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