Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Don't Forget the Spine, Neck and Shoulders (from the series Ciana's Notes on Portraiture)

This post has been adapted from an older post, Upright Citizens: The Importance of Head, Neck and Shoulders in Portraiture. It is part of the series, Ciana's Notes on Portraiture (see also How to Paint an Eyebrow).

Here are two lookalikes I'll bet you've never considered: Don Knotts and Mick Jagger. Not twins exactly, but they could be brothers.
Don Knotts and Mick Jagger
Donn Knotts (as Barney Fife) and Mick Jagger.
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 heavily lidded eyes-- and superimposed Don Knotts' face on Mick Jagger's body. Yes, it's freaky. It's also a perfect example of just how much difference the neck and shoulders make: put Don Knott's face with a different neck, shoulders and posture, and he looks like a completely different person.

Don Knotts face on Mick Jaggers Body
"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.]
Let's look at the real Don Knotts as Barney Fife, and his own neck, spine and shoulders. He gives the impression of a turtle.
Don Knotts as Barney Fife.
Don Knotts as Barney Fife. [image description: moving gif of Barney looking out the police station window through the blinds, then turning around, leading his body around with his nose and craned out neck. He starts back in surprise to find a cartoonish mobster pointing a gun in his face.]
That's because he rounds forward in his lower-mid back (where a bra would fasten), while 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. 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 jutting forward and curving up. The posture allows his characters to appear bedraggled and exasperated, even though he was a very high-energy performer. Without his characteristically large ears poking out over his tapered neck and thin, hunched shoulders, he just wouldn't be Don Knotts.
Now contrast his posture and spine with Mick Jagger's. Where Knotts was a turtle, Jagger is an open Jack-in-the-box, as if his spine is a spring attached to his hips, full of coiled tension and always ready to snap back the other direction. He even emphasizes his spring-loaded posture with the actual tension of skin-tight clothes.
Mick Jagger
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.]
Though his shoulders are narrow like Knotts' they appear square because of his posture. He also differs from 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. Besides giving him an insolent appearance, the habitual upward tilt of his chin emphasizes the width and tension of his neck, reminding one of the tense throat of his screaming onstage persona.
Mick Jagger
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.]
Have you ever noticed how goofy a cutout photo of a head looks, floating in space without its neck and shoulders?

Have you ever had to recognize a faraway person without your glasses, based only on their fuzzy outline and quality of movement, as a brown shape with points?

Then you already know how crucial the gestures of the neck, spine and shoulders are to a person's look. Maybe a portrait only alludes to the neck and shoulders with a sketchy line, maybe the curve of shoulders is only visible under a puffy coat and scarf, but what is alluded to has to be correct. When the rest of the body isn't shown, it's only through the neck and shoulders that we get a hint of a person's physical condition (muscular or soft, stocky or lanky, young or old). Even more telling are the person's habitual body gestures: tight or relaxed, meek or aggressive, withdrawn or wide open. After all, our lives are written on our bodies.

Learning how to really see the neck, spine and shoulders isn't only a matter of rigorous draftsmanship. It's what makes people say, "wow, you really captured this person!" The secret is noticing the unique characteristics of how a person holds themselves, then re-creating that energy on paper with pose, linework and composition.

If you're drawing from photos and you've never observed the subject in person, then you're already at a disadvantage. You've got to practice with live subjects so you can interact with them and see them in motion. If you're too chicken to try that, then at least draw from a video or gif instead of a photo. YouTube clips of singers are great for this purpose, as they are especially expressive and active.

Here, give it a try. Watch this video of Nina Simone performing, and really look at her neck and shoulders. Notice how her head leans forward with an intense concentration on an imaginary horizon, then she levels the audience with a direct stare, every so often throwing her head back and to the side impatiently. Her chin recedes into her neck, creating the general appearance of a serious frown and accentuating the striving forward thrust of her face. The sides of her long neck descend in sinewy muscles into strong rounded shoulders.

[Video Description: Black & white 1960 video of Nina Simone performing live, "I Loves You Porgy," at a piano. She wears an open tank top dress and plays a lingering soulful version of the song, then when she's done she leaps up from the piano bench, bows, and raises her arms to the audience.]

