Michael writes; Hi Lisa,
When drawing portraits I try to get my drawing as accurate as I possibly can to the reference photo, but once I’m done with the drawing all I can really notice are the imperfections on my subjects face. For example, most people usually have one eye that is slightly smaller to the other, an ear that might be slightly higher than the other, etc. When drawing portraits should I attempt to fix those imperfections, making both eyes the same size, etc, or should I just draw them exactly as shown on the reference photo?

While yes, people are not 100% symmetrical, unless it’s severe (like Shannen Doherty), most people will never notice the difference. We don’t generally study someone’s face THAT closely when talking to them. If you then paint the eyes differently, most people will just assume you did it wrong.  I wouldn’t TRY to make them look off center, especially given the fact that it’s not really noticeable in most people. I actually saw a portrait that someone did where one eye was smaller than the other. This was amplified by that eye being cast in shadow. The end result made them look drunk.

In reality, when you’re painting, your work isn’t generally going to be an exact duplicate of your reference photo anyway. I think we will have minor differences naturally, so when you try to force those in intentionally, it just compounds those elements where you get more into a caricature style.

Now if an eye is smaller, mouth crooked etc due to the expression someone is making, then I feel like that falls under a different set of rules. If you try and force an eye to match the other, when one is clearly squinty, then that won’t tend to look right either. In that case not only would you be changing the expression of the eye, but the entire balance of the face would no longer make sense. Let’s use the squinty eye for example, if I squint one eye, it pulls my cheek up a bit on that side. So if copy the photo exactly, but try and force the eyes to be the same, then the cheek makes no sense.

In the end, I think it will come down to each individual situation, but in general, I don’t try to make minor differences in symmetry obvious in my work.