Drawing faces – Adam Driver practice

Here’s the video version for this tutorial, and below we have written it out as an article:

Adam Driver is an excellent actor best known for … playing Garupe in the film adaptation of Silence … oh and obviously as the NSA guy in Midnight Special. Can’t think of many other big films he’s been in 😉

In this video, me and Mayko are both going to draw him, using different photos, and go over what we learned from the experience.

My aim was to practise the lessons Mayko gave us in previous videos on drawing faces and also to practise using watercolours, a new medium for me.

Mayko’s aim was to try to not just copy the photo, but draw the person. It’s a subtle difference. She will not attempt to mechanically match the tones in the photo pixel for pixel, as if she is printing out the photo using a pencil, which is one approach for portraits. She wants to focus on finding the lines that create his face. She’s going less tonal and more linear. She will mainly use a 2B and 6B pencil.

My process was more workman like. I still have so much to learn – my only aim is to work on techniques, try new methods and learn.

I start by finding the angle of the centre line of the face, and then divide it into thirds. However, remember from the last video, a standard face divides into equal thirds from chin to bottom of nose, bottom of nose to eyebrows and eyebrows to hairline.

So with that starting point you want to see how this particular face deviates from that norm. It’s pretty obvious that his nose is relatively long, but I want to make sure I get these thirds just right because it’s such a defining aspect of his face. His nose is indeed long, but actually the bottom third isn’t that much shorter. It’s his forehead, the top third, that’s quite small.

I notice at this point that I’m feeling nervous. It’s so easy to make a mistake in a face, and I decided that I’d put my first attempt up for this video. Nerves about the outcome aren’t great when drawing, so I try to put the bolder part of myself in charge of my drawing hand.

Mayko, as a more experienced artist, is able to start not from a technique but from feeling. She notes her first impression when she looks at him – “gentle elegance and bold wildness”. Then she looks at the face and describes it to herself.

She thinks “He has a long, well built nose, well-developed cheekbones, and a strong jawline with subtle curves, but crucially his eyes retain a freshness and a youthful innocence. His skin is fairly smooth, with a firm chin giving a solid conclusion to the face.”

Meanwhile, I am freaking out a little about whether I have things in remotely the right place. I remember not to build things up too fast, but to refine my placements, and place not only the features but the context for the features. I look at the shapes of the eye socket shadow, the shadow under the lower lip. I check angles between important points, though later I’ll wish I had checked a few more of these.

Mayko likens the portrait process to doing a jigsaw puzzle. With both you know what the face should look like at the end, and you start to build towards it. And with both, a good strategy is to start by creating some basic structure, some boundaries – the edge pieces in a jigsaw puzzle and some structural marks in a drawing.

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But the key difference is that while in a jigsaw puzzle you must use all the pieces, in the drawing you have to be selective. You don’t want to use pieces with unimportant information on them, and because you aren’t putting all the pieces down, you have to use your judgement to position the pieces you do want to use. She uses the same process to help her get things right – seeing deviations from the standard, measuring certain angles and distances and seeing the context for each feature.

I’m aware that I always place the eyes too high on the head, and I need to be careful to not repeat this mistake. But the tricky thing with Adam Driver is that the distance from the bottom of the nose to the eyes really is long. So it’s hard to tell if I’m making my usual mistake, which my eye just doesn’t usually see until I look at the drawing the next day, or if I’m properly capturing that long nose.

Mayko chose this photo because it shows off that nose, and she wants to make sure that the power of the nose is established without overdoing it.
She struggles a little with the chin since the beard is covering it. She needs to try to capture the line of the chin before adding the hair, to keep it firm. But she ends up making it a little weak, and she will need to come back and make it a little more prominent at the end. It’s easier to reposition the features at the top and bottom of the face than features in the middle of the face. The features in the middle relate to other features both above and below, so changing them has knock-on effects for other parts.

I have roughed things in quite messily with pencil, and I go over with final lines using a pen. Before doing this, I could have looked at the drawing in a mirror or maybe taken a photo of it. As you draw, your eye gets used to some of the wonky bits so that you can’t see them. Showing the drawing to your eye from a fresh perspective like a mirror image helps you see the problems with a fresh eye. I don’t do this and go straight into pen lines. There’s no going back. But I’m not just going over the pencil lines, I’m seeing where they work and where they don’t, and adjusting my pen lines accordingly. I rub out the pencil marks to leave a framework to start adding watercolour.

Mayko includes some of the shoulders, because they indicate the person’s posture and therefore a lot of their body language and attitude comes through.

She’s aware that she often draws people’s eyes bigger than they really are. That may be because we read so much into eyes, we want to magnify them. Or maybe it’s just because she’s a big Gegege no Kitaro fan. But here she notes that he is squinting a bit, and she wants that to be conveyed. She also doesn’t need the eyes enlarged since there’s so much character coming from the nose and the strong facial shape.

I have been keen to try out a new colour I got for Christmas, this sort of skin tone. My eagerness means that I apply it much too strongly, and Adam Driver becomes jaundiced Adam Driver. I don’t stress though, or more accurately I do stress, I accept it and let it go, because hey this is a practice drawing. I apply too strong a colour to the mouth too, and now the painting is overall more saturated than I had intended. Again, I remember not to stress about it. I’m learning, that was the aim, so even if the painting is not going quite as I hoped, I am succeeding, even if I really don’t feel like I am!

Mayko normally isn’t too bothered with likeness. She wants to create beautiful drawings, and doesn’t want to be burdened by trying to achieve a likeness. She often does get a good likeness, but it’s not a goal. But she felt like specifically going for a likeness in this exercise taught her some important lessons. A likeness in a drawing is quite a fragile thing, so every line has so much impact. She became more and more connected to every line and its role within the drawing.

I come back to the painting the next day and with a fresher eye I notice things to change. There isn’t enough depth in this eye socket. The dark under the nose isn’t dark enough. I am aware that some of the positioning and sizing in my drawing is a little off. I take a photo, and put the painting into Photoshop. I want to help train my eye to see things better next time. By moving things around and seeing how it changes the drawing, me and my eye continue to learn more.

Reflections: So Mayko’s goal was to capture Adam Driver with line, and also to not just copy the photo. She’s enjoyed how delicate the process was to retain the likeness, and felt like the exercise connected her more with her lines. I feel the same way, but I’m also learning something mindset-wise – dealing with negative thoughts. It’s hard to look at a drawing you’ve done and not just see the negatives in it. So while I note all the things that went wrong and I accept that I don’t actually like this drawing very much, I try to see the positives in it as well, especially all the lessons that it has taught me which will allow me to create future work that I do like.


The photo of Adam Driver from the side was posted by Dick Thomas Johnson and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. It was downloaded from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_Wars-_The_Last_Jedi_Japan_Premiere_Red_Carpet-_Adam_Driver_(27163806019).jpg

The photo of Adam Driver from the front was posted by Gage Skidmore and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. It was downloaded from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_Driver_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpg

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