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Frequently Asked Questions

Hand drawn portraits have never been so easy to wrap your head around… Got a specific question about portraiture that you’r struggling to answer? North Yorkshire artist, Karen, answers your questions about hand drawn portraits, the art industry and more….

A common mistake is to assume that a portrait is ‘just a drawing’ – it’s not. Portraits are so much more than that. They capture a moment in time, are bespoke to you and according to psychologists, can even help to build your self confidence.

I like to think of them as an artistic time capsule. One that reaffirms your natural beauty and gives you the confidence to walk with your chin up. So, it’s no wonder why you’ll often see hand drawn portraits on display. They’re a form of ‘feel good’ art.

They do indeed.

As stated above, I’d say they’re probably one of the most personal gifts you can give. For those with family abroad, I’d even be tempted to say that you really can’t top a portrait. It’s personal, more quirky than a photograph and certainly more unexpected – i.e. makes for a better surprise.

What’s more, unlike the majority of modern gifts (cars, games consoles, cameras etc.) a portrait isn’t something that’s going to loose its appeal in a couple of years. It forever remains relevant.

There’s a load of theories around why hand drawn portraits are SO hard to do. But being a portrait artist, I think I’ve figured it out.

You see, drawing a person is a lot different to drawing an object, although there are some similarities. Draw a car for instance and you’ll still have to capture its curves, proportions and the way light falls upon it, just as you would with someone’s face. Where the real difference comes is in emotion.

Capturing emotion is by far the hardest part of a portrait, and the one ingredient that you won’t need to capture when drawing an object. In such an instance, conquering likeness and proportion is usually enough.

Now granted, objects are designed with (or around) our emotions. I’m sure passionate designers will agree with me on that one. Although, despite how much emotion you inject into an object, it’ll never possess that raw emotion that we as humans naturally express. In fact, the only raw emotion you’ll find on this planet is in living creatures, hence why portrait drawings can be a whole other level of tricky.

Some do, but mine don’t.

You see, Whether a portrait fades or not, really depends on the pencils that are used. It tends to be oranges and some of the red pigments that are the hardest hit by fading, much the same as it is with paints.

However, I get round this by using what’s known as lightfast pencils. These are essentially coloured pencils that’re proven to retain their colour for a set period of time.

I draw with Derwents, which it’s claimed will not fade under museum conditions for over 100+ years!

Really look at it, and there’s two major reasons why art can demand such a hefty price tag…

Emotion – Fact remains that with portraits in particular, emotion is a HUGE factor behind why you’d buy one. It’s also why they can often go for astronomical prices. Besides, the entire reason behind hand drawn portraits is to capture emotion, so not to think it’ll play a role in the price someone’s willing to pay is naive.

Time taken – The main reason some portraits cost SO much is time. I mean let’s face it, for most of us these days, anything over £200 sounds like quite a lot just for one drawing. However, when you break it down, it’s actually nowhere near as pricy as you think. Consider the amount of hours an artist spends on the average portrait and in most cases, you’re getting a bargain.

Take the Mona Lisa for instance. While it does hold the Guinness World Record for the highest valued portrait (£625m), it took Leonardo Da Vinci 4 years to paint it! Then consider that it’s one of a kind and has miraculously survived without being damaged since 1452 and the price tag sort of makes sense. Or at least it does to an art fanatic like me.

When it boils down to it, hand drawn art is more an umbrella term. Under which fall various species of drawing. Here’s just five…

Line drawing – Much as it sounds, these are drawings that preach minimalism. They’re essentially a drawing made of just a few lines.

Photorealism – Call this the total opposite to a line drawing. Photorealistic portraits are those which are drawn with such realism that they resemble a photograph – i.e. on first impression you can’t tell that they’ve been drawn.

Caricatures – A bit more of a humorous drawing these – one you’ll often find dotted around the political section of a newspaper. Caricatures are portraits that exaggerate certain facial features and usually drawn in a cartoon-esque style.

Anamorphic – A drawing that’s anamorphic can very often be perceived as an illusion. You’ll know an anamorphic drawing by its three demential appearance that you could call visual trickery.

