonders

Tim, I was asked to post this formula. I do not pretend to be an expert on Sargent. I have personally benefited from this and thought many others might.

I had noticed that contemporary portraits often lack the grace and elegance of past paintings. I noticed that the figures looked somewhat squat and out of proportion. They did not have that certain "Je ne sais quoi". Fortunately for me I came across a series of books published by the "Famous Artist Schools". This was a mail order correspondence school successfully operating in the Fifties. These proportions were published there. Since the illustrators of that time were working mostly figuratively they still had access to that knowledge. It had not died out as yet. Many of them were classically trained. Many of these 'illustrators' who produced the course, would put to shame many of our contemporary figurative artists. They were Norman Rockwell, Robert Fawcett, Al Dorne, Coby Whitmore among others. There are other basic formulas that appear to work i.e. that the eyes in an adult are halfway down the face etc. There are always exceptions of course. These particular proportions have been of great use to me. I can only speak for myself.

I have personally measured the proportions in Sargent's painting (among others) and find their formula to correspond in many examples. Others may not agree. That is their prerogative. I have found it enormously useful and simply wanted to pass it on as asked.

There are many simple formulas that work in composition and proportion and once absorbed can often be successfully ignored.

To reiterate, this is a formula I have found useful, was asked for, and hope other artists would benefit from.

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Old 11-04-2002, 07:30 PM   #18
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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The 8-heads standard is indeed useful, both in the initial set-up of a figure and as an analytical tool to reverse engineer "what's gone wrong" with a drawing or painting. Same for the "eyes halfway down the head's height" rule (which I've just used over in Drawing Critiques to sort out a problem.) These are rules, not truths, so trotting out exceptions misses the point and does not compromise the utility of the rules.

Sargent. Didn't know the man, and haven't any idea what he was thinking as he constructed his pictures.

We had occasion here some time ago to view a painting in which the figure looked (to my eye) stretched, and upon checking the measurements, I found it to be 10 heads high. I queried this. To "prove" the accuracy of the painted version, the reference photo was posted. Unfortunately, the figure in the photo was exactly 8 heads high. At that point the "debate" ends (or should), and the only thing left to talk about is artistic license to idealize the figure.

It's fine to acknowledge the rule and deliberately decide to work outside its parameters for reasons of artistic preference. It's always disconcerting to the eye, though, to see rule violated carelessly or without apparent justification in the picture. In nontechnical terms, it just looks funny.

Regarding head size per se (and not as a relative measurement), sight-size does not actually produce life size, even if the canvas is next to the subject [Wrong. See humble confession of error, infra], because the artist's necessary distance from the subject reduces the dimensions. (A quick measurement of one's reflection in a mirror, even four feet distant, demonstrates this.) The only way to work life size (that is, the size that something is, not as it appears from a distance) is to physically measure the subject's head, transfer those measurements to your paper or canvas, and proceed thereafter by relative and proportionate placement of features.
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Old 11-04-2002, 07:59 PM   #19
Sharon Knettell Sharon Knettell is offline
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Hmmm??? Duhh???

Steven, my brain is aswoggle! If you have the figure next to the canvas I can't understand why it wouldn't be life sized. When I work that way I usually draw a line corresponding to the top and bottom of the head on my canvas. If the figure is standing directly next to the canvas why wouldn't it be lifesized. DUH I'm confused.

To be honest I usually pick a workable head size 8" to 9" and place my canvas correspond to that. Usually my canvas is slightly in front of the figure and I am appx. 15' back.
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Old 11-04-2002, 08:23 PM   #20
Linda Ciallelo Linda Ciallelo is offline
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Sharon, if a man is six feet tall, then the canvas would have to be six feet tall, in order for it to be life size. Most of us don't routinely paint portraits on canvases that are that big. A routine portrait is usually done on smaller sized canvases, so the figure and head must be smaller than life size. Even if you are doing "just the head", I still think it is a bit overwhelming to have it life size or larger.

We have all seen large paintings, in museums, that have the figures "bigger than life", but if we were to put those same paintings in our living room, they would look a bit out of place, I think. It would depend on the living room I suppose. Perhaps in some people's "great room" it would be alright. Maybe I should ammend my opinion to depend on where it will hang.
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