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Faces: Unexpected help

More help than I expected. Back in May, I asked fans on social media to submit selfies because I needed more faces for a jigsaw puzzle project I was working on. Based on previous attempts to get help through social media, I thought I’d get a half dozen submissions. Imagine my surprise when nearly a hundred people submitted mug shots.

That gave me far more faces to draw than needed. But so many of the faces were interesting that I ended up drawing about three dozen to add to the puzzle design.

Here’s my process.

drawing process


I start with a photo. I sketch the face in my notebook—first in pencil and then with ink. Then I scan my drawing and add colors in Adobe Illustrator. Finally, rows of the portraits are layered together in a digital file to create the crowd.

The secret. I’ve been drawing faces in my sketchbook for about five years now. You can see them all in chronological order on Flickr. I’m getting better at it, but still have a lot to learn. I’ve discovered there’s a secret about face drawing that no one seems to talk about. Here it is.

The audience does most of the work. If you, the illustrator, put a few marks on paper, say three dots, your audience will automatically see a face. It seems that humans are hardwired to detect faces. The shape and proportion of eyes, noses, chins, and ears can be way off, but your viewers will still put the clues together and recognize a human face. You can even leave parts off and the audience will make sure a face is seen. So if you simply provide a few extra cues that you are depicting Nickolina (glasses, hair style, squinty eyes), the audience will close the gaps and recognize Nickolina.

I love the fact that the audience is helping to do my work for me. I’m grateful for the assistance. I wish I could get that kind of unexpected help on all my projects—housecleaning, gardening, snow shoveling, etc.


The new jigsaw puzzle design is called Evil Twins. There’s a crowd of several hundred faces and many evil twins, clones, look-alikes, and doppelgängers. So there are two challenges. First, assemble the +750-piece puzzle and then find all the evil twins. It’s a Kickstarter project that’s accepting pledges until November 25. You can get all the details here. 



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