Look at these weird babies! What do they have in common?
*nota bene: I have no specialty.
The Bergognone Baby Jesus's face is pretty proportional for a baby, but the neck is way too wide and the ears are tiny. The shoulder, though, is in proportion.
As realistic as (some of) these babies' faces were, the inaccurate neck and shoulders ruined the illusion. Now, here are some more realistic proportions where the head attaches to the neck and shoulders:
Now that you're thinking of the human head, neck and shoulders, I'll just go ahead and say they are as important in a realistic portrait as the face. Unlike babies, the rest of us have our lives written on our bodies, and the neck and shoulders in a typical bust portrait are the key to expressing this. The physical condition of the body-- muscular or soft, stocky or lanky-- is hinted at through the neck and shoulders. More telling are the person's habitual gestures of the body: tight or relaxed, meek or aggressive, withdrawn or wide open.
If you're still doubting that body shape and gesture are key to identifying a person, then you probably aren't near-sighted. Without my glasses I, on the other hand, can see only lumpy blurs of people at five feet away and farther. But I can still identify someone all the way across a gymnasium by the way they move and the general shape of the lumpy blur. Buster from Arrested Development had to have been lying about not recognizing Lucille 2 without his glasses; even as a "brown shape with points," only one person moves like Liza Minnelli, and that's Liza Minnelli.
And I'm not saying you have to finish the neck and shoulders to the same degree that the face is finished. Maybe you only allude to it with a sketchy line, maybe you can only see the curve of shoulders under a puffy coat and scarf, but what you're alluding to has to be correct. And everyone is different.
Consider, for instance, Nina Simone. Notice how her head leans forward with an intense yearning concentration on an imaginary horizon, every so often thrown back and to the side impatiently. Her chin recedes into her neck, creating the general appearance of a serious frown and accentuating the forward thrust of her face. The sides of her long neck descend in sinewy muscles into strong rounded shoulders, all in tune with her persona as a performer.
[Video Description: Black & white 1969 video of Nina Simone performing live, "To Love Somebody," at a piano. She wears a tall head wrap, dangling earrings and a halter top. She plays a lingering quietly soulful version of the song, then when she's done she leaps up from the piano bench, runs to the front of the stage, and raises her arms to the audience.]
Now, here are Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton performing together. Dolly throws her body up and back from the hips, opening her sternum to the audience, keeping an erect neck and spine while bending and swaying at the knees. It gives her a brittle but ebullient appearance. Her neck and shoulders pull back. I suppose her posture could be the result of decades of filling large venues with her presence; or maybe it's from countering the weight of her considerable tatas. Or it could be her sheer steely perkiness. Miley, on the other hand, hunches forward from her lower shoulders through her neck, holds her face downward, and staggers forward on bent knees, creating the impression of being both closed within her own intense emotions, and reaching forward toward her audience. She sways and holds her joints bent so she always has the appearance of motion, or even a controlled artistic convulsion. She also holds her chin and jaw thrust forward and out, creating a confident and jaunty posture. Miley Cyrus learned to preform in an age of megascreens capturing her in close-up, so she can use this inward, reclusive posture to her advantage to express intensity and vulnerability. And performers her age have been informed by decades of the aggressive forward-hunch stance of shouting punks, metalheads and hip-hop performers. Her hunching posture assumes a boyish, athletic appearance due to her thin square shoulders and a long neck.
[Video description: long-hair family-friendly Miley performs "Jolene" live on an outdoor stage with a fringed, bedazzled Dolly Parton. Both hold personal microphones and sing to each other, taking turns so they play each other's rival, Jolene.]
Now take Don Knotts as Barney Fife. He looks like a turtle, and that's because he rounds forward in his lower-mid back (where a bra would fasten), and his shoulders are narrow and sloped, all creating the illusion of a rounded "shell." His thin neck attaches to the front of this structure rather than sitting tall atop his spine, and his receding chin and high, sloping forehead create a smooth curve from his collar bone to his crown, just as a turtle's head would be lifted forward. The posture allows his characters to appear bedraggled even though he was a very high-energy performer. Without the characteristic way his large ears lead to his tapered neck and thin, hunched shoulders, he wouldn't be Don Knotts.
[Video Description: Barney attempts to recite the Preamble to the Constitution as Andy has to feed him the lines word-by-word.]
Now contrast him with Mick Jagger. The man operates like an open Jack-in-the-box, as if his torso is a spring attached to his hips, full of coiled tension and always ready to snap back the other direction. Though like Barney his shoulders are thin-ish and narrow, he emphasizes his spring-loaded posture with the actual tension of skin-tight clothes, and his small shoulders generally appear square because of this same posture. He also differs from Don Knotts in that his head is extremely large for his shoulders and his big hair exaggerates it. To support his big old noggin, he has a thicker more muscular neck. He isolates his jaw forward and tilted up, as if the bottom of his mouth is filled with liquid he doesn't want to spill. The habitual upward tilt of his chin gives him an insouciant appearance and emphasizes the width and tension of his neck, reminding one of the tense throat of his screaming onstage persona.
