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Echostains Blog has recently posted about an artist who paints faceless figures. Take time to check the post out here. The artist she researched leaves his figures faceless for different reasons than I did.

I believe I have mentioned on a previous post that I learned to draw by drawing figures. I took from a very talented teacher who suggested we learn to draw by choosing subjects we believed we never thought we could draw. I chose people. The above drawings were done in 1981. I had taken drawing classes for a year’s time by the time I drew these and my drawings were largely of people.  About a year into drawing, I hit a wall and was frustrated by my figures and not seeming to grow very much. Instead of telling me I had hit a brick wall or saying to me that she did not like my faces, this teacher said, ” I wonder what would happen if you left the faces off?” I went home that night and drew the first drawing you see, above, titled self portrait. I was off and running and did not look back for about 6 months. Everything I drew had no face. If I drew my family, I left the faces out or drew their backs. If it was at life drawing sessions, I left faces out and began drawing figures over figures and portions of figures. What I learned is that I was concentrating too much on the face and missing the whole idea of the pose and the majority of a figure. This was a freeing exercise for me and one I will never forget.

Another artist who does faceless figures is Duck Billed Platitudes found here.


  1. This is brilliant Leslie! and wonderfully fine drawing! I can see now that leaving out the faces makes sense, I think you can get bogged down with trying to capture a likeness or too much detail. Also the life drawings and your son drawing seem to take on their own personality by not having the features – somehow the animation is heightened, so personality is coming from the actual body language! Very interesting and intriguing Leslie – I’ve learned a lot! Thanks 🙂 and for the link too!

    • I thank YOU for posting about Gideon Rubin! He is new to me so I always enjoy others who have explored what I have a little understanding of. Most of the time I just sit here wondering how some of the artists you post do what they do.

  2. Well, as you know, my figures are without faces too – most of them, anyway – and I’ve written about why I do this, but it’s interesting that leaving out faces freed you to draw the figures better.

    Most of the drawings I did in my teens and twenties when I was learning how to draw from life (at classes)didn’t have faces either. I just didn’t regard ‘figure’ as including them!

    • I have now linked to you, Val. I am sorry for the oversight. Of course you do faceless figures and beautiful ones, too!

        • absurdoldbird
        • Posted June 1, 2010 at 8:03 am
        • Permalink

        Thanks Leslie! *Blushes*! Sorry, that wasn’t a nudge! But thank you anyway, I appreciate it.
        (Why are there no ‘blushing’ smileys?!)

      • You deserved to be mentioned. Truly an oversight on my part.

  3. Leslie, Reading your post I am reminded that good teachers are often simply facilitators that help us get out of our own way – what a simple yet powerful question – “I wonder what would happen if you left the faces off?”. I had a similar teaching/learning experience lately (not art related) and it became an aha moment for me. Hmmm….now I think I need to find a way to apply this exercise to my own art. Thanks for sharing! -Laurie

    • Hi Laurie! I think so much of what we are taught comes through our brain by being told what not to do. When we genuinely are exposed to people who assist us in a positive direction by suggestion I think it gives us a feeling that we are part in the creation and can own the moment, so to speak. Thanks, Laurie and am glad you, too, had a teachable moment.

  4. I absolutely LOVE the bottom one ! Talk about mystery! It is very hard to define. What a fascinating idea. Just when I am about to go to a class on how to read a face according to the 5 elements of Chinese Medicine! And another art class called “Just the head” starting in July !:) Do you still do lots of figures ?

  5. I just love your figure drawings and your line work. I was telling my coworkers about the yoga book that you illustrated. Where can we buy a copy of that?

    • Thank-you, Jay! You know I have admired your drawings of the figure, also. The Yoga book is titled, Yoga Therapy for Every Special Child by Nancy Williams. It can be found on many booksellers websites. Here is Nancy’s website: I also have her listed under Yoga in my Blogroll in the event that any of the therapists wish to contact her with questions. Hope that helps! Thank-you for asking!

