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Memory Sketching Challenge – Getting Better Exaggerations

August 4, 20170 Comments

Assignment

To practice memory sketches at home, use the photo reference below and time yourself while you study the face for about 30 seconds. Hide the photo and then do a quick thumbnail caricature sketch. If you discover that you’re getting good likenesses, but weak exaggerations, spend less time looking at the photo. After a few 30 second sketches, do some where you study the photo for just 15 seconds. And then try some 3 second sketches. Remember, you don’t have to draw them that quickly. Spend as much time as you need on the sketch.
triceps assignment

Download Assignment Photo

Adam-Driver-Reference.zip

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Memory Sketching

Drawing from memory. It sounds pretty hard, like something only a few naturally gifted artists could do, right? Actually, drawing from memory is something every artist does already. Technically you can only draw from memory.

When drawing a person, you look at them for a few seconds, and then you look down at your paper to make your marks. So in that moment, you are drawing just from your memory of what you saw. Most of us repeatedly look at the subject every few seconds while drawing. The more time you spend observing your subject while drawing, the more accurately you can draw it. If you’re doing a traditional portrait that’s what you want to do.

Quicksketch caricature artists, on the other hand, do better exaggerations when they don’t look at their subject too frequently. They take mental snapshots of the subject, and spend the vast majority of their time looking at the drawing. I got my start as a quicksketch artist. So I speak from experience. When drawing a person live, I found that if I look at the subject too much, I’m more likely to draw a more portrait-y sketch with a timid exaggeration. But when I spend less time looking directly at the subject, I rely more on my memory or my impression of what I think they look like. And I tend to get better exaggerations. That’s because memory is not perfect. When you rely on your memory, the things that stand out as unusual or different from the norm make the strongest impressions.

If you try to recall what Jay Leno looks like, for instance, what you would remember most are his more distinctive traits, like his big chin, jaw and white hair. That’s not all there is to nailing his likeness, of course. But that’s a great starting point for designing a caricature.


Photo by Lee Stranahan


So, if you have difficulty coming up with the initial exaggeration and don’t know which direction you should stretch the proportions, a great exercise to build your caricature muscles is sketching a face purely from memory.

Procedure

To do a memory sketch, you’re going to study a photo of a person for 30 seconds without drawing anything. Then put the photo away and draw a caricature of it just from your memory. As you study the photo, run through a mental checklist of characteristics that stand out. I find it helps to analyze the features in the order that I would normally draw them.


In my case, I first decide on what the head shape will be. Is it tall and thin or short and wide? Where is the head widest, where is it narrowest? How does this head differ from the average head? How does the hair relate to the head? How about the eyes? Are they high or? Are they close together or far apart? Is it a big long nose or a short upturned nose? Scan all of the features, and then try to see the face as a whole and how all the pieces fit together.


And then, with the photo gone, try to sketch as quickly as you can while the impressions are still fresh in your mind. Starting with the head shape is usually the best way to go. Because once you have the head shape in, it helps you to place the features in their proper relationships. The shape of the head is the most important factor in determining the level of the exaggeration. Once it is established, you can just sort of plug the features into the right places.

If the most distinctive trait about someone is a feature like their eyes or nose, you may want to draw those features first and build everything around them. But personally, I think drawing the big shapes first is more effective. You can do these sketches as quickly or as slowly as you like. Treat them like quick thumbnail concept sketches, or you can spend longer on them and develop any of them into more of a rough sketch if it’s turning out well. But remember, the point of this memory exercise is not to get a beautiful portfolio piece. You’ll probably throw most of these sketches in the trash. It’s simply a technique to help you strengthen your visual memory. The individual results here really don’t matter. You shouldn’t worry if you don’t get a great likeness. Just doing the exercise, lots of times, is the goal.

When you’re done, you can take a look at the photo again and see how you did. At first, it’s likely that you will miss some important details of the likeness. But keep practicing. This kind of exercise is like weight-lifting. You need a lot of repetition to build those muscles. And just like at the gym, you’ll get stronger and better at drawing from memory the more that you do it.


Photo by Gage Skidmore


And as you get better, you should reduce the amount of time you spend looking at the photo reference. After doing some 30 second memory sketches, try studying the photo for only 15 seconds. Eventually, work your way down to a 3 second glimpse of a photo. At that point, all that you can do is take a mental snapshot, without any detailed analysis. You will be reacting and drawing purely on a visual and reflex level. And that’s the place you want to be at. That’s when you should notice a big improvement in your thumbnail sketching abilities.

I know that it sounds really hard to get a good likeness with only a 3 second glimpse of your subject. And it can be. But personally, I find that I do better exaggerations the less time I spend looking at the subject because I’m drawing more intuitively, from my gut. When you’re still learning, if your memory drawings are even slightly recognizable, you can give yourself a pat on the back. You’ll get more consistent results as you build your caricature muscles.




For the premium version of this course, we’ve put together some videos that show the photo reference for 30 seconds, 15 seconds and 3 seconds along with a convenient timer. Use them to help you do your own memory sketches. For inspiration there are also some videos of my own sketches done from memory.

What’s Next

In our next lesson, we’ll be learning a really fun and useful exercise for pushing your exaggerations. We’ll be doing caricatures of our caricatures, and then doing caricatures of those caricatures! It’s a great way of getting out of your comfort zone.

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Assignment

To practice memory sketches at home, use the photo reference below and time yourself while you study the face for about 30 seconds. Hide the photo and then do a quick thumbnail caricature sketch. If you discover that you’re getting good likenesses, but weak exaggerations, spend less time looking at the photo. After a few 30 second sketches, do some where you study the photo for just 15 seconds. And then try some 3 second sketches. Remember, you don’t have to draw them that quickly. Spend as much time as you need on the sketch.
triceps assignment

Download Assignment Photo

Adam-Driver-Reference.zip

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