Face Forward

When I teach portraiture, I start with a participatory demonstration. I point to my own features and draw imaginary meridians and axes across my eyes, under my nose and through my lips: the eye line, nose line, lip line, and I ask my students to do the same while touching their own faces. I demonstrate how certain features align in triangles or rectangles and how the planes and features incorporate circles and ovals, and how some measurements of the face are proportional to others, for example, the base of the nose including both nostrils is equal to the width of an eye, and after I have cited a few more equivalents, I explain that portraiture is as challenging as it is because there are so many features and so much going on in a small space on the front of our heads! We are mesmerized by the face; we read it; we wear it, we watch the weather of moods pass over the faces of our loved ones and colleagues; I recognize that my feelings are "written on my face", and when teaching I want to "put my best face forward". These moments of demonstrating and talking about the face offer an odd mix of intimacy and objective observation. We use generic structures to understand the way our faces are constructed but ultimately we want to capture the specifics of personality, the special arrangement of features that add up to just one person; we want to create a likeness; to call them to mind, to vibrate a little, with their presence.