Back in the day, my artistic endeavours also used to focus upon writing, until one day I happened to be sketching a character on my lunch break from my Actual Job. Over came a colleague who looked over my shoulder at it. The next thing I know she’s come back from lunch with a beautiful sketchbook as a present and there we have it, a very old discarded hobby was reborn.
Until I began the portrait pieces for Erin Lawless’ upcoming novel, I had no ongoing projects and I frankly needed practise…badly. So when Erin mentioned looking for character references for her university student characters, I jumped at the chance. And I can say it has been nothing but a fascinating, brain-taxing rollercoaster of a learning curve.
I began with Nicky, a character physically described as ‘Taylor Swift with straighter hair’. Working on her came surprisingly easy – her character is bubbly, friendly and open to all so reflecting that in her face shape and her smile gave a good basis to start from (as it stands she is the only smiling character I have finished so far!). Add in Taylor Swift’s clean features and slightly emphasised cheekbones and we have the basis of Nicky. Slender and pretty, I tried to portray a fun-loving expression with a hint of shyness – the rest of her group come as pre-friends, as it were, and I couldn’t help but think maybe there were times when she felt a little more bashful being herself in front of them than the rest did in front of each other. I think Nicky’s generally sweet, selfless nature makes her a good contrast with not only her partner Miles but most of the other characters, who are far less willing to compromise than Nicky. I hope some of that sweetness came over in her smiling face.
Sukie was next – her sardonic, caustic nature made her over-the-shoulder pose seem natural. I can just see her throwing a cool comment over her shoulder before walking off with a small laugh. Her features became catlike and her eyes slender and long-lidded. Her hair originally was tied up in a bun but since Erin describes her as having very sleek, long, straight hair, the bun became a ponytail with bangs to frame her face. Her style also tends towards the sleek and black, so she wears a high-necked jumper with, out of shot, a black miniskirt and boots – and lots of eyeliner. Critically I can see her shoulder is practically dislocated and some of the angles of her face don’t work at all (notably the back of her skull where her ponytail starts, oh my) – I ended up with a more stylised look for her to compensate for these errors.
Leigha was the next starter but sadly, not yet finisher. I took for her first picture a scene of her sitting in a café waiting moodily for another character, and quickly drafted her, elbows on table, in a wintery jumper, staring into nothing. At first I would have added a woolly hat, but the Leigha I know from Erin’s novel would sooner eat her shoes than wear something as unsexy as a bobble hat, so I just went for her poker-straightened hair flowing down her back. And here I stalled – not least because finding a background for the café I had in mind wasn’t going well at all. I also want her to have a cup of coffee on the table, but at this stage in the scene she hasn’t ordered a drink! Then I remembered Erin’s writing of the scene – taking a rather large scene gap leaving Leigha in medias res waiting for her friend and her coffee, so I thought I would too while moving on to other pieces. I will come back to her…one day.
Oddly enough I have had in my head a portrait for Leigha all along, but due to the complexity of the pose, have required an actual human model to pose for me. Finding a model is harder than you’d imagine, not least since I didn’t want Erin to model and ruin the surprise! I have now sourced someone kind enough to pull a face for my artistic endeavour so hopefully Leigha will finally get an appropriate picture.
My next piece was another full-body – this time, Harry and Adam sitting together. At first the piece went very well – getting their bodies to pose to convey the emotions I wanted worked very successfully and I had high hopes. Unfortunately, perhaps due to scales, the faces worked out far less well. Harry in particular ended up in profile and getting her nose and mouth to match up to the pixie-like image of her I had was a fruitless task. Erin received many distressed messages about my attempts to finalise her profile and how I ended up ‘beheading’ her totally and starting again! Dressing the characters was interesting although the fall of Harry’s shift dress over her thighs where she sat with her knees up really requires a photo reference – I will edit this part later. Thanks also go to my patient partner for modelling Adam’s hand! Harry’s face is still not at all how I wanted it and Adam’s ended up sketchy at best so coming back to this picture at a later date will definitely be required. Still, this was an interesting piece and finding out how difficult it can be lining up heads on full bodies has taught me a lot and given me something to work on.
Harry became my next portrait, perhaps out of frustration at my previous attempt at her. Happily, close to she was a lot easier to get to know. Her short hair meant her ear was fully visible – the inner lobes and tubes of the ear required a lot of study in shading. Her heavy, cropped hair on a portrait was much easier to deal with than a distant profile and I already feel more satisfied with this incarnation of her. I’ve tried to emphasise her ‘tiny, bird-like’ build in her small, neat face – I see her with large, expressive eyes that take up most of her face with rosebud lips and a small rounded nose and chin with prominent collarbones and small shoulders.
And so we move on to characters as yet unenvisaged. I have a couple picture planned for Miles and his tall, leggy partner Nicky, as well as a silly cartoon of Johnny that refuses to go away, based on his opening scene of reluctantly waking up to a far-too-early morning. My Leigha’s-arms-model will soon be sending me the pose I need to bring Leigha to life, and a portrait of Adam to make up for his under-done face in the couple picture is definitely required.
Drawing these characters has been a real challenge and a fantastic opportunity – not only for me but to get to know these vivid, complex personalities. What better way to understand their struggles and feelings than through body language and expression? I hope in my sketches I’ve managed to portray even just a little of what their talented creator has in mind when she first sat down to tell the story of a young group of friends and their lives.
Lily Fox is a charity administrator-turned-beginner-artist based in London. More of her life and work, including the Erin Lawless portraits, can be found at http://vixenoflight.deviantart.com/ or at http://twitter.com/vixenoflight.