I’m old enough to remember “The Shadow” radio program. Although it began in 1937, a bit before my time, it lasted until 1954, and I loved pretending to be scared silly by the ominous laugh and that chilling line, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men… the shadow knows.”
I must immediately clear up one misconception here. The voice of The Shadow’s introduction was never that of Orson Welles. Without delving too deeply into the history of this vintage show, I’ll quickly explain that “The Shadow” originated as a narrator for another broadcast series. The voice — and that wicked laugh — belonged to Frank Readick, the mild-mannered fellow pictured here.
Eventually “The Shadow” character was developed into a storyline of its own. Orson Welles became the first voice actor to play the role, but he did not speak those well-known words about evil lurking and the shadow knowing.
All right, enough vintage radio history. What does any of this have to do with art?
Nothing really, or at least, not much. The connection here is merely in my mind. I kept hearing that infamous line “The Shadow knows…” as I worked on a bit of portrait drawing practice recently. The lesson, you see, was all about the principle of using shadow to define facial structure.
Admittedly my portraits aren’t good, but they are getting better as I learn and practice various drawing techniques, such as comparative measurement and sighting. And when it comes to portraits, one of the most important techniques involves seeing the shapes created by the lights and shadows. It’s amazing, really, how a human face can “appear” out of the shadows.
I first became acquainted with this method of portrait drawing several years ago in a “Craftsy” class taught by Gary Faigin. He showed how to “map out” a face by looking not at the various facial features but at the shadows. We worked with charcoal, and I was very, very messy. I was also very, very inexperienced still at drawing, and while I was fascinated by what I was seeing, I wasn’t able to really capture much of a likeness with the models we drew in the class. Still, it was interesting and informative, and it gave me a basic understanding of the principle.
Now, years later, maybe I’m reaching a point where I can start applying a bit of that knowledge. Again, I know my portrait-drawing isn’t good, but it is getting better. I have only to look back through my sketchbooks to see how much I have improved.
This recent quick portrait sketch was done not in charcoal but in graphite, utilizing the concept of capturing the shadows and simply letting the face come out of those shadows.
His head is still a bit misshapen — that seems to happen a lot when I do portraits — but overall the fellow looks human. Although I haven’t drawn any of his features in a detailed way, they’re all there — two eyes, a nose (albeit slightly crooked) and a mouth.
I have recently re-joined Craftsy, taking advantage of a “special” offer on their already very “special” offer. I’ve paid $1.25 for my year’s membership, a half-price discount of their generous $2.49 one-year membership. I couldn’t pass that by. Craftsy classes are excellent, so if you’ve ever wanted to join, I’d say “Do it now.”
I’m planning to do Gary Faigin’s class again, and hopefully I’m better prepared for it now than I was the first time around.
Another great resource for seeing this technique in action is the “Mad Charcoal” YouTube channel. Here’s a clip called “Pulling a Face Out of Chaos”. It’s amazing, really.
Yet one more resource for portrait-drawing that I’ve recently discovered is “The Drawing Source” by Marina Fridman. She has a great deal of information available on her site.
As a child, I loved “The Shadow”, and now I’m loving the way artists can use shadows — and lights — to create incredible illusions. Indeed, The Shadow Knows… and I can’t wait to learn more from this magnificent, mysterious darkness.