Ridiculously late reply, sorry! Hope you see this, whoever you are… Anyway, thank you very much! I’ve overlayed my finished work against my reference before, just to find out my proportions aren’t perfect, but I’m proud to do a decent job! When it comes to realistic portraits, I try my best to draw through observation (vs tracing), and I’ll often crop the photo in a way that’s close to what I want to be my final composition. I was pushed to use a grid in high school and will still use that for large-scale traditional pieces, but with the realistic digital portraits I do now I’ll at most separate it into quadrants. So I’ll have a horizontal and a vertical line cross at the middle. This can help avoid some lopsidedness!
I’ll do without a grid usually, as it’s often enough for me to have my prepared reference right beside my working canvas, both on-screen. It helps that I have a second monitor so I don’t have to look at a shrunken photo. I sketch a basic outline for the first step - I’m no good at dabbing on painterly blobs right away. I’ll start rendering once I’ve got the features of the face mapped out - though it doesn’t have to be perfect! The magic of digital art is that you can easily adjust things… like an eye that’s gotten too large, or too close to the hairline, lol. Routinely flip your work horizontally and you’ll catch issues like this.
I actually really improved my observation skills through “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (it’s a book, haha). The gist is not thinking of the face as a face while you’re drawing. Try to see your reference as a jumble of shapes and angles and shades that you want to recreate. For example: when drawing someone’s eye, don’t try to draw an eye! Forget that it’s an eye and think of it as a… uniquely deformed oval… that you must match, or else you might end up drawing a generic presumption of an eye. And then, if you need to determine the placement of a second deformed oval (the other eye) try to work out how many same-sized deformed ovals fit in the space between them.
God, do I make sense? I know I sound silly, but bear with me… ‘cause I’m also gonna tell you that working upside-down is also worth trying. So, like, flip both your reference and your canvas vertically once in a while… Um, yeah, so this is what do… >_>
I’ve reached TLDR levels again, haven’t I?