Drawing John Malkovich

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with simple tasks of having to render -- using my pen, pencil, or paint -- depictions of the world around me. My hand-eye coordination has generally been poor (baseball and golf have been comedies of giving me a heavy object to swing at round objects).

So when I was asked to make a blog of something that would be challenging, I thought of what I am not good at: drawing came almost immediately to mind (after singing and being able to do that folding trick with my socks that my mother always seemed to manage effortlessly). This blog is about my efforts to draw, even though I lack innate talent or capability.

When I told my girlfriend (who is doing her doctorate on the relationship between art and technology), she shoved a book into my hands: Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces by Carrie Stuart Parks. So this first blog post is about how to depict the human face, with this book as my guide.

On Parks’ advice, I began with doing a pre-instructional drawing: depict a face, without a model, and with no guidance from the book. The effort looked like this:

Pre-Instructional Drawing

Parks says that for many people, the main barrier in learning to draw is perception; the brain categorizes and makes patterns of everything we take in through our senses. The main task then is to break and change people's perceptions so that they have a more realistic concept of the key parts of the human face.

The book stresses the need for a model to work with when learning to draw. After going through a few options, I settled on a facial portrait of John Malkovich. I picked Malkovich primarily for his legendarily distinct facial features. This, I reasoned, would make it easier to capture the proportion and shape of the face.

Drawing John Malkovich

It took me two days to draw. I managed to get the major features done on the first day, but I found the focus to do this tiring, and had to put down the pencil. The next day I came back and did the shading. This was difficult. Part of the problem was my equipment; I had not gone out and bought a dozen drawing pencils or charcoal (there are in fact a large range of different pencil grades, which I was not aware of). This lack of proper equipment made it difficult to capture the range of shades of the face. I will be getting these tools for future drawings.

At the end, I was a little stunned by how much more realistic it looked, how much more correct the proportions. I hope that if Malkovich were ever to see this, he would not be horrified by the result.

Andrew Monro

Andrew Monro is an editor with an enduring reputation as an impeccably well-dressed individual, and a surprisingly pleasant person to have a beer with. He is an aficionado of web forums, fine wine, modern poetry, and petrichor. He is a native British Columbian, but now lives in Ottawa.

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