Facial Proportions - How to Draw Faces


How to draw a face

How to Draw a Face - The Basics

Many people make mistakes when drawing faces because they don't fully understand facial proportions.  Proportion refers to the relationship in size and placement between one object and another. 

There are many formulas that one can adapt to draw the facial features in the correct location. There's a simple approach - one that I first learned and is great for beginners. Then there is the more complex approach using illustrator, Andrew Loomis' guidelines.

We'll first discuss Loomis' approach, which is more complex, but more accurate. If you find that this approach is a bit difficult for you, you can skip to the simpler approach further down the page. Remember, either way, the goal is to create a convincing head so either approach you take is fine.

How to Draw a Head From Imagination - Andrew Loomis Approach

Andrew Loomis is revered for his step by step approach to drawing heads . His approach divides the head into manageable geometric shapes. Each feature on the face has a specific location relative to the geometric configuration set up in the early stages of the drawing process. Because this method is so accurate, it's great to use for drawing a head from imagination.

Drawing a Head From Imagination

In the following video, we'll take a look at an adapted approach to drawing a head using Loomis' configuration. This is a simplified version of his method as outlined in his book .


Head Structure According to Loomis

Using Loomis' approach, the head is divided by geometric configurations. A circle is drawn first (indicated in red in the image below) and then divided evenly with a vertical and horizontal line (blue). The edges of the face, the brow line, and the nose line are all defined by drawing a square (orange). An ellipse is drawn instead of a square from any other view other than the frontal or profile views.

The length of the face is determined by the distance from the brow line to the nose line. This distance is extended down from the nose line to find the location of the chin (yellow). So, the distance from the brow line to the nose line is the same distance from the nose line to the chin. The jaw connects to the head at the center intersection of the square or the ellipse - depending on the view.

Loomis approach to drawing heads The ears begin on the eye line and extend up to the brow line and connect back to the head on the nose line. They are aligned with the center vertical line (blue) drawn in the second step.

Here's a look at a face and head drawn from imagination using the Loomis approach combined with a simpler approach which we discuss a little further down this page. All of the relationships and proportions are identified with the guidelines discussed.

How to draw a head - Loomis approach

For more on the Loomis method for drawing heads, check out Module 4 from the "Portrait Drawing The Smart Way" course or you can check out his book here .

Drawing a Portrait From Observation - A Simpler Approach

The Loomis method can be applied to drawing a head from observation as well, but some find it a bit cumbersome. Luckily, there is a simpler approach. This formula should be used to help you see and compare. In each stage of the formula, analyze each feature and draw what you see. The result will be a representational portrait of the person you are drawing with all of the features in the right place.

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Drawing a portrait is very much like drawing any other subject matter. You have to closely observe the subject in order to draw it accurately. Of course portrait drawing is especially delicate because the goal is to make the portrait resemble the subject closely.

If you know the person, the pressure to produce accuracy can be daunting. But every artist, no matter what their skill level, should take heart. Even the most experienced and well-known portrait artists are presented with challenges. Consider these two quotes from one of the best portrait painters of all time, John Singer Sargent...

“Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”

“A portrait is a painting in which something is wrong with the mouth.”

Drawing of a face from profile view
I bet that most of us can relate to both of these quotes. We’ve all felt the pressure when drawing or painting a portrait to make it look exactly like our subject. Especially when that subject is a friend. For some of us, the pressure is so great, we avoid portraits all together.

It’s often hard to pinpoint a problem in a portrait. We can see that something isn’t quite right, but finding the solution or the fix can really throw some of us. Often it’s a combination of issues that lead to a "less than perfect" portrait. Maybe something “is wrong with the mouth”.

Even though representational portrait drawing is reliant on good observation and accurate mark-making, we can still follow a simple procedure that will lead to better results in our attempts.

Steps to Drawing a Face Using a Simple Approach

Using this simpler approach, the first step is to draw a circle to represent the cranium. Next, a line can be drawn to determine the length of the face (Step 1). For most faces, this line should be approximately double the length of the original circle. Next, lines are drawn from the bottom of that line to the edges of the circle creating the shape of the face (Step 2). From here, we can locate the positions of the facial features.

How to draw a face step by step

Generalized Locations of Facial Features

The "eye" line is in the middle of the face.  (Your eyes aren't way up on your forehead, so resist the temptation to put them there.) A line is drawn to represent the eye line (Step 3).

The "nose" line is found in the middle of the "eye" line and the bottom of the chin.  When it comes to facial proportion, most noses will end at this line (Step 3). However, there are exceptions to every rule.  Some people have really long noses and some have really short ones.

The mouth line is found approximately one-third of the way down in between the nose line and the bottom of the chin. A line is loosely drawn for its location (Step 3).

