The Creative Conventions of Portraiture

Have you ever wanted to draw someone’s portrait? This introduction to the art of portraiture aims to expand your understanding of the portrait beyond that of a well observed and static reproduction of the human head, by conceiving of the human head within the context of portraiture conventions, as an integrated part of the human body and as a vehicle for emotional expression. This course is suitable for both beginners and those with some drawing experience.

This class will be delivered face-to-face at WEA Sydney. Enrolling students need to ensure they have read the current COVID-19 Safety Guidance that WEA Sydney has put in place before enrolling.


  • The Structure of the Human Head: Discuss the proportions of the human head and the anatomy of the skull, including the relationship of the head to the neck and upper torso. We will note the importance of initially demarcating the position of the ear (or the external acoustic metus of the skull) when the head is drawn in profile. The features of the face will be seen within the context of conceptualising the head in terms of a simplified overarching egg shape.
  • Portraiture and the convention of the open mouth: The model will be asked to breathe through their mouth while posing, allowing the student to convey a sense of the living sitter breathing or about to speak.
  • Foreshortening and the human head: The model will be asked to stand and the student will draw the head as seen from below. The importance of the under planes of the head will be addressed.
  • The body in portraiture: This class will begin to integrate the process of perceiving the head as integral to the figure as a whole, both in terms of bodily action and emotional expression within portraiture. We will look at the convention of the waist-high portrait as seen in the works of Leonardo da Vinci and the Venetian painter Titian. The use of geometric shapes to frame the pose, such as the triangle, will be examined.
  • Drawing the passions: We will look at the French painter, Charles le Brun’s understanding of facial expressions and how bodily actions are used to convey emotion. A model with a background in performance will seek to embody a range of emotional states through their facial expressions and bodily actions. The muscular anatomy of the human head as it relates to expression will also be addressed.
  • The full figure portrait: Looking at portraiture conventions that relate to the figure as a whole, we will consider how the gesture of the whole body is employed to convey the character of the sitter.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Conceive of the head and the features of the face in terms of basic overarching geometric masses.
  2. Gain a basic knowledge of the anatomy of the skull and the muscles of the head, neck and parts of the upper torso.
  3. Observe and conceptualise the relationship between facial physiognomy and conveying human emotion within a portrait.
  4. Gain practical and applicable knowledge of art historical conventions for portraiture.
  5. Understand the interrelationship of the body to the head in portraiture.


  • A range of pencils (Note: hard pencils either H or 2H are recommended for beginners)
  • Oil based red sanguine, black and white chalk pencils. (Faber Castel or alternative brand)
  • Kneadable eraser
  • Stanley knife for sharpening pencils
  • Two metal paper clips
  • Medium sized sketch book

IMPORTANT: Please arrive to the first class with all the relevant materials. A lack of materials is not just a handicap to you but to the ability to teach. Materials cost is not included in a course fee. In the event of a course being cancelled WEA cannot be held responsible for the purchase of any course materials. We therefore suggest you purchase your materials closer to the time of the course commencing.


  • The Art Scene, UNSW Art & Design Campus, Greens Rd Paddington NSW. Ph: 8815 1569
  • Eckersley’s Art and Craft Store 223-225 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Ph: 02 9331 2166.
  • Bondi Road Art Supplies 179 Bondi Road Bondi. Ph: 9387 3746. (Closed Fridays and Sundays)
  • Eckersley’s Art and Craft Store 93 York Street Sydney, Ph: 02 9299 4151. Also at North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, Caringbah, Parramatta & more.

Enquire at your art shop for a Student’s Discount with your WEA course receipt.

Want to be notified when this course is open for enrolments? Please join the waiting list by clicking .