I don’t think anyone can learn to draw well without the foundational lessons discovered in mirror image drawing. The longer I teach drawing, the more I am convinced this lesson is key, the one I hope no students are absent for! And all because it is the perfect place to teach artist hacks for achieving perfect size and proportions of the basic shapes (identified in lesson 1).
My lesson was aimed at students age 10-12 in my Classical Conversations class, a masters class. For this age group, I tend to choose human or animal faces; it’s not only the perfect lesson during which to focus on a face, it’s also the only lesson in my Classical Conversations plan that lends itself to the focus necessary to do a face.
To fit Cycle 3, I chose the face of a Native American man. I found it here. That is a whole face, the original, I mean; I cut it in half down the middle for this exercise.
This is a neat lesson that will appeal to those who like to draw for artistic reasons as well as those who find comfort in precision. This project has a bit of both.
Step #1. I pass out the papers with half the man’s face. Just as in lesson 1, I first instruct students to look for the basic shapes they see in the man’s head AND trace those shapes with their pencils. I am considering using a red marker for my example copy so students can see what I did more easily from their seats. But I will not show mine right away unless to a student struggling to comprehend the goal.
Below you can see my pencil lines block out the shapes I see: a hotdog-shapes oval and circle for the nose, triangles for the foreheads and cheeks, ovals for the hair sections and more. Different students may break the drawing up with different basic shapes, and that is expected.
STEP #2. NEW SKILL! The make-or-break-it skill to reproduce a mirror image is accurately judging space and size. We could leave it to free-handing chance–but there are skills we can master to make this spot-on.
Below you can see spots where I drew dots–look especially around the eyes. We will learn to pick reference points and measure the spacing of features–but no rulers needed! Let us use what a have at hands, namely our hands and pencils and erasers.
You may find the distance from the midline of the drawing to the nearest eye corner is, for instance, the length of the eraser on the end of your pencil or the length of your pinky fingernail. So then, move to the blank side and measure that same distance and place the dot. Measure how wise the eyeball is. For me, it’s the same as the metal bracket on the end of my pencil. Place a dot on the other side of this measurement for the eye. You can see I did measurements for the widest part of the forehead, for the jawline, for the tricky eyebrow contours and lips, etc. Use what works for your to measure. Maybe a distance the length of your first finger’s middle knuckle to the end of your finger, or maybe the length of your pencil eraser to the number “2” stamped on your pencil.
Now that you have those measurement dots, do what we did last week: redraw those basic circles, triangles and ovals. It’s a lot easier and more accurate now because we have dots to give us boundaries to help get us the right size of that shape.
And remember, this is a sketch–meander with light lines, making that triangle or oval a few times on top of each other until you find you’ve made the shape you want.
This year, I will aim to draw live with the my students, letting them see me do it–and every time I need to erase and correct anything is actually a gift to them. Students will learn more from watching you try and try again than if you merely show up with a perfect outcome that you labored on at home, away from their eyes. Yes, this takes humility and the kind of confidence to allow yourself to be seen as a fellow learner rather than perfect. In the past, I was more concerned with figuring out my lessons and how to manage my class, but now I feel more comfortable in all those aspects of my role, so now I will try live drawing with them.
Step #3 After students have completed drawing the basic shapes of the face, then they can get to the refining steps! The guiding basic geometric shapes are in, now you can erase what you don’t want as your final version and bolden the lines you want to keep.
Step #4 Then it’s time for details: look closely at that eyelid and the slant of it. Make the lines of the mouth as close as you can to the original. Do the detail work of the hair and jewelry and add in those feathers if you have time. (Note, in the original, there were no feathers on the other side. Based on class time, you could skip them or suggest they do the feathers at home.)
Now this final drawing, as you may be able to tell, has flaws. From the eye to chin, his face is wider on the side I drew. The lips are not wide enough. The eye placement is a bit off. Here’s an interesting lesson: I drew this in my first year tutoring–before I’d refined my method and articulated the step-by-step plan that you just read through. My previous drawings above and this final drawing are not representing parts of the same instance of me drawing this face. I would show my students this and show them how the first time I did it, before I paid attention to measuring, my results were a bit off. Yes, it passes as a recognizable face–but even I, the tutor, had room to grow.
Step #5. Make possible suggestions for student completion at home. Our class time is just enough for instruction and a good start–I do not expect students to finish a good, complete drawing in our time. I encourage students to finish at home if they want and then bring their finished version in next week. This is both inspiring to other students AND it seems to take the pressure off the students to perform and prove they can do it well from the roughest sketch; knowing they have more time and can show the class later seems to help some of my students. (They want to show their ability to be in the rhetoric stage of drawing!)
If you try this, let me know how it went! If you teach the mirror image in any way, what do you think is the most challenging aspect? What helps the students the most, in your experience?
Other drawing lessons: