Moodles and learning about portraits

I continued to drag my feet this week but did at least break open the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain book and read through Chapter 9 “Facing Forward: Portrait Drawing with Ease” up to the first set of exercises.

The book revealed a few unexpected truths about the proportions of features on the human head. The key learning points I took from this were:

  • The eyes are halfway between the top of the skull and the base of the chin.
  • In profile view, the back of the ear is approx. as far beyond the back edge of the eye horizontally as the eyes is vertically from the base of the chin.
  • The top of your neck is approximately level with the base of your ear which is approximately level with the philtrum.
  • Because our minds are mostly interested in the key features (eyes, ears, nose, mouth) we regularly shorten the space between and around them. Our minds seem to go out of their way to lie to us about such proportions and it can take some very disciplined “sighting” to see the truth.

Looking back over previous drawings, there are clear examples where I’ve made these classic mistakes.


Even the test drawings I did whilst reading the chapter had the neck proportion error.

Fictional heads starting from a “blank” with the correct proportions drawn lightly on the page.

If you find a realistic drawing that doesn’t “feel right”, you may well find that a proportional error contributes to your unease. It’s quite comforting to find that others make these mistakes. Even Vincent Van Gogh struggled with proportion in his early drawings e.g. Carpenter 1880 (given as an example in Betty Edwards’ book on page 172).

When it comes to unrealistic drawing, odd proportions can be used to accentuate features. Great artists do this on purpose, not by accident. Unfortunately, I can’t claim greatness as the excuse for poor proportions in the clown I doodled this week 🙂

Moodle of a Clown

So what is a Moodle?

It’s the term I’ve coined for a doodle started in a meeting. To be precise, most moodles are SMoodles as they are born in Skype Meetings where no one can see me fiddling with the pen.

It seemed wrong to discriminate against moodles based on how they were conceived and besides, what would I have called the non-Skype moodles? Live Moodles? In-your-Face Moodles? Actually, perhaps Idiotic Moodles or iMoodle for short because I would have to be crazy to doodle in one of my face-to-face meetings since most of them include my boss.

I do genuinely try to be good at my day job so I can only draw moodles in meetings that meet very particular criteria. I’ve had a spate of such meetings recently but usually they are pretty rare.

Last but not least for this week is a master moodle. This one took many sessions to complete.

A Master Moodle

By engaging the creative side of your brain, moodles may actually help the analytical language-oriented side to focus on the meeting content. What’s more, you can stop doodling at any point to switch back to 100% focus.

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