A portrait is nothing else then a drawing of the face. Although good portrait drawing can be a life quest itself.
Good artists try to put emotion into their portrait and that is why most famous portraits are non-standard portraits.
For example if you look at the the night watch painting of Rembrandt van Rijn. He deviates from the path to make a standard painting. And this is one of the reasons he is celebrates as one of the best portrait artist ever known.
Drawing faces won’t be easy but in this post I will give you a guideline with some references to resources which you could consider.
Be aware, drawing good faces is difficult and you need to practice a lot. And for sure you will know a lot of frustration. And we all have been there.
And to be honest I still go through a lot of frustration when I do portraits.
Nonetheless, with good practice and a little theory, you can come a long way.
This blogpost will cover first my anatomy study based on the head, afterwards we will zoom in on how to simplify the face and proportional relationship of the features.
Lastly I will share a Step-by-step guide on how to draw any face. This method is based on the book “Drawing the head and hands” by Andrew Loomis.
Although this book is in today’s standard ancient, it is a hidden gem for portrait drawing. This book is a must have and the knowledge in this book is timeless.
Drawing faces and portraits basics
First of all let’s get a introduction in the basic principles in face and portrait drawing. We first start with the head anatomy.
After getting to know the anatomy we will start simplifying the head into planes and shapes which are understandable.
And if we combine it with the head proportions, you will be set for life to start with drawing beautiful faces and portraits.
Head anatomy for artists
Humans are weird creatures, we see faces in everything e.g cars, trees and other daily objects.
I saw faces everywhere but only until I started to draw. I started to understand how less I knew and how special the human head really is.
Human heads are available in all shapes and sizes, and your face is unique and determines that people recognize you for whom you are.
Although this is also why portrait drawing is very difficult. Because instinctively we see details and can easily sense when something is off.
Therefore getting a exact likeness is maybe the hardest and frustrating of portrait commissions.
Studying head anatomy can solving this problem partially. By knowing the human head, you can pinpoint on where to look for when setting the framework for the face.
Knowing the anatomy can help you drawing realistic faces or develop your characters.
You can find below the anatomy study I did in photoshop, to make it clear for this website.
First I drew the anatomy of the skull including the neck. I included this to get a understanding on how the body functions on the head.
After drawing in the skull, I started with investigating the face muscles. And what a unbelievable puzzle it was.
It took me around 4 days to lay in all the muscles and afterwards I ended up with more questions than I expected. e.g. Which faces move with what expression?
Important is when you do a anatomy study is to use your own skull. Try to feel with your hands on how your jawline is running or how the cheeks are flowing into your ears.
I realized that muscles are not important in defining your face. Your skull determines the landmarks of your face.
For example the skull determines if your face is round, or square or has a big jawline. For many maybe a open door but for legs arms and bellies this is the opposite.
I won’t spoil too much because I had a lot of fun during this anatomy study.
One incredible resource is the book “Classic Human Anatomy” of artist Valerie Winslow. It has beautiful drawings which depict the human body clearly.
After understanding the anatomy we can have a look into the proportions of the facial features of the head.
The important thing of getting likeness of the person you are drawing. Is getting the proportions of the facial features right.
There are round faces, boxed faces, diamond shaped faces and plenty of variation in between.
In the loomis book, there is a drawing with overall proportions of a face. You probably think that you know were a nose is situated. Or where the mouth is placed.
But you will see how easy it is to misdraw them.
For example it is easy to:
- Draw the eyes not on one line and out of perspective.
- Or draw the eyes not in the middle of the phase.
- Draw the skull to small.
- Or if you have drawn a lot of anima the mouth can be to low.
- Etc. etc. etc.
This are all mistakes which can be easily avoided by training yourself in the basic proportions.
Green; these are the two centerlines drawn horizontal and vertical over the face.
Red; To get the overall shape of the head, we place 4 lines over the head creating 3 equal sections. Starting from top to bottom the following is marked; hairline, eyebrow line, bottom of the nose and bottom of the chin.
Regarding the eyebrow line I put the line mostly over the bone structure which gives the eyebrows it’s form.
Red section 2; the ears are between the eyebrow line and the nose line.
Blue; In the section 3 the mouth is placed half-way.
Violet; The head can be seen as 5 eyes wide.
Dark violet: The pupils line up with the corners of the mouth.
Disclaimer: There are countless different faces and they for sure don’t all apply to above mentioned proportions. But nonetheless for the beginner the following standards are useful. And you need to know the rules before you can effectively break them.
Planes of the head
To make the construction of the head easier, we need to translate the head to simple shape and forms.
Below there are two examples given; the left one is from the book “Drawing the head and hands” from Andrew Loomis.
And the right example is from the book “Figure drawing: design and invention” from Michael Hampton.
I will show you how to use the planes of the head in below step-by-step instruction.
Drawing faces Step by Step
Finally to the fun stuff!!
If you have studied above material it is time to start your portrait drawing. Below instruction are mainly focussed on the general steps I take.
This step-by-step plan is mainly based on the loomis head drawing method. Besides I tried to use the fundamentals of the basic construction drawing.
Step 1 | Cranial mass
We start with the ball which have two planes shaved off. This two planes must correspond with the sides of the head.
A small cross is drawn in this ellipse where the most vertical line gives the tilt of the head. And the most horizontal line gives the starting point for the eyebrow line.
Step 2 | Centerlines
Afterwards we can set the two centerlines, one corresponding with the eyeline. The other corresponding with the middle of the face.
Stap 3 | Big Shapes
We now can determine the big shapes, or the overall placement of the facial features by dividing the face in three sections. For details see above section facial proportions.
The lines show from top to bottom: the hairline, eyebrow line, bottom nose and the bottom of the chin.
Step 4 | Jaw shape
By finishing step 3, we are able to sketch in the jaw line which has a cone shape. Also I sketched some lines in section 2 which gives the eyes some depth.
Step 5 | Basic shapes Eyes, Nose and ears.
On top of the already drawn shapes we determine the rough size of the nose and ears. Also important is the key stone shape which is helpful when you sketch in the eyes.
Stap 6 | Details
In the final step we sketch in the final facial features. This can be done to draw over and around the determined shapes in the previous steps.
The gap between step 5 and step 6 might be big, but this is done deliberately to focus on the whole face from the start. The details are the least important.
The next important step is to keep practising, it is important to make a lot of pen milage and keep drawing.
After many drawing you should become better at what you want to draw. Draw something 10 or 20 times and place the drawings next to each other and you will for sure notice a good difference.