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The Artists Complete Guide to Facial Expression

by Gary Faigin

A Book Review by Mike Bloomquist

OK Gang, be warned right up front - this is not a review of a carving book, but one of those artsy fartsy technique books. Stay with me though! You know I wouldn't bother you if it didn't apply real well to carving, and this one is going to be very useful to anyone carving faces.

About a year ago I got bit hard by the cottonwood bark/woodspirit bug. The thing I like about cottonwood bark is this; it's such a friendly medium and moves along so quickly that you get brave and start to experiment with the faces. So, since I've been dabbling in different facial expressions lately, this book really caught my eye a while back.

A couple months later, in a Barnes and Noble, I broke down and under the guise of a belated birthday gift, lugged a copy home. Later, while showing my treasure off to the Erie Canal Woodcarver's, someone asked me if it was a new release. Having never laid eyes on it until recently, I said, "Sure it is". Oops! It was published in 1990, with no reprint date.

Hmmm! A little research on the web turned up a Gary Faigin website, and perhaps the answer. It seems that recently Mr. Faigin had a message on his answering machine - from the FBI. Turns out they were concerned that his book might be going out of print soon and were very upset since it was required reading for their forensic artists. Darn that Scully and Mulder! Hoarding all those copies so I don't see it until 10 years later! Besides the FBI, there was a long list of other atypical artists using his book; plastic surgeons, cartoonists, computer animators for films, and psychologists.

What's that? Oh! the book? OK, OK, we're getting there. After a preliminary discussion of the importance of human facial expressions in art, Faigin covers the basic shape of each part of the face. The nose, mouth, eyes, chin, and jaw are all shown in their neutral, at-rest shapes. Then the artist covers each area again showing the basic anatomy and muscle groups that mold our face into all the wonderful emotions it can communicate. In this section of the book he starts to animate each facial area just a little and weave in examples from the art world.

The rest of the book is broken up into the basic emotions of sadness, anger, joy, fear, disgust, and surprise. Within each of the major categories the author includes nuances and shades of each emotion. Also, as in the previous section, he illustrates every facial expression, with examples good and bad, from the art world and his own drawings. These examples come from all walks of the art world, paintings, drawings, sculpture, and cartoons. You read this book enough, and you start analyzing animal expressions as well. That's how well this author illustrates his topic.

I don't usually like to do carving "sketches". You know, carvings just for practice, but browsing through this book had me grabbing scrap pieces of basswood and cottonwood bark and doing just that. Some things worked some things didn't. Thanks to this book, even the pieces of "firewood" were a lot closer to what was intended than I've managed in past attempts.

So if you're carving facial expressions, be they realistic, stylized, or caricature, this book gets five thumbs up (out of five). Highly, highly recommended. If you're patient (unlike moi) and have access to the web, don't pay the $35 list price. Amazon.com has it for $24, and bibliofind.com found a used copy in good condition for $20 and change.

So, fellow "arteests", keep those edges keen, the chips piled high, and browse over to that art technique section of the bookstore once in a while.

Keep on Carvin'
-Mike Bloomquist-

The Artist's Complete Guide To Facial Expression, by Gary Faigin

Copyright 1990 Watson-Guptill Publications

Image used with permission


Mike Bloomquist is a carver and carving teacher, and edits the on-line newletter for the Mohawk Valley Art & Woodcarving Association. He is also their current President.

You may visit Mike's web site, Wooden Dreams Woodcarving at http://www.borg.com/~bloomqum/index.htm or email him at bloomqum@borg.com.