How do you come up with the concept for a piece?

As far as my concept, I normally choose a person in the media that I grew up with, a person or face in which I am familiar. Sometimes, I will get a suggestion from someone else of a person or musician to draw, and I think, "this is something maybe I should try..." It then becomes a challenge to take on a new piece that I am familiar with but maybe had not thought of drawing.

In the conceptual stage, there is a lot of hen pecking—trying to get and idea of what will work for me. After I develop an initial idea of whom I am considering developing, I will work on it the concept, focusing on different areas of the face and body. My sketches are a study of design where I focus on the silhouette, not the details.

Sometimes my initial concepts do not work and I have to be patient with myself. I will take time and wait and see if something will begin to show its face the next day. Many times I will look for more inspiration in books, pictures, and videos. One thing I do not like to do is to look at how other artists have interpreted a person. I do not want the subconscious ideas of someone else’s mind in my thoughts when I am developing my initial concept. I want to see it the way I am going to see it. Only after I have my final design and a completed piece, will I look at another artist’s idea of someone.

As I am working on a piece, I am usually thinking about the next piece I am going to work on, while I am finishing. I am always thinking forward.

Photo Reference

Once you have a concept, what is your next step?

Once I have a concept for a piece, I will find one reference photo for the main design of the piece. When developing my main design, if the translation from the photograph to the design does not work for me, I will choose another reference photograph, and try again. Although I work from one main reference photograph for the overall design, I will look at several different photo references to see what the face does at different angles, to help me understand the face. If I want to see the eyes, I look at the eyes in many photographs and see what shape it takes in each photo, and apply these ideas to my main design to come up with my final concept. If possible, I will sometimes watch videos or movies with the person in them, to gain more perspective.

When choosing a reference photograph, I look for a very interesting three quarter view as my main reference. A full frontal view only measures height and width between features with the shapes of the face. A profile is only a silhouette, without depth. I prefer a three quarter view. With a three quarter view, you get to see the face beyond it just being an oval. You can see more of the hills and valleys and the adventures you can take with the shapes in the face. You see holes, and cracks, and the face takes on a much more interesting shape. I prefer the ¾ view because of being able to see more information. Even if I choose to do a profile caricature, I will additionally use a ¾ view photograph as a reference to understand more of the depth of the face.

I will draw many renditions of a caricature before I will have a final concept. I will then pick and choose parts off the many pieces I have done to put together my final piece. I do not look at the details on a face, during this stage; instead; I look at the general idea of what stands out the most on the face, to me. One feature on the face does not anchor my piece. All the features have to be cohesive. The process of filling in the details of the face takes over on its own, during the completion of the piece. It is somewhat unconscious. As I am completing a piece, I see what I am looking at, but I try to actually go into/inside the subject and lose myself in the process. For example, I try feel what the hair looks like, or what the corner of the eye would look like if I was actually in the corner of the eye and part of the eye. I try to feel the piece.

Drawing people live can help to realize the importance of seeing the dimension of the shapes in a face and how the subject moves. Seeing someone in their laughter, or pensive moments, I can channel this experience into a series of mental photographs of a person. This is why if I do not have a live subject in front of me, a video or movies can help me understand a subject.

Another helpful hint is to understand the skull, and how the shape of the face works. It helps to know what an eye does, or what a nose does on a skull. It helps to have a working knowledge of the face and how the shapes of a face work together, in order to know how to morph the shapes into caricature.



The actual creation process Is a long arduous journey. Even though I say to myself, “this is where I want to go as a concept”, I have to come up with a design that is understandable. I have drawn the same image over and over again, and keep exaggerating, just to realize I have overstretched an image and then have to dial it back. Many times in my process I am learning how NOT to do something, how not to draw a face. The only way I know I have my concept right is when I have an epiphany moment and I simply know what I have is right.

I apply my three teachers during the creation process:

1) Trial- I keep drawing a piece over and over until the creation works for me. When I have something that works, I have my ‘aha moment’ and I know I am on the right path. I rarely abort a work when it comes to the concept and creation. I will stick with it, keep trying and maybe look at other photos and videos until I have achieved what I want.

2) Error- To error is human. There is no such thing as a true mistake with my art, because ultimately the mistake gets me to my goal. I don’t look at an error and say, ‘I did this totally wrong and need to start over’. I study what is not working for me, and try again.

It is said the first line you put down for the piece is the most important line. If you erase it you lose your piece. I use this as my motivation. I try to conquer that fear. As an artist I strive for perfection. I know this is an unattainable goal but it is the beauty of it—to keep trying. This is where the motivation kicks in. You are going to make mistakes. But, if I can channel mistakes as if they are ‘happy mistakes’, it helps me to take steps towards where I need to be.

3) Motivation- I can be 20 hours into a piece and say, ‘I want to stop this piece’. But what motivates me is wanting to push myself to perfection, even though I know it is not attainable. But that is art. Anything that is not hard, is not worth having. As an artist I want to carve my niche-- what separates me from a world of other artists. What do I bring to the table that someone else can’t bring?

Each of us is unique and we have something special inside us, a unique way of seeing things, that we bring to the table. What you bring to your art is your uniqueness. Finding my uniqueness, my niche, is my motivation.