Mr Potato Head

Remember as a kid how you could draw anything you wanted completely from imagination?  I was particularly fond of drawing five eyed green martins and weird dragon like creatures.  I didn’t need reference images.  It all came from imagination and probably looked nothing like a “real” martian or a “real” dragon but at seven years old I couldn’t have cared less.  As I got older my attention turned to fashionable ladies in exotic gowns and horses… lots of horses.  Again I didn’t need ‘inspiration’ or reference images to work from.  I just let my imagination do all the work.

Somewhere along the way I lost that ability to ‘imagine’ things.  These days I am fairly dependent upon having some kind of reference image or scene in front of me.  Maybe it’s because I’m less creative as an adult or maybe I just want my portraits to look like real people not aliens.

Or maybe this need for reference material is just be an elaborate rouse for me to justify spending hours browsing the internet.  Pinterest is of course my main source of inspiration and reference photos.  I must have thousands of images stored in there!  A few other places I like to go are:

  • – best place for runway images, especially detailed shots.
  • – features the best backstage runway photographs.  (I think now they are starting to charge a membership fee to access some stuff)
  • – I kind of stalk the new faces section for pictures of beautiful boys and girls (I’m very creepy I know).
  • – the Zara app has recently become one of my favourite places to search for interesting faces and fashion poses.  Their photos are generally on a white background and they use different angles and cropping.  While all their models are of course ‘beautiful’ they do have a range of faces it’s not always a sour- faced-pouty-lipped-blonde-Caucasian-20-year-olds (yawn).


I am not entirely comfortable with directly “copying” an image.  Sometimes I do this if I want to practice a particular skill or technique and don’t want the bother of coming up with my own image.  More often I try to create my own compositions by pulling different elements from different images and my own photographs together.  For example, for a face, I might take a nose from one image, eyes from another and a mouth from another for example.  I might change things or add things like longer eyelashes, freckles, makeup, jewellery or clothing, or maybe add extra ’embellishments’ like flowers, bugs, etc.  I put them together roughly in Photoshop and voila I have a “new” face.  I liken it to playing an advanced game of Mr Potato Head.

But just like in Mr Potato head I’ve managed to create some weird, messed up, looking faces!


This odd-looking creature was a mash-up of one girl’s eyes, another’s nose, someone elses hair, someone’s ears and yet another’s mouth, all on a beautiful pearl collared jumper that I originally spied on Zara.

When I sketched it out I thought it looked fine. I thought I had everything nicely placed.  Foolishly I started with the collar as that was the part I was most excited to draw.  It took absolutely forever but turned out great!

Then I did the rest of her features. I can’t remember at what point I realised there was something weird about her face.  And yes I certainly believe the most beautiful faces are those that have something off kilter about them.  Like eyes to big or lips too large. This lady is, however, a bit too far off kilter.  There is something eerie about her that I like but then something a bit wrong too.

Her nose is too big and off centre.  Her ears are too big.  Her eyes maybe too big and her mouth too small?  Her forehead is too narrow and short.  Actually I think the right eye is smaller than the left?  Is the light source coming from the left or straight on?  Ahhhgg

Turban girl is also a “Mr Potato head” with different bits and pieces collected from different reference images.  This one worked a lot better and she looks much more natural.


5 thoughts on “Mr Potato Head

  1. I’m with you on the using references for my images rather than imagination. Same opinion that if it aids learning then that’s what I’m doing.

    I often add my logo into the design pictures if it isn’t too obtrusive. Perhaps as a car-makers badge, a logo on someone’s t-shirt, etc. That’s about as imaginative as it gets but I am working on a commission currently which is nearly all patching together references and imagination. Taxing those skills.

    The portraits look realistic enough but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the first one had killed her family with a pitchfork. 👍🏻


  2. Pingback: “Hilda”: graphite and gouache illustration

  3. As usual, incredible detail here – well done! I think I’ve always needed reference material, even as a kid. But I’m really impressed by people who create realism from just their brains. Definitely a unique skill.

    Also, I hope you don’t mind, but I nominated you for one of these Liebster Blog Awards. Its purpose basically seems to be helping sites that aren’t already huge get more recognition. Someone nominated me, so I’m paying it forward to a few people. It sort of reminds me of a blogging chain letter in some ways, but with better intentions (helping promote through word of mouth).

    Here’s the post describing the details:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.