When we are starting a composition in our drawing or painting, we need to figure out what our beginning marks are. The way I would suggest this is taking the primary subject or overall composition and break the most large shapes down in to simpler shapes. Start with the MOST simple shapes. From here, we can break things down to smaller simple shapes.
Always try to keep that term in your head. Smaller simple shapes. We’re not going to more complex shapes. We’re just working with large simple shapes, that are broken down to smaller simple shapes, which are then broken down to even smaller simple shapes, etc etc etc… If we remove the mindset of “complex” shapes from our head, this process becomes infinitely more easy and less intimidating.
Approach your picture and find the images with angles. Relate points to other points in your reference, whether it be from life or from a photo, and see how the angle that connects those two points echos in your drawing. This is obviously easier to show in person than in words…. but how does each outer point relate to the other points? If I take the point on my shoulder and related it to the top of my head, what is that angle? what is the angle from the top of my head to the other shoulder? what is the angle from that shoulder to my other shoulder? If I connect those points, what simple shape do I get? (a triangle) How can I take this basic shape and refine it to more small simple shapes? from the shoulder to the top left side of my head, what is the angle? what is the angle from the side of my head to the top of my head? What is the angle from that side point of my head to the part where my neck meets my shoulder?
This is just the a small amount of the questions I ask myself when starting a drawing of a portrait like this. As you break down the image to smaller and smaller shapes, the points you relate are in the likes of “corner of the eye”…. “side of the nose”, etc etc etc.
You will begin to see a very abstract set of shapes. These simple shapes are the base for your subject in your artwork. You can now start to refine and break down these larger shapes in to the next size down.
As I go about my drawings and paintings, I like to think of them as puzzles and encourage others to do the same. Think of the last time you did a puzzle. Maybe it was a Sudoku? Those number puzzles that are laid out like crosswords… The more you do Sudoku, the more easy other Sudokus become. This is because you begin to understand how to approach the puzzle of a Sudoku.
Going back to how this applies to your artwork… when you embark on these steps, you will sometimes see things that don’t add up and look wrong. Maybe some angles don’t match up. Maybe something looks too skinny. Maybe something looks too small.
This is where you really have to start asking questions. These questions are something that you will never stop asking yourself, but as you get more experienced, you will know more of what questions you need to be asking yourself and you will also have an easier time answering them.
For instance, lets say I am drawing a face and the nose I am drawing is too skinny. This would be an example of my problem solving steps that I would go through:
This nose looks skinny. Is it actually too skinny? or is it too long? is it a bit of both? what else around it could make it look like it is too skinny? is the face around it too wide? is the face around it too short? Etc etc etc….
This is at least how I approach it and it is something I have found works very well for me and my students.
I hope this helps!