Face blindness and drawing portraits

If you follow us and read and watch everything we ever do (and why AREN’T you?!? haha lol not serious but yeah like and subscribe) then you’ll know I’ve been dabbling with teletext art.

The thing is, I have a degree of face blindness. It’s not to the extreme that I can’t recognise anyone, but it does take a while for me to be able to match someone’s name to their face. It’s why I can watch a long running series, and yet by the end I won’t be able to name the characters on screen. The face-name matching doesn’t work. This is unless they’re really distinctive, for example my brain lets me remember a lot of Star Trek characters, because they’re unusual or striking in some way. Beardy man is Riker, but pre-beard he blended into everyone else. Serious bald man is Picard. Data is Data.

Gamora. I’m pretty sure.

The way I deal with it is by having memorable nicknames for people, and I try to make bridges between their nicknames, their characteristics and their names. For some reason, my brain is more willing to make connections to these nicknames than their actual names.

Also, I can’t remember what folks faces look like or describe them if I’m not looking at them.

Captain Marvel. I think.

But, because I like to challenge myself, (or perhaps I just hate myself, either is likely) I set about trying to draw faces in a ridiculously restrictive medium – teletext.

The thing about looking at a human face is that our brains switch into a different mode. We’re hard wired to recognise faces from the moment we can see, so we recognise our parents. Instead of seeing the shapes and features, we resolve the face into the person, and make the face fit the pattern of what a face is internally. Such a lot gets adjusted by our own internal face processing. Take a look at this picture, demonstrating the “Thatcher Effect”.

That’s good ol’ Pres O, right? Yeah he’s upside down, but apart from that, normal looking. Except here he is the right way up…


So much gets processed by our brains to make faces work. Except if you have face blindness, in which case, it doesn’t.

So how the jamming heck am I drawing these portraits, and hearing people assure me that they do in fact look good?

I had to stop seeing faces as faces.

Here’s an example. It’s an eye, right?

However if I try to draw an eye, or remember what an eye looks like, it all goes haywire, even if I’m looking at a source image to copy it. I have to break it down into abstract shapes that aren’t a part of a face. Here’s an example showing some abstract shapes in that eye.

Those four shapes in isolation don’t look like an eye, but the overall image does when they’re put together. It’s when all the abstract shapes fit together to form a face that your brain’s face processing takes over. Once the basic shapes are there, it’s a matter of adding smaller details and shading. In the case of teletext art, it’s about picking out the smallest detail that has the most impact, because of the low resolution and restrictive nature of teletext.


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