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Nobody's perfect. Was it she, or was it her portrait painter? A most peculiar-looking effect occurs when the eyes fall higher than halfway up the head. The woman might have looked this way, but a far more likely explanation is that the artist (an early American painter) inadvertently left out part of her forehead. Taking a bit off the top is the most common of all errors in portraiture.

head) makes a sharp break with the upper plane—it's just slightly below the actual top. From here the skull is divided into thirds, and each dividing line falls on a major landmark as follows:

□ One-third of the way down from the widow's peak, the bony prominence called the eyebrow (or superorbital) ridge bulges out above the eye socket. On the face, this is where the eyebrows grow.

□ Two-thirds of the way down from the widow's peak, the bottom of the oval-shaped nose socket is found. On the face, this is where the nose ends— where the tip turns under to meet the upper lip.

EH The lower border of the skull is the edge of the bony jaw. On the face, this is the border of the chin, where the face ends and the neck begins.

This proportional pattern—the dividing of the skull (and face) into three equal regions—is not quite as universally true as the one concerning the eyes. But skulls—and people—don't vary from this arrangement by much.

When there are exceptions to this rule, it's usually the central third that varies from the arrangement. According to the rule of thirds, the distance from the base of the nose to an imaginary point between the eyebrows is the same as the distance from nose base to the bottom of the chin. I'd say this is right on the mark about 70 percent of the time. The rest of the time it's usually the length of the nose that's short. About 30 percent of us have noses that are a bit shorter than the space from nose to chin. It is exceedingly rare to find someone with the distance from nose base to eyebrow longer than the distance from nose base to chin.

Hidung WanitaDegas Portraits Head Woman

Long-nosed or average? The aristocratic Eduard Degas painted many self-portraits. A striking feature of most of them is his long, slim nose. Long indeed; as seen in the etching, Degas's nose is longer than the distance from the base of his nose to his chin. On the average face, the distance from the top of the nose (A) to the nose base (B) is the same as the distance from the nose base to the chin (C). On one out of four people, A to B is shorter. The Degas nose occurs less than 5 percent of the time.

Degas Portrait

Is this the "Degas nose"? Examining the photograph of the artist, it appears that he had proportions more average than those he painted, that is, his nose and chin lengths seem equal. Rather than being as literal as they seem, Degas's self-portraits may represent a calculated exaggeration, a sort of self-caricature.

Isometric Skull













Frontal Plane Bone

The forehead plane (A)—the vertical portion of the frontal bone—makes an abrupt break with the curved dome of the skull at the widow's peak (B). Its surface is gently rounded, like the roof of a car. So slow is the curve that the light values change on the forehead more gradually than anywhere else on the face. The lower edge of the forehead plane protrudes out as the two arched mounds of the eyebrow or superorbital ridges (C). Linking them in the middle is the keystone-shaped glabella (D), the attachment point for the frowning muscles.

Facial Muscle Attachment Skull

The basic block: a perfect square in front, rectangular on the side, and rounded on the top.

No other skeletal form inspires such strong associations as the human skull. It's so close in shape to the head that it almost seems to have its own personality. Here, each of the key forms of the skull is added to the simplified head block, area by area. Each makes its presence strongly felt on the surface of the living head. Artists can benefit greatly by retaining these forms in their minds as a sort of armature upon which renderings of the head can be based.

The skull can be summarized as a wedge hanging below a rounded, rectangular block. By adding on and carving away, these simple shapes can be altered to produce a version much closer to the skull's actual appearance. This will be done in stages based on the three sections: widow's peak to brow; brow to base of nose; and base of nose to chin.

The basic block: a perfect square in front, rectangular on the side, and rounded on the top.


The eye sockets are roughly rectangular. The best way to understand their shape is by clearly visualizing their bony rims, curving from front to side and bending from above to below. Here, a rim's shown as a wire frame, twisted by the steps below into required shape.

Draw Eyes Three Quarter

A, The primary form is a rectangular frame with rounded corners, like the frame of a pair of eyeglasses.

Draw Eyes Three Quarter

B. The lower, inside corner is cut off, replaced by an arc. (This curved line will shows on most faces.)

C. The entire frame folded a bit along its waist, bending left and right verticals.

D. The outermost quarter of the frame is twisted to the outside, so that part of the frame faces frontward, part sideways. The in-and-out curve of that outer edge shows up in all three-quarter views.

Brow ridge to base of nose socket. The middle third of the skull is the most interesting part. It's got the shadowy, sad-looking eye sockets and the projecting cheekbones. It's also the part where the forms are the most complex. Curiously, the upper and lower half of this area are practically reverse images of each other. The upper half, around the eyes, consists of two voids connected by a bony plane; the lower half, around the nose socket, is made up of two bony planes separated by a void. With the exception of the nose socket, which is completely invisible on the living face, all these forms are felt strongly on the surface.

Cartoon Exaggerated Facial ExpressionsDrawings Women Faces

As seen in profile, the forehead slope (A) varies from nearly vertical to quite angled. As a rule (with plenty of exceptions), men's foreheads are more sloped than women's. A strong eyebrow ridge (B) is