I've talked about the importance of reference and study of real life in the character design process and regular readers of this blog will also be aware of how essential I feel it is to attend life drawing classes regularly.
There are times, however, when work schedules get too intense for me to make it to a drawing class, or get as much sketching done outdoors as I'd like to. So a handy way of keeping up the reference drawing is to look through magazines or photographs and make quick studies. For example:
In these drawings I've gone over a series of photographs of the same model. I am particularly concerned with the placement of facial features on a simplified head shape - one that's based on the sphere.
Notice how I've made marks to indicate where the hairline is in relation to the centre lines of the sphere. I'm also observing how the corners of the mouth line up perfectly with the centre of his eyes. Placement of the ears happen bellow the dividing horizontal line (brow line) on the sphere, the lobe is level with his nose and the apex of an ear's curve lines up with the brow line.
Stephen Silver hipped me to this method of gathering observation. They're really quick to make - a matter of minutes, and are so useful in reminding yourself of proportions and the basic construction methods outlined by the likes of Preston Blair and Andrew Loomis in their books. Construction of this kind, of course, goes back way further than either of those guys but I find the way they write about the process is very artist-friendly. PDF versions of Loomis books can be found here.
Another useful exercise is to draw a sphere. Nothing could be simpler - just draw a circle.
Sounds simple enough, a perfectly round shape. But getting the sense of a three-dimensional mass is tricky. The dividing lines need to wrap correctly around the circle to give it the orb-like qualities.
A thorough understanding of constructing the simplest of objects will form the basis for more complex objects.