You are currently viewing The ‘Van Dyck Z’ and How Art Continues to Inspire Me
Famous self-portraits exhibiting the Van Dyck Z.

The ‘Van Dyck Z’ and How Art Continues to Inspire Me

Hours and hours are spent ingesting art content – instructional videos, courses, and otherwise – as part of my creative brain’s outlet. I often find myself putting on a 1- or 2-hour YouTube livestream of an artist explaining something in place of music when I have something to do and need something on in the background, using it as a podcast.

So it’s really interesting when I hear Marc Dalessio mention the ‘Van Dyck Z’.

Never heard of it? Neither had I.

As Marc explains, it’s the z-shaped shadow pattern that shows up in three-quarter view portraiture. I knew the shadow pattern he was talking about… what I didn’t know, and what blew my mind 🤯 was how closely it ties into ‘finding a likeness’ when painting a portrait.

In Marc’s words:

“It runs under the eyebrow, down the nose, and under the base of the nose and basically… if you get that shape right, you’re going to start to get a likeness very quickly, and often if you’re having trouble with a likeness, you just go back and find that shape and make sure everything’s okay there.”

Marc Dalessio

What an amazing little golden nugget of information that will help you find a likeness whenever painting a portraiture. Like anything, it’s easier said than done, but it’s a great diagnostic tool that is easily understood and instantly implementable. Marc explains it in the first minute or two of his Portrait Lay-in Demo.

Some examples of the Van Dyck Z in the wild by some painters you may have heard of

self-portraits with the Van Dyck Z
Famous self-portraits exhibiting the Van Dyck Z
van dyck using the van dyck z
Van Dyck Z by the man himself.

Can you see it? What about if I highlight the shadow shape itself?

van dyck z examples
The Van Dyck Z with highlights showing the shadow shape

Do you see it now?

I find this stuff incredibly interesting.

How to light a model for the Van Dyck Z

I figured some people would arrive on the site, either as a photographer shooting reference, or as a painter looking to paint a portrait plein air in front of the model, and who were looking for information on how to light a model to get the Van Dyck Z shadow shape.

You want a relatively high light source, perhaps at a 45 degree angle above the models, and the painter stands between the light and the model. Marc explains it better than I could, here.

Leave a Reply