  6. I love your sketches! The technique of the self portrait is brilliant.
    Very well done!
    I must say it is a very good idea to leave out what you struggle with and concentrate on the rest.
    If the story is true I don’t know, but I heard it somewhere.
    Pablo Picasso’s father was also an artist and did not like to paint the feet of the doves in his paintings. So he got Pablo to paint the feet. And Pablo hated it! So when he started painting his own doves he decided they can go without feet!

    • Thanks for the comment, Jan. Thank-you, also, for the story of Picasso! I had not heard that one. 🙂

  7. Fascinating art, and fascinating basis for these “faceless” paintings, both yours and Gideon’s! Thank you for yet another insight into the world of art, Leslie!

    • Thank-you, Kate. When I look at your, Kirsty’s and Laurie’s photos I consider you links in the world of art. I have paged through the photos of my children and grandchildren for reference material for painting. Many of the photos I am drawn to are the ones where they are actively engaged in something and many do not include a frontal view of the face. I find that a fascinating discovery. So, it makes me wonder about faceless figures in photography, also.

  8. What a great idea! It would never have occurred to me to leave the faces off. I tend to get hung up there. Even if I’m doing a tiny figure in a watercolor — something just for accent — I fret over the shadows that make up what face there is. Not sure how I do it, but I can fiddle with a 1/8″ “face” until I’m in danger of digging a hole in the paper. It has to be just right. Of course . . . step back a foot or so and you can no longer see all that careful work. 😆

    • Thank-you, Cindy! I know! I have done the same thing! You know, I have to constantly remind myself to keep it simple.

  9. Great expressive lines to the life drawings. All the pictures look interesting without faces. Nice, Leslie.

    • Thank-you, Adam. How interesting that you point out the line. Line was the first thing to really intrigue me in art; how very much we can say with just a line.

  10. WOW! What a great post, Leslie!! Having had no formal art training, except one acrylic workshop last fall, I find my mind reeling with thought! What a great teacher that was, to pose such a thoughtful question. When I did the painting of my niece in that great dress, I almost ruined the whole thing, trying to do the face. You can only blot it off and redo it so many times, before you have no paper left. 🙂

    Thanks for continually helping me improve my art through your terrific posts. I can’t wait to try a few more of the people I’ve been afraid to tackle. This would work great with contour drawings.

    • Thank-you twenty times over for this comment, Beth. This teacher was absolutely fantastic. That is why I stayed with her. She was always coming up with questions about what to try and giving us exercises that we thought bizarre. When you tried these exercises, you always learned a new way of seeing or discovered something new about your own technique and what made your work yours. She was of the belief that if she told us exactly how we should see a subject and then exactly how to draw it, that the result would be her art done in our hand instead of our own vision and our own art. Every single one of us was different from the start, yet we all grew leaps and bounds.

  11. hmmm…now maybe i’ll try to draw people…faces are so difficult. my daughter sits with me and instructs me line by line when i want to do a face. it takes us a while. these drawings are powerful in that they draw the viewer into the poetry of human form and the soulful sway of the lines, the message from body. faces alone are a landscape in and of themselves. the body has much to say. amazing…

    • You have a very valid point, JRuth. Perhaps that is why there are so many places that divide classes into portraiture and figure. I think you would be very good drawing people. Your writing reflects that you have a great deal of compassion for what and who we are.

  12. That actually makes a lot of sense.
    I’ve filled several sketchbooks with faces and the proportions nearly always come out wrong.
    Maybe i could take something from this.
    Thanks for pointing it out

    • You know what, Richard? You might have something there. I think so much of what you do requires more of a body language than a facial expression. I remember one piece you did where you sat in front of a stage, I believe. I loved that! That was kind of like a self portrait, wasn’t it?

  13. Great concept and I think you should do an updated self portrait of yourself the same way and see what happens.

    • Good idea, Richard! I’m going to have to remember you suggested that. I am working on lighthouses ( 🙂 ) so I will put that on my list. Thank-you!

  14. What an interesting post! I like all your drawings and I don’t mind them not having faces so much. I found the paintings on echostains blog to be a bit disturbing without faces. Maybe because yours are drawings and you wrote about why you didn’t give them faces.

    Love your figure drawings.

