View Full Version : Drawing Faces

04 April 2005, 11:25 PM
I'm currently a student who can draw:


All except the face. No matter how much I practice.... its hard!!! Can anyone please show me the way??!?!!?

04 April 2005, 11:40 PM
Painting faces would probably be the most difficult part of painting the human anatomy - because it is in the face that we show all expressions. You can tell instantly if there is something amiss, even if it is a small thing like one eye being lightly off or the mouth sitting too high up.

Try by picking the face apart and train the separate features first. Spend a week drawing nothing but noses, from all sorts of angles and any and every shape and size. See if you can't figure out how the nose 'works' after that, and put it in a smooth, featureless face. Put a mirror next to you, and study your own face -- as well as other people's.

There's no easy way to 'show' you how to paint a face - if you are looking for simple proportions, there might be some help for you at ... but if you're already past that phase, give what I said a try. Pick the face apart and try the features out individually - once you figure out how each and every one works, it'll be easier to put them all together.

A small tip is that if you manage to pull the eyes off, the rest will follow more easily. The eyes are, in my opinion, the most difficult and important bit in a face.

Best of luck to you.

04 April 2005, 11:47 PM
Good point! I shall practice!

By the way... nice entry for the master/servant challenge.

04 April 2005, 11:52 PM
I notice you didn't put hands in your list. The hands seem harder to me because while they are both difficult, the face is more rewarding on the finish.

Memorize the basic layout of the face. Even though we all look different our proportions are all still very close. How far is it from nose to eye. Are the ears at the same level as the eyes. How wide is the mouth. Of course one look at Steve Tyler shows how far those rules can be bent.

04 April 2005, 11:54 PM
I'm going to prattle here a bit, but please remember I'm only going from my own experience, I'm certainly not a drawing pro!:D

Faces are the hardest part of the body to draw because it's what we see and focus on most in day to day interactions. It's also a matter of childhood psychology, but I won't get into that here.

The hardest thing about faces is not to focus on what the face is made up of. If you see an eye, you end up drawing what you think an eye should look like. Instead, focus on the lines that make up that area of the face. Think in terms of curves and lines, rather than the features of the face itself. Once you've built that up, you can start to draw areas of the face without much difficulty. Like any drawing, observation is the key:

Check the spacing of the eyes. Eyes are not just seperated by a nose, but they're also not on the edges of the face. Eyes are almost in the centre of the head. Try to avoid placing them too high.
Avoid using heavy lines to draw the nose. The nose is usually far more shading than linework. The heaviest lines usually occur around the nostrils where creases and shadows are strongest.
Check the spacing of the mouth. It isn't all that far from the nose (one of my biggest early mistakes was to put the mouth about as far from the nose as the eyes!), also make sure it isn't too wide. In resting position it usually isn't much wider than the centre of the eyes.
More on eyes: Unless your character is surprised, you rarely see all of the iris. Inversely, you usually see ALL of the pupil, even when the character is looking up or down, the pupil is fully shown (otherwise we wouldn't be able to see!)
I'll shutup for now. Your best bet is to grab any reference (people on trains, magazines etc) and draw til your hands fall off! You may also want to check out Loomis's books for correct head and facial proportions: (

04 April 2005, 12:05 AM
Hey argyre,

Here are some tips that helped me out a great deal. It may not work for you as well, but it took me from being an environment-only artist to a decent character artist as well. This took a great deal of hard work and time, but don't give up.

- Forget everything you know from other styles and mediums. Ignore the methods of Japanese animation, american comic books, renaissance painters; everything. This is so you can build a foundation for understanding yourself, and become greater than those you would imitate.

- Start with anatomy. Understand the human skull, it's structure, and how to draw it well. Be aware that everything underneath the surface is what gives something its form. (This is true for almost everything you draw). People with different kinds of facial features and proportions all differ on the lowest level first: the skull.