Even actresses who fit into Hollywood's cookie-cutter definition of conventional beauty have individually distinct ways of carrying their head, neck and shoulders. Let's compare the posture and physiognomy of 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 wishing we had. 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 and proudly defiant participant in the Hunger Games. It also likely plays a part in her forthright public persona (people like to say, "she's so real!") This posture of integrity makes it seem righteous rather than sleazy when she flips the bird at a formal event.
Jennifer Lawrence flips someone off at the Academy Awards.

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.

Jennifer Lawrence's typical posture.
Now, Kristen Stewart. Her neck is shorter but thinner. Her shoulders are also square but slightly narrower, hinting at the overall sporty-but-delicate look of her frame. Most importantly, though, is the way she holds her head forward and tilted. When caught candidly, the line between her shoulders are typically at an opposing angle to her head. She also holds her head forward from her shoulders but tipped back at an angle, as if weighed down by her curtain of hair. Her hair actually plays a part in a habitual Kristen Stewart gesture since famously flips it all over to one side. Her jaw is sharply delineated from her neck and ends in a pointed chin that appears to jut forward with contrariness because of the forward thrust of her neck. The limp outstretched neck, jutting chin and jaw, and opposing angles give her a lazily rebellious look that, combined with her naturally down-turned mouth, I find appealing (but apparently rubs a lot of people the wrong way). Kristen Stewart, for instance, would come across as sleazy or disrespectful if she flipped the bird on the red carpet.
Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart looking straight ahead with shoulders askew.

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?
Left: At the Railroad, by Manet. Middle: Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer. Right: Frank Gentile, by Alice Neel.
-What kind of shadow is formed at the base of the neck, where it attaches to the collarbone?
Left: Head of an Arab, by John Singer Sargent. Middle: Madame X (detail), by John Singer Sargent. Right: Clara J. Mathers, by Thomas Eakins
-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?
Left: portrait by Alice Neel. Middle: The Blue Room, by Suzanne Valadon. Right: Princess Albert de Broglie, by Ingres.
-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.
Left: Self Portrait Staring, by Rembrandt. Middle: Portrait by Mary Cassat. Right: Portrait of Berthe Morisot, by Manet.
-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.
Left: At the Theater, by Mary Cassat. Middle: Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, by Artemisia Ghentileschi. Right: Detail of a portrait by John Singer Sargent.
-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. 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.
Left: Nogeeshik, by Andrew Wyeth. Middle: Portrait by Mary Cassat. Right: The Repentant Mary Magdalene, by Georges Quentin de la Tour.
-Do the shadows at the sides of the neck describe its width and breadth? 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.
Left: Portrait of Joseph Antoine Moltedo, by Ingres. Middle: Self Portrait by Rembrandt. Right: portrait by Modigliani (I cannot locate the title, sorry).

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?
Profile view of the Bust of Nefertiti. [Image description: photograph of the same sculpture, taken from the side in profile. Reveals an extremely long neck pitched forward to an upraised jaw and chin. Viewed from the side, the hat extends up and back at an opposing angle to the neck, creating an imaginary intersection right at her eyes and a sense of elegant balance. The trapezoidal tulip shape of the hat contrasting with the long thin neck also creates the illusion of a flower on a stalk.]

And, for a different take, here's 1980s Arnold Swartzenegger. He had a famously thick neck and body-builder muscles; the protruding barrel of his mouth resolutely marked the spot where the wad of muscles stopped being neck and started being face. So why pose him like this...

Arnold Swartzenegger, c. 80's [Image Description: color photo of Arnold's face, shoulders and upper torso at a three-quarter angle facing the viewer. His shoulders are rounded forward and his face lifted and at a bowed angle, obscuring much of his neck.]

...when you could choose this angle and pose? It's so much more "Arnold."
Film still from or promotional image for The Terminator. [Image Description: color photo of Arnold's face, shoulders and chest in character as the Terminator. He wears sunglasses an holds a gun straight up in front and to the side, echoing the width and position of his neck. He wears a wide-lapel leather coat with a popped collar that sits flush against the back of his neck and skull, creating a visual X at the lumpy barrel of his mouth. The sides of the coat's neck opening extend down over his chest, continuing and emphasizing the line of his neck. Lazers in the background radiate outward from a point visually marking his collar bone.]

What about the rest of the face? Stay tuned for the rest of my Notes on Portraiture series.

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