|Mick Jagger, 1972, photo by Bob Gruen, via MorrisonHotel, via AnthonyLuke. [Image description: Black & white action shot of Jagger performing live against a black background. His upper torso is shown in profile, leaning forward, arms reaching out to grasp the microphone, his head thrown back and turned toward the camera with his mouth open in mid-song and his eyes cast downward.]|
|Mick Jagger. Can't find the photographer, via artsmeme.com [Image description: black & white shot of Mick Jagger sitting in a casual suit shown from crotch upward, with one knee up and to the side, one wrist leaning on the knee, the other hand near his hip with his elbow out. A backward C-shaped curve is formed by the fly of his pants, the buttons of his shirt, his open jacket and lapels, his spine and neck, and extending through his head held at an angle. His mouth is open and brow kind of scrunched like he's thinking hard and in mid-speech.]|
Ingenious blogger Scott Fertig noticed the similarities between the facial features of Don Knotts and Mick Jagger-- fish lips, pronounced folds at the barrel of the mouth, flat brows over lidded eyes-- and put Don Knotts' face on Mick Jagger's body. It's a perfect example of just how much difference the neck and shoulders make: nearly the same face but with a different neck, shoulders and posture, and he looks like a completely different person.
|"Mick Knotts," via ScottFertig. [Image: Black & white photo of Mick Jagger posing with undershirt and low-slung jeans against a brick wall, one hand resting on the opposite shoulder with his arm across his chest. But his face has been replaced with Don Knotts's smirking face under Mick's feathered rock-star hairdo.]|
Lest you believe these structures are only noticeable in easily caricatured weirdos like Don Knotts and Mick Jagger, I'll compare two conventionally beautiful Hollywood actresses who both play "every-woman" types in teen movie franchises: Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence.
Jennifer Lawrence's neck is nearly the same width as her face, and though long, is unusually thick for a Hollywood woman. It also sits squarely atop her shoulders and stretches straight up and down, the kind of posture our moms are always prescribing. Her head is centered atop her neck and her face is usually lifted and facing straight forward, giving her the appearance of a noble cadet. Her thick upright neck and posture are likely what makes her appearance credible as an athletic yet nobly idealistic participant in the Hunger Games. It also likely plays a part in her forthright public persona (people like to say, "she's so real!") The posture of personal integrity, for instance, makes it seem righteous when she flips the bird at a formal event, rather than sleazy.
|Jennifer Lawrence flips someone off at the Academy Awards.|
|Film still from The Hunger Games.|
|Jennifer Lawrence's typical posture.|
|Kristen Stewart [Image Description: Stewart leans forward with her elbows on a table (out of frame), her mouth open mid-speech]|
Here she is posing on the red carpet with a very typical posture for her. Notice how her jaw is jutting to the side but her head is upright, as if she is being pulled offstage in one of those old Vaudeville shows with a shepherd's crook around her neck. It is markedly different from any of Jennifer Lawrence's typical red carpet poses. An astute portrait artist would also note that her ears are unusually high up on her head; the size and position of ears help identify a person, too!
|Kristen Stewart at some red carpet thing|
I find that even when you cannot really see the clear shape of the ears, neck and shoulders, the visual hints are still there:
-What kind of shadows do the chin and jaw cast on the neck? The deep shadow of a jutting shelf-like chin and jaw? or the soft shading and under-lighting of a chin that melts into the throat?
-What kind of shadow is formed at the base of the neck, where it attaches to the collarbone?
-How does the hair fall around the neck and shoulders? If it falls straight down from the head, the place where it lands on the neck and shoulders can help indicate that the head is in front of or straight above the collarbone.
-Do the ears, if covered, affect the structure of the hair in a way that hints at their position? Can you see the earlobes or earrings? How does the jaw attach to the ear? Is there a shadow?
-Where do the shoulders intersect with the neck and jaw (and how far down from the earlobes)? If they're slouching they should intersect close to the ears and jaw and the neck should appear in front of the shoulders. If they are back and down, they'll intersect with the base of the neck.
-Where is the collarbone? Imagine the base of the neck is a flat circular plane from the knob at the spine between neck and shoulders to the collarbone (the clean disc left by a guillotine, maybe?). When slouching, the spine-knob is thrust upward and the sternum down, pitching the imaginary disc forward and vertical. Thus the collarbone will be low and form a down-arrow shape. When sitting upright and level with the viewer, however, the disc is horizontally level and the collar bone is lined up right in front of the neck-knob and only slightly below the intersection of neck and shoulders.
-Do the shadows at the sides of the neck describe its width and breadth? Often hair will dangle around the neck, obscuring the sides. But the shadows it casts can be deep on a thin neck or shallow on a broad neck. Stiff collars can obscure the neck as well, but the way they fit around the neck, snugly or loosely, can be described by the shadows they cast. The degree of forward pitch of the collar can also be very descriptive of posture.
Finally, if you pay attention to the neck and shoulders before you start, you can manipulate the pose and angle so that any personally identifying characteristics of their posture can be highlighted. Take, for instance, the flower-stalk-like neck in the Bust of Nefertiti. Why draw her from this angle, with her hair hanging down in a wig (just imagine it)...
|Bust of Nefertiti [Image description: a color photograph of the famous ancient Egyptian painted sculpture of Queen Nefertiti viewed from the front, with what appears to be a thin but average length neck and upside-down-trapezoidal hat]|
...when you could choose this other angle, with her long neck exposed and a big hat creating a visual X marking the spot of her regal eyes?
...when you could choose this angle and pose?