Lopsided chops

I know, I know, I know

when drawing you are supposed to use a mirror or flip the image in your software in order to create harmonic facial features

– I beg to differ, though.

What I like about human faces is their lack of symmetry and even when that fact is being exaggerated – or as I would call it ‘enhanced’ – what you get is character and something that feels more alive.

quick off-the-TV-people-sketch – tried to capture the pronounced difference of the eyes and the resulting quirky expression with a hint of dignity

Sure, in the animation industry something different may be required. In illustration, however, you have a greater amount of freedom –  if you wish.

It is quite astounding how far you can push facial features, exaggerate and still have an outcome that looks believable. On the other hand images of  pleasingly symmetrical faces look odd if you cut them across a vertical mid-axis, mirror one side and flip it across to make up a face from 2 exact copies of the same half. The now increased symmetry should make you consider that face more attractive. Oddly, this is hardly ever the case, though. Something seems to be wrong.

The result of a potentially controversial  study is being described in an article in the Telegraph just now:  “How your childhood is written in your face”

The current study’s conclusion – in a starkly simplified nutshell – seems to be that an outdoor toilet in early life may remain a stumbling block throughout, keeping you from climbing the winner’s podium later on in life, your Dad’s smoke rings may settle indelibly under your eyes, Mum’s unhealthy cuisine has the potential of turning chubby cheeks into permanently lopsided chops. And  even if against all odds you make it from rags to riches despite your underprivileged social background, these early hazards will remain imprinted on your face for all the world to see and interpret.


“…an outdoor toilet may remain a stumbling block throughout your life keeping you from climbing the winner’s podium…”


If you read carefully, however, it is mentioned that other factors apart from a deprived upbringing are inducive of a lack of symmetry in a person’s face.

You cannot help but wonder about the validity of such a study and whether there is more to this than those daily and conflicting results of numerous and probably well intended ‘studies’ on the simultaneous benefits and drawbacks of consuming coffee, lettuce, wine, chocolate and just about anything else. Or on what is deemed to cure or cause cancer – often the very same thing. Ben Goldacre is doing a funny presentation of these juxtaposed evils and grails for mankind in one of his talks that can be found on youtube.

The approach summarized in the article linking early hardships with facial features feels faintly reminiscent of 19th century’s pseudoscience of phrenology- telling a person’s character traits and proneness to commit criminal acts from looking at their shape of skull.

But long before that ancient Greeks tried to read their fellow men’s nature in their faces. Pythagoras is supposed to have rejected a prospective follower whose face seemed to indicate to him a ‘bad character’, poor sod. Physiognomy seems to have been held in esteem during the middle ages. Leonardo da Vinci dismissed it as ‘false’ and a ‘chimera’ with ‘no scientific foundation’. Hurrah, Leonardo. (And excuse my extensively quoting from wikipedia).

Renaissance English physician-philosopher Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was one of the major proponents of the theory of physiognomy in his time.

He is also believed to have coined the expression caricature (when in fact, I believe, he only gave the definition in his writings of what the Italians called drawing a person’s characteristic features in an exaggerated manner, ‘in caricatura’).

And whilst some people would not wish to be caricatured, more often than not it seems to me that caricaturists enjoy and in their way appraise what makes a person’s features unique and thus uniquely attractive, recognizable, likeable.

I still somehow doubt that people with an easy childhood are more attractive due to symmetrical features and that it is possible to directly extrapolate same people will be less prone to stress related diseases, or not troubling you with extended or repeated  periods of sick leave. Which, in effect would make them even more attractive for employmers, almost a guarantee of an unstoppable upward mobility.

Whilst the scrunched up, lopsided and literally dough-faced among us give the impression their facial features have just been rearranged by a careless toddler and are left to linger in subordinate positions, possibly unemployment and the general ranks of eternal successlessness.

On the other hand, maybe this is the way it works and, as of now, noone has bothered to tell me. I agree with Leonardo that lines caused by facial expressions may indicate personality traits. Pre-Botox, anyway.

>>More plausible from a character designer’s point of view, maybe. But in real people we would find this degree of symmetry slightly disturbing. <<

Heaven forbid, Human Resources start casting applicants by the symmetry of their faces. It is when your face, demeanour, character, behaviour becomes utterly balanced and symmetrical you turn into a cartoon, a caricature of a human being. At a glance maybe pretty or pleasing to look at, but only resembling life, not alive, it seems to me.


Speaking for myself: I like a face that is less than the mirror of perfect symmetry. Crease-resistance being equally unnecessary. And I think a toilet seat, whether be it in- or outdoors, may make for a surprisingly suitable stepping stone in the right direction, whatever the direction.


3 thoughts on “Lopsided chops

  1. haha! The quote about the outside toilet cracked me up. I agree with you and Leonardo! (Although, i did have an outside toilet at one stage growing up, and also have a pretty asymmetrical face, i think, so maybe there’s something to it? ;) )
    And I totally agree,- asymmetry gives a face character and warmth. I’ve never found the supposedly * beautiful* hollywood plastic-perfect faces to be attractive at all. Expressive, “imperfect” faces are certainly more fun to draw, and just more interesting to look at.

    1. :D
      browsed your blog briefly,
      I think I may want to open a pub or café now, and it should be called bullshit free corner ;)
      or ‘the house at bullshit free corner’?
      you, too, probably find sometimes that you start drawing and it seems to be a quirky, stand-alone idea that is reasonably unrelated and whilst your finishing it, you realize your subconsciousness played a trick on you and it is something rather close to you that has been simmering away on the back burner of your mind..?
      that’s how the ‘fishy angle’ came about.
      ..reminds me, I do have to practise drawing men’s legs – amongst a million other things.
      no, not millipedes…

      1. haha, ” the house at bullshit free corner” please do- i’ll come have a drink there! Instead of a picture of Winnie the Pooh to decorate the walls, you could have a similar, but completely new character called Winnie the No Poo :) ( sorry’ i know that’s pretty bad. Don’t take my advice!)
        Well the subconscious can definitely work in mysterious ways!
        I dunno; the legs looked ok to me! But yes, i know- there are always things that only the person who did the drawing notices. Liked the fishy angle. Dig your style. Keep it up!

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