Project Six – Research Point: Face

The face is and was always a key element in figurative and especially portrait art. This goes back far into the past.

HOLBEIN, HANS the younger_Sir Richard Southwell_1536

=> The face us drawn with a fine line and with a few tonal gradations tone in chalk, leaving the less important parts below the face just indicative. The mouth line, the upper eyelids, and the eyebrows are very controlled drawn to emphasize the character of the person. The cap is equally drawn in fine line making it an important part of the portrait.

GOGH, VINCENT van_Portrait-of-Patience-Escalier_1888

=> A painting in bright colors and with short and repetitive strokes following the contour of the face. The circular strokes around the eyes resembles a sun, the short strokes for the facial hairs indicating the character and age of the person. The eyes play a dominant role in this portrait.

GIACOMETTI, ALBERTO_The artist s mother_1947

=> Although it is a painting the artist is searching for the form through first indicative lines and than bolder lines. The color applied is a second step. According to the artist the lines are the most important fundamental base.

Head of E.O.W. 1959-60 Frank Auerbach born 1931 Purchased 1976

=> on Frank Auerbach see also my other research.
Similar as Giacometti, Auerbach is searching for the form and structure of the face through continuously back and force drawing in charcoal. Eventually the character of the person comes through. The monochromatic work helps to focus on key points of interest in this work.

Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne 1966 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Purchased 1966

=> Bacon is disintegrating the face of the person in this painting till it is hardly recognizable any longer. Nevertheless the character of the person as the artist saw it is coming through. His markings are bold and expressive.

The idea of disintegration is not unique, the cubists did this in a more formal manner, another examples are the later paintings of Max Gubler (see my notes exhibition visit)

LITTLE, GRAHAM_Untitled_Yellow Mirror_2014

=> As mentioned in the course material the artist is using colored pencils for a hyperrealistic work. His markings are very fine, detailed and repetitive. This reminds me a bit of some works of Peter Peri, who uses pencils in a very controlled way.

PEYTON,ELIZABETH_Daniel Berlin_1999

=> In a very painterly manner depicts the artist the figure. The face depiction reminds me a bit of the above mentioned work of Hans Holbein the Younger: Lines for the main elements and a slightly toning of the face. The rest of the figures merely indicative.

  • Ariana Molder (b.1975) ‘Red Queen’, 2011
    Ink and acrylic ink on tracing paper (146 x 99 cm)
    [Online image] Available from: [Accessed 15 September 2015]

Red Queen, En la Casa del Léon series, 2011. Ink and acrylic on tracing paper/Tinta-da-china e acrílico sobre papel esquisso, 146 x 99,5 cm.=> Molder uses a rather flat approach and uses the underlying texture of the tracing paper to convey a structure of the face. A limited palette (black, white, red) makes this work rather illustrative.

  • Dryden Goodwin (b.1971) ‘Head studies’, 1991
    Dry point etching from zinc plate (10 x 19.7 cm)
    in: Maslen, M; Southern, J (2014) ‘Drawing Projects’. London: Black Dog Publishing, p.178-9

=> Goodwin is using a similar approach as Giacometti or Auerbach regarding finding the form. However, he applies repetitive longer and shorter parallel markings in this work, more on areas of the face that moves backwards (eye sockets, inner mouth) or for shadow areas (nose base).

JENNY SAVILLE_The Stare_2006_10

=> Saville’s drawing (besides her paintings on a similar subjects: ‘Rosetta 2’ ) is another example of showing the drawing process and building the forms. Expressive and rather sketchy line markings alongside a few tonal areas on the face and a contrasting bold tonal area for the hair. The eyes play an important role as they are drawn in a controlled way with line and tone.


  • Line: can be applied indicative (e.g. Alberto Giacometti or Jenny Saville) or repetitive (e.g. Dryden Goodwin or Graham Little)
  • Tone: can be applied rather indicative and slightly (e.g. Hans Holbein the Younger) or bold and expressive (e.g. Frank Auerbach)
  • Usage of color: Either as a contrasting element to a rather line drawing (e.g. Elizabeth Peyton) or as the medium for a coloristic approach (e.g. Vincent van Gogh)
  • Texture: The support can give structure (e.g. Adriana Molder) or the medium as such brings relief like texture (e.g. Vincent van Gogh or the portrait paintings of Frank Auerbach – see exhibition notes)


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