Drawing faces and heads is a very useful ability for any artist to have, and honestly one of my favorite things in the world to draw. (As you can probably tell if you look at the amount of portraits and people in my portfolio haha). But, drawing them is not always an easy task. They are complicated, specific, and very proportional. So today, I am going to go over my (hopefully) not too difficult process for drawing and painting faces exactly how you want them to look. Once you break it down into simple forms, and explore the underlying mechanics behind the human face, it becomes a lot easier to understand how to create them so that you can masterfully portray people in almost any setting!
The Basics – Anatomical Studies
The first step to drawing a face is to learn the basic anatomy behind it. To start out we will take a look at the skull. Learning the basic anatomy allows us to understand how the muscles function, how the skull creates the underlying structure, and how we can manipulate the muscles and flesh in certain ways to create various affects. While you don’t need to necessarily memorize every aspect of the human face, at least having a basic knowledge of what goes behind it (quite literally) can be very helpful when trying to draw or paint it. Learning these mechanics can even help with cartooning and other less realistic forms of art, because it provides you with a foundation to springboard off of.
Fun Fact: Pablo Picasso was a realistic painter for most of his career until he broke away and created abstract works.
To begin, let’s take a look at the structure of the skull. The skull is like a giant lobe that falls down into an almost V shape. The V shape is comprised of the nose bone and the jaw bone. The jaw is a “floating bone” Meaning that it is not connected to any other bones. It is a hinge structure that can swing open and closed and also move side to side a bit. Eye sockets are always fairly large, and they hold the entirety of the eyeball inside the head, allowing it to turn side to side. Additionally, it is important to remember that the nose and ears do not actually have bones in them, but they are instead comprised of cartilage.
Next, let’s take a look at the muscular structure of the face. Most of the muscles in the face tend to “hug” the skull very closely. They are all very thin and allow the face to keep the general shape of the skull without obstructing things too much. The muscles in the face are the main form builders, and they are what help to construct expression and shape. I’ve also added the cartilage to this section of the study, because muscles and cartilage fall under a similar layer of hierarchy. The ears and nose tip are primarily composed of cartilage and flesh.
Please take careful note of the circular muscles around the eyes, the muscles around the lips and mouth, which project outwards, and the lack there of, of muscles on top and on the side of the skull. Also, be aware that there are many “string like” muscles that cover the side of the face and the cheeks. It can be daunting to understand the muscular structure of the face, and it’s a bit creepy to look at, but once you get it down, it’ll really help with building expression and form later on. The muscular structure also helps to do line art, because it gives you enough knowledge to understand how and where the important lines actually should go.
Now that we have explored the muscular and skeletal building blocks of the face, we can layer on the skin and other flesh to complete the entire face. Using the knowledge we have acquired thus far, it becomes easier to understand where to put the eyes, the eye lids, the lips, the nose, and the hair. We can even use it to understand where to put the shadows and highlights when we paint or shade the face. I’ve left the two other layers behind the final layer in a transparent fashion so that you can see how everything relates to the final face’s form.
Quick Tip: while the upper lip is generally thought of as a separate form, the lower lip is actually just a shade colored in the shape of a lower lip on a completely different form. What I mean by that, is that the lower lip is not a separate piece of the face, but it is merely a re-coloration of an already present piece of flesh that sticks out. If you look closely at some peoples’ faces you will be able to see that their lower lip’s structure continues on far past the actual edge of their lip.
A Video Showing the Layer Progression of a Face
Facial Proportions and Basic Geometry
Another aspect to understanding how to draw faces correctly is figuring out the general proportions that go behind the face. Figuring this out can help you make faces accurately from memory, and if you practice it enough, it can even allow you to do it without a reference picture!
To start out, it is usually correct to divide the face into two halves (I say usually, because various people can have vastly different proportions, but these rules are generally applicable to most cases). The first half line is typically where the tops of the eyes go and the bottoms of the eyebrows. Additionally the tops of the ears fall around this line.
Next divide the bottom half in half again, and this line is where the bottom of the nose and the bottoms of the ears will usually fall. Sometimes ears will have a lot of variation in them, but they loosely fall around this line.
Finally, divide the last half in half again, and this is where the mid-line or top of the mouth will fall. To put it simply, the face is really a game of halves, it is easy to remember the proportions of the face if you can just remember to keep dividing in half and in half and in half again.
As a bonus, I’ve decided to throw in the way that I draw faces using basic geometry. While there are a ton of different ways to do this, and everyone has their own system, I thought it might be helpful, especially for very new beginners, to see some sort of example for using basic geometry to draw the face.
Typically, I like to draw a single circle for the skull. I do this for the front and the back. Then I sweep down and create the V shape of the jawline for forward facing people, and I create an almost sideways V for side facing people. I then create the neck, which also looks like a v, and move on to the ears. Ears can come in many different shapes and sizes, but for the most part they are trapezoidal in shape. Obviously, ears are actually curved, but this is just for very basic geometry. Eyes look a little bit like almonds depending on the person, and lips and noses are composed of a series of circles and ovals to define the three dimensional structure of them.
Note that whenever you do basic geometry, it is still really important to keep in mind the proportions that we learned earlier. Additionally, the neck from a side view is typically half the width of the face. While from the front view, it is about the same width of the face.
Overall, the face can be a very complicated and confusing form to draw and paint. However, if you take the time to study its proportions, underlying structure, and basic geometry, you can become a master at drawing faces in no time! Just remember to keep practicing and learning as much as you can.
Thank you for reading! I hope that you have a wonderful day!