    • Thank-you, Carol. I did learn that I was spending too much time on the face, for sure, in the hopes that it would define the figure, but learned otherwise. Oh such fun! 🙂

  15. Love these drawings great post 🙂

  16. Hi Leslie! I am sorry for my absence for such a long time! My access to computer was sporadic. I am still on the other side of the pond, but have more computer time from now on.

    I think these are brilliant!!! I love your line. And absense of faces gives the figure a profound universal expression, deeply meaningful somehow.

    • Thank-you, Alex. I wanted to find these and get these on here for you, also, as I know you are jumping into live figure drawing. Once I began to separate the face and parts of the body, I was again on the path to understanding and learning about the figure. What I am able to accomplish with life drawing is to concentrate on what is important. How can I better represent this figure in the time I have allotted to me?

  17. This is so interesting – thanks for the lesson – and I love the drawings – clearly you took off early

  18. wow! now that looks like a lot of fun. i havent really tried human body! now this totally inspired me to try something!

    • Hi Sonu! Thank-you for your comment and your visit. I visited your blog and see that you are drawing portraits. This “is” fun. I started drawing figures years ago after taking some drawing classes from the instructor I refer to above. Check around where you live and see if there are any life drawing co-ops or sessions open to the public. They are usually associated with an art school or an art center.

  19. thanks for that leslie! i sure will do once i get back to India. 🙂 I like ur work!

  20. These are wonderful. Thanks for sharing and explaining the significance.

    • Thank-you, Kathleen, for the visit and the comment. Now, I must go view some more of your work. How wonderfully experimental you are!

  21. Boy, do you get a lot of comments…excellent! I can only second what everyone else has already said: Great drawings for sure!

    • Thank-you, Frank. Remember when you spoke of that inner critique in yourself that told you that you did not like the tight and controlled that working in the studio brings with it? I guess this experience was a little like that for me. I find such a difference in my work when I don’t tell myself that this or that “has to be”. As far as the comments? These people are lovely bloggers who are into writing, photography and art who I have found to be extremely energetic and I so enjoy their comradery as we all see and translate new things. I have not had computer skills for very long and my tutor suggested I try blogging what I do. That is “all she wrote”, so to speak. This is fun! Thank-you for the comment and I LOVE your plein air painting!

  22. Nice drawings- & it’s interesting what you say about leaving out the faces. Recently I’ve been drawing people on the train & i’ve found it better (if i’m not concentrating just on the face) to leave that till later- & sometimes I never get there if they get off at the next stop! I guess it must be that at a certain level the facial features are details that fit within the rest of the overall form. The angles are always changing as people move even slightly, so the eyes, nose & mouth are subordinant to those subtle changes.

    • That is so true, I think. I have studied my figure paintings and found that the face is very simply rendered in order to back up the larger story found in the pose. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to read as well. If I ever have to ride public transit to work and back, I will remember to take a sketch book with me! Thank-you, Sonya!

  23. A hundred years ago , whilst at art college, I never once included a face in any of my life drawing, not that I was told to do so, more as if I felt no need to do so!


    • Welcome back, Keith!! I was worried. Kept visiting and you were gone! I know.It makes all the sense in the world that someone would do a better job on the figure if they weren’t worried about the face. I just didn’t figure it out on my own. Good thing I had a teacher that was with it enough to suggest the possibility. 🙂 Thank-you for the comment!

  24. Very interesting, I had a long period of just ending at the neck. I don’t think headless poses look strange, but I may be wrong!

    • It took me a long time to learn that I was concentrating on the faces of my figures way too much! I had not ever considered the idea that I could identify people without them and that what I did include in a face was way too detailed. When I did finally begin to include the faces, I approached it more like my continuous line drawings, at first, and every face looked mummy wrapped like this one: Then I went on and began to include a face and they were more minimal and worked. Thank you!

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Faceless and forgotten « Pencil Scribbles on 06 Jul 2010 at 6:03 am

    […] before the time Leslie created her Fabulous Faceless Figures I did my own. Independent of her. Great minds and all that… Same wavelength… I then proceeded […]

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