Illustration – These are drawings used more as decorations than anything. You’ll usually find illustrations used as part of a book to illustrate what is going on in the accompanying text (hence the name). Most illustrators have their own unique style too – I’m a huge fan of Quentin Blake.

*With this in mind though, matching up my style to a category is actually quite hard. If anything, I’d say it touches on both photorealism and illustration. It’s realistic, but has it’s own style to it. Think different? Let me know.

You can’t get much more special than your family. In fact, if you said you could, I think you’d be telling fibs. Hence why personalised family drawings really are the classic memoir. One that runs rings around your average photograph. Why?

Because of how personalised they really can be. For starters, with a hand drawn family portrait, you can completely re-write the picture itself. So if Grandma and Grandad would like to be 10 years younger, that’s not a problem. Much the same if you’re looking to get everyone positioned in a certain order, all with a certain expression on their face.

And even in the case a loved one has passed, that’s not to say they can’t be drawn in. Do so and you’d be turning your family portrait into a memorial drawing. In essence, piecing your family back together. Now, if that isn’t special, then I don’t know what is.

No one actually knows.

You see, drawing (closely followed by writing) is one of the earliest forms of human expression, hence why it’s commonly dubbed as a creative outlet. In fact, it’s said that the earliest drawings date back as far as 30,000 BC!

You’d commonly find these drawings etched on the walls of caves, opposed to a piece of paper. Most probably why there’s very little record of them; paper only came into fashion in 105 AD.

How much hand drawn portraits will set you back, really all depends on the portraitist themselves. Some can be snapped up for as little as £50, whereas others can stretch into the tens of thousands. Why? Here’s a couple of points to consider…

Skill & experience – Not all portraitists are made equal. Some have just a couple of years experience, while others have over ten. So typically the more experience artists will come at a premium.

Influence & reputation – Some portrait artists charge more because well… they can. Being household name does come with its perks, as it does for the customer, who not only gets a portrait, but the right to a not so casual name drop: “It was drawn by (artist name), you know”.

Time taken – Granted, a portrait is one piece of art, however that;’s not to say they take the same length of time. Some portraitists spend days work away at a portrait to achieve the right level of intricacy (guilty as charged), while others rustle one up in a couple of hours.

How many subjects – Us portraitists each have our own pricing structure. Some of us charge per piece of work, while others charge depending on how many subjects there are. Ask me and to do so makes sense, as a portrait for two can take twice as long as a portrait for one.

Not if you ask me, no.

For those who’re not the best at freehand, drawing from a photograph can actually be a really easy way to improve your grasp of proportion. Do enough of it and it should get you used to drawing ‘correctly’, so that when you do got freehand, the results are far more impressive.

But even if you are confident at freehand, drawing from a photograph isn’t a ‘no go’. If anything, for a portrait artist like me, it’s essential. Reason being that drawing from a photograph opposed to on location eats into far less time and dramatically reduces the cost. And that’s on both my end and yours.

What’s more, if you’re pleased with the photograph, then there’s a solid chance that a portrait drawn from the photograph will hit the spot. Something there’s far less of a guarantee of when drawing freehand, as when it comes to something as personal as a portrait, we’re all quite particular.

Erm… The Mona Lisa, Whistler’s Mother, The Scream, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Desperate Man, Madame X, The Arnolfini Portrait.

Yep, portraits can definitely be considered art.

Now this is a tricky one.

You see, ‘folk like me’ who draw portraits go by a fair few names. If you’re interested, here’s three potentials…

An Artist – Quite a broad term if I’m honest, hence why I’m not so keen on it. An artist is someone who draws, paints, sculpts, writes, performs and so on – basically anyone who does anything that could be considered to be a work of art. Get a Saturday job at Subway and you can even call yourself a sandwich artist.

The Draughtsman – A slightly more technical variant this one. A Draughtsman (or Draughtswoman in my case) is someone who specialises in making technical or detailed drawings, which I suppose you could say portraits are. Although, I’m pretty sure this term is more intended for the drawers who use set squares opposed to colouring pencils – architects for instance.

A Portraitist – This is the term I think suits me down to the ground. A portraitist is much like what says on the tin. A painter, drawer or photographer, who specialises in portraiture.

Yep – that’s me!

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