Next, we'll concentrate on the eyes. To find the overall width of the eyes, draw five oval shapes across the eye line. Most faces are about "five eyes" wide. Obviously, people only have two eyes.  The "five eyes" just help to determine the width of the eyes (Step 4).

Once we know the width of the eyes are accurate, we can draw them in the proper location (Step 5).

Now, we'll determine the width of the nose. For most people, the width of the nose will align with the inside corners of the eyes. We can simply draw two lines down from the inside corners of the eyes to the nose line to find the relative width of the nose (Step 6).

Once we know the width of the nose, we can draw it in place (Step 7).

Now, we can figure the width of the mouth. This measurement varies from person to person, but for most folks, the width of the mouth aligns with the inside portions of the iris or the pupil. So, we'll simply draw a line straight down from this location to the mouth line to find the corners of the mouth. We'll draw a line here to indicate where the upper lip meets the bottom lip (Step 8).

Then we can draw the upper and lower lips, knowing that the mouth is in the right spot (Step 9).

Now for the ears. We'll extend the eye line out to determine the location where the top portion of the ears meet the head. They extend upward a bit and line up with the brow line. The bottom of the ears conveniently align with the nose line (Step 10).

Once we have the ears in place, we can add the eye brows. We'll use the tops of the ears to make comparisons. For most people, the brow line aligns with the tops of the ears (Step 11).

Before addressing the hair, we'll add a neck. The neck extends down from the bottom of the ears. For females, this lines extends inward a bit - resulting in a smaller neck. For males, this line still comes in a bit, but to a lesser degree. It's nearly straight down from the bottom of the ears (Step 12).

The shape of the hair is added next. In most cases, the hair extends off from the top of the cranium and may overlap portions of the forehead (Step 13).

Lastly, shading is added to develop the illusion of form (Step 14).

Facial Proporitons

Here's a quick review of the general locations of the facial features...

Resources for Drawing Facial Features...

When drawing faces, use these standards to help you get your facial proportions correct. Remember, you must look and study your subject. While these standards apply to most of us, they do not apply to all of us.

Here's an older video that outlines this simpler approach...


Developing The Form of The Face - Shading

The form of the face is developed though the use of value and tone. The relationships of specific values inform the viewer of the location and strength of the light source. It is ultimately the behavior of light on the head which creates the illusion of form.

To better understand how light behaves, we can consider the planes of the head and face. By breaking the face down into simple planes, we can better comprehend how light behaves.

Planes of the face

The planes of the face change direction in space. These changes in direction produce different values depending on the location and strength of the light source. In most cases, the light source will originate from above. This produces areas of darker tone in locations that recede and lighter ones in locations that protrude.

This means that recesses around the eyes, under the nose, bottom lip, and chin are mostly shaded with darker values. Areas that protrude, such as the nose, cheek bones, chin, and lower lip consist mostly of lighter values.

How to Draw a Face in Profile - Simple Approach

Portrait drawing is an important skill for any artist to know how to do.  Drawing the face from the front view is one thing, but drawing the face from the side - or in profile view, is slightly different.  One thing that is important in both types of drawing is understanding the proportions of a human face.

A side view pose follows the same steps as the front view, so the drawing may begin with a simple circle.  This circle will represent the cranium.  Next, a curved line may be drawn down the side of the circle.  This curved line will "hold" the features of the face.  The chin can be completed by connecting the line with one edge of the circle.

Next, it's time to locate the features.

The Facial Features

First, we will need to determine where on the face to put the eyes.  This is easy because the eyes are in the middle of the head.  Draw a line in the middle of your first shape for the "eye line". 

Next, we'll determine the location of the nose.  Again this is easy because the bottom of the nose will exist on a line exactly in the middle of the eye line and the bottom of the chin.

Finally, we'll add the mouth line. The mouth line fits nicely between the nose line and the bottom of the chin.

Next, you'll need to observe your subject. You'll need to observe the lines, shapes, and values that exist on your subject.  Use your guidelines for the features, but pay close attention to what information exists on your subject.  It will take practice to perfect this skill.

The following video demonstrates how to draw the face in profile or from the side (this is also an older video, but still helpful)...

Want to Go Further With Drawing Faces?

If you're wanting to learn even more on drawing faces with HD video and ebooks, be sure to check out the modules that are part of "The Secrets to Drawing Video Course" 

Modules 21 - 26 are devoted to drawing faces and include an in-depth look at each of the facial features.

Both male and female subjects are explored. 

Each module takes a look at drawing the face from both the side view and the frontal view.

If you're not already a member, and you want to take a sneak peek at what's inside, here's a link to get a free video and ebook from this course...

Get your free ebook and video

Here's a link to module 21 on basic facial proportions...

How to Draw a Face Premium Video


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