Passing resemblance

jnIT’S A TRUISM OF 8TH GRADE ART CLASS (AND EVER SINCE) that sketching faces is the hardest. Which makes sense with the evolution of face perception—how we’re born to read people through their faces, and interpreting expressions successfully has social advantages. When a face is drawn with details awry, even a little bit, it looks instantly, appallingly wrong. You don’t just fail to recognize the likeness, it offends your understanding of people. Or of the person, if you know the face. It’s most disorienting when you’re the person drawn. Portraits have been known to hurt feelings.

This is one of my better self-portraits, and I don’t love it. I over-emphasize eyes. And put them in the wrong places. If my subjects don’t look startled or quizzical, they seem stoned or asleep.

A good time to do portraits is when people’s heads are still, like when making art or playing cards. I drew some friends the other night (all wearing mesh caps as it happened; I wore a Stetson, as seen in Paul’s Witt’s sketch). As usj, nobody was very convinced of the likenesses, though nobody seemed offended.




>> Black Lips – Don’t Mess Up My Baby
>> Tegan & Sara – You Wouldn’t Like Me
>> Dee Dee Warwick – You’re No Good
>> Small Faces — Song of a Baker


  1. Scott said:

    Back in the day Pete Wagner and his caricatures haunted the co-op / south-minneapolis community in a frighteningly ubiquitous fashion. Or a ubiquitously frightening fashion. He always got enough elements right to make the image recognizable, but enough very wrong to make one (me) glad not to be caught in his lens. (Enter photoshop:

    I’d take either image of you in a heartbeat, though I have to admit your self-portrait displays either a touch of fear or the possible after-effects of peyote. I can only assume the aw-shucks Stetson portrait would make Sarah marry you all over again.

  2. Jake said:

    To clarify, I don’t think a drawing succeeds or fails based on verisimilitude. But as ole Pete Wagner illustrates, it’s tough to achieve enough recognizable truth to balance out where your powers of observation/coordination fall short.

    I can see what you’re saying about that “post-peyote” look, but I wonder if that’s because you see so many self-portraits rendered under the influence. It’s two great types of self-contemplation that taste great together.

  3. Witt said:

    Whenever anyone draws me, I end up having a large double chin. There is a painting of me in Rey’s room that looks like a mix of myself and Fat Albert. Maybe I am just in denial.

    By the way, the drawing of you was done by me, not Paul. It looks like a big head caricature.

  4. Jake said:

    My drawing of you is not very good—weird pout, drowsy eyes—but I did not give you a double chin.

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