Over the month of August, I completed the 100 Heads drawing challenge. It was definitely challenging, but it has helped my drawing skills improve dramatically.
What is the 100 Heads challenge?
The artist Ahmed Aldoori thought up this challenge to draw 100 heads over a specific period of time. He did his in 10 days, but I decided to stretch it over a month to make it feel more approachable.
You can watch Ahmed's video about the process here:
I found out about the challenge from an artist I follow on Instagram and decided to dive in before finding out more about the official challenge, so I didn't see the Pinterest board until I'd already started. I knew it would drive me crazy to skip a few of the heads from the board, and I didn't feel like drawing 107 heads, so I just found a bunch of random heads and drew those instead.
So how did I do?
I really enjoyed this challenge. I took a bit less than an hour each day (not counting weekends and three sick days I took off for the month) to draw as many heads as I could.
The first day, I only did two. I was really rusty and just couldn't get the nose and mouth to look acceptable. I wound up taking up the rest of the time with nose studies to help that part feel a bit more natural. These were both of Jennifer Connelly, but I felt they just wound up Jennifer Connol-ish.
The next day went much better, with three heads that felt pretty decent right off the bat, and then up to six by day three.
From that point on, I was able to consistently get five or six heads done each day and still have time for my regular art creation. I wound up getting a bit behind but managed to catch up with a couple days of ten or so heads, which would have felt downright daunting to me on that first day.
What did I learn?
I got a lot of benefits out of this challenge. I was impressed with how much my skills grew in such a short period of time. I've been drawing for about 24 years, but I had never really pushed myself with a challenge like this, and I felt that the growth I got out of it was so much larger and faster than anything I'd experienced before.
Finding a Style
The first benefit I saw from the challenge was that I started to see what my "style" is for drawing the human face. This is always a big part of what makes an artist's style, and it's something I've been struggling with since I've been striving to draw more realistically over the past five or so years.
When you draw pages and pages of faces, you can start to see consistency on how you draw each face, even if the faces you're drawing from are fairly different.
You can see which parts are most interesting to you (turns out, I love noses and chins).
You can see what you naturally like to exaggerate (long necks and big eyes for me).
And you learn what elements are most important for your face to feel "finished" to you (mine are cheekbones and that little muscle to the side of the mouth).
A lot of artists (past-me included) tend to think that you need to invent what you're drawing in order to find your style, but over the years I've discovered that drawing from life over and over again is the best way to stumble upon your drawing style.
Seeing Common Mistakes
I knew that I had some troubles drawing faces, but I wasn't totally sure how to correct them. Drawing the head over and over and over again let me see what some of my common mistakes were.
For instance, I tend to draw faces from the front way too wide, so I learned to see the proportion of the head more clearly. Also, when drawing the three-quarters view, I almost always place the nearer eye too far out and down, so I became more conscious of that.
Getting Better at the Whole Head (Not Just the Face)
Turns out, when you draw the whole head, you get better at the whole head. I had hoped to improve drawing faces, but I got a lot better at hair and necks as well.
Great Balance for Anatomy Study
I've been doing a lot of anatomy study from books lately (I'll have a blog post on that later), but there's nothing like drawing from life to solidify all that knowledge about proportion and shape and form. It's one thing to read about a subject and another thing entirely to dive into that subject with your own drawing practice.
I'm finding that the combination of anatomy study and life drawing has made drawing heads from imagination phenomenally easier, which is a skill I've wanted to gain for years. Now I'm able not only to invent a head that looks real, but I can alter and adjust that invented head to more closely match the image I have in my mind.
Challenging Myself Again
I'd love to come back to this challenge again in the future, perhaps working from Ahmed's official Pinterest board. My plan is to do more book study on the anatomy of the human head and then come back and try again.
One of the limitations of the images I used was that they were mostly models. This meant that, while I was able to get some good diversity of ethnicity and gender, there was very little diversity in age, body size, or expression (models seem to have that one look on their faces at all times). So if I try again, I'll definitely be more intentional about those elements.
However, for now I'm working my way through a 500 Hands challenge, so I'll be sure to let you know how that goes once I'm done.