- Then look at the anatomy of the muscle structure. Though it's not as surface defining for the face as the skull is, it's very important when understanding how the face moves and reshapes itself for facial expressions, emotions, and other body language.

- Spend time practicing your proportions. For most artists I think this is the most difficult step. One of the most helpful things to remember are proportions which are typically measured with the size of the eyes of your character. A standard human head is 5 eyes wide. The eyes are halfway between the top of the head and the chin, and this point is commonly used as a reference for the rest of your features. There is really so much info simply concerning proportions that I can't possibly describe it all. Hopefully if I can't find the time to locate a good link to examples later, someone else can. Search the web, speak to your figure drawing instructors for this knowledge.

- Draw the head from every angle possible, while keeping your proportions correct (and accounting for perspective!), as well as attaching various emotions and expressions to the face to see what each looks like from different viewpoints. Use people in real-life as your reference, not photos or images.

- Refine! Over time this step will slowly happen naturally, but once you reach this point you can focus on it as well. Once you have the ability to draw a decent, simple head with accurate proportions and anatomy at various angles, begin to break it down. Find ways that you can create simpler shapes with less form (or even more, if that is your chosen path), in order to communicate the features of your face accurately, but with style. Once you have the knowledge of the aforementioned steps, suddenly looking at other artists styles and work, and nearly every other representation of the human face, you will understand each one and what the artists were doing when they created it. This will give you a multitude of references to draw from and incorporate into your own personal method of work.

- Work, work work! You're an artist! Keep working as long as you can in search of that perfect visual representation while improving your skills and understanding. It's a very hard road, so never get discouraged and accept that this will take a long time. I am a professional artist and it took me about one to two years to get human characters to a "decent" level. Also be sure to help those around you as well as much as you can. Not only is it kind, but you also learn a great deal when teaching and sharing ideas with others.

Some other things that might help: I cannot recommend enough the book titled "The Artists Complete Guide to Facial Expression" by Gary Faigin. He goes through skeletal and muscle structure of the head, and how this form is used to create various emotional expressions. I learned a great deal from it:

Also, if your school or local library has it, check out recorded sessions of Robert Beverly Hale. He covers the human anatomy in total, but everything from him will ultimately help you out.

04 April 2005, 02:01 AM
But this is close: (
I strongly recommend pressing skip intro:rolleyes:

It's the phi mask. Nobody looks perfect, but it is easy to read and I've found that my own brain actually sometimes seems to automatically note deviations from it. Sounds kind of aick but it's preprogrammed after a couple of million years.

I've nothing else to add. Seems everything was covered I think. I couldn't even paint marble for that matter anyway, I'd stick with the outlines.

good luck with it.

04 April 2005, 02:07 AM
I have always found that the crucial methods for building new skills are to find ways to reduce the amount of overhead ( detail, information, transformation, etc.) so that you can find the "essence" of a something. With your faces don't worry too much about trying to make a photoreal head right of the bat, it's not going to work anyway. Instead focus on finding some way of understanding the head better. Linda's method is certainly one effective method of reduction, namely break it into pieces. For myself I try and fiend the interrelationships between pieces first. For some good examples of this look at every cartoon out there. Especially go back to Frazetta's lil abner and many of the "classic" comics and you will see that marvellous simplicity is still tremendously emotive and expressive. As you get more comfortable with more simplistic methods you should then begin to try and construct things more realistically, thats when the details will begin to gel better. In the meantime don't sweat it, if a something is complicated take out everything that is unnecessary until just the barest elements work. Once you have a base then build on it. Here is a super quick image to show what I mean, hope it helps


04 April 2005, 02:18 AM
- Start with anatomy. Understand the human skull, it's structure, and how to draw it well. Be aware that everything underneath the surface is what gives something its form. (This is true for almost everything you draw). People with different kinds of facial features and proportions all differ on the lowest level first: the skull.

- Then look at the anatomy of the muscle structure. Though it's not as surface defining for the face as the skull is, it's very important when understanding how the face moves and reshapes itself for facial expressions, emotions, and other body language.

The best way for some people is doing it anatomically. (well it is for me) Learn some basic muscle concepts. Get a picture out of the newspaper and then doodle the muscles onto it. Doodle skulls onto celebraties heads etc.. its great fun and great for your skills. One note tho.. throw it away afterwards.. as people will think youve gone crazy if they find it lying around.

Eg.. I did this while waiting for a phonecall, by drawing over my reflection in my moniter. (total crap.. but it makes a point)

04 April 2005, 04:28 AM
Hey hey man, just a few things.

1. Remember, the face sits on the skull, which is absolutely crucial. Learning to draw isolated faces is one thing, but unless you can accurately put them on top of a human head, they'll always look wrong, even if the eyes/nose/mouth are all in their proper place. Learn to draw faceless skulls first, then isolate parts of the face and really get to know them inside and out. I've always had the hardest time with noses as well as eyes on the far side of the head (that which is tilted away from the viewer).

2. Use reference - oh god please use reference. If something looks wrong and no amount of tweaking will fix it, go find a picture that will help you work out the details. A lot of the time people who neglect reference don't even realise something is wrong because they have nothing real to compare it too (it's NOT cheating!)

3. Post some sketches of heads/skulls in the WIP board and link to them from this thread. I'm sure someone would be happy to critique and tell you what they think you should change. It's really hard to tell what someone needs help with without looking at their work.

Good luck to you, my friend.

04 April 2005, 04:38 AM
This may help if your drawing faces from photos:

When I started out painting portaits from photographs, I found it helped if the photo was upside down when sketching out the features accurately.

That way I concentrated on the shapes and negative space only - Instead of my brain saying 'right your drawing an eye' and I'd draw an eye according to what I thought an eye should look like and my limited training at the time! After a while using this method and with practice it became a habit - looking at shapes, proportions, distances etc without the need to flip photos or references. The same habits helped when life drawing faces accurately.

04 April 2005, 08:40 AM
one thing my drawing teacher stressed a ton was not to draw the symbols for the facial features. Instead draw what was actualy there. She kept using the eye as an example. Most people draw an almond type shape and then put the pupil and iris in. then they draw the skin folds around the eye. This ends up not looking real alot of the time. She suggested that you should start with the eyeball itself and then add the eye lids over top of it along with any skin folds. It looks much more realistic that way.

you should do with with everything in the face. think about how the skull and muscles look and then how the skin either drapes or is attached to the muscles and draw that.

Dont draw symbols draw reality.

04 April 2005, 06:27 AM
Ill be scanning some of my "examples".


Thanks everyone - i really do appreciate the advice!!! Ill post them as soon as possible.

04 April 2005, 02:10 AM
I have a tutorial that I made about drawing a portrait. If you would like to see it then you can go to


04 April 2005, 08:39 AM
Go here
(Which is also in the sticky thread Art Theory links at the top of this forum)
Books by the master Andrew Loomis, free and online, the best course material ever devised.

There you have enough material for decades of art studies if you like. Well, it depends on you of course, and how much of your life you want to dedicate to it, but you could conceivably spend the rest of your days just practising what's in those books. For heads specifically, start with number 1, later number 3 - it's similar but more advanced.

04 April 2005, 08:58 AM
This might sound strange, but I find feeling my own face helps me in the placing of lights and shadows- I think 'Ok, this bit dips in, curve here...)

04 April 2005, 06:18 AM
Lots of great advice in this thread! One assignment my drawing teacher has given me is to draw the various features of the face over and over again, seperate from an entire face. This doesn't help with placement or overall proportions, but its great for breaking things down and studying the nuances of various features. Alot of personality and gesture is held in each minute feature!

04 April 2005, 06:29 AM
Fantastic studies Cicinimo.:D

04 April 2005, 07:29 AM
Here is what happens when words are taken out of context:

if you manage to pull the eyes off, the rest will follow more easily.

Cruel. Isn't it?!

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