How to paint 3 different people from one reference

faces from one reference

You'll want to use your reference as a guide for the perspective on the face, and the general placement of features. Once you know what your base is, you can then start thinking about all the ways in which faces vary.

The head itself can come in different sizes and shapes, so don't overlook the head shape when trying to come up with new faces. It's also not just about having different features (eyes, nose, mouth), but their relationships to one another as well. Some faces may seem to have eyes spaced further apart, whereas other faces may have a large forehead.

You can make things more masculine by indicating bony and muscular masses, or you can make a face more feminine by maintaining the graceful curves and smooth surfaces that are most associated with beauty.

In addition, don't forget that pushing skin tone around can help at the end to really differentiate different characters. Lastly, the reference I'm using is of my little brother. You too may find yourself tapping up family members for paintings!

01. Head it up

step 1

I decide what the overall head shape is going to be. I'm putting minimal indicators for where features might go, but for the most part I'm just concentrating on the shape. You don't have to put those cross-hairs on faces – I just do it to remind myself what the angle of the head is.

02. Play with the features

step 2

Here I'm making decisions about facial features, how big or small things are, what the spacing between things are – thickness, thinness and suchlike. Notice how the difference between some of these facial features is not that extreme. It's the head shapes that make this work.

03. Subtle Changes

step 3

On the first head I decide to shrink his whole face a bit, just to exaggerate the thickness of his head. On the second one I paint the forms in a more blocky way, and on the third one I keep the forms relatively smooth. I also make sure I vary the skin tones from head to head.

Words: McLean Kendree

An ImagineFX Rising Stars winner in 2011, Mclean now works at Kabam studios, and has produced concept art for THQ, Hasbro and 38 Studios.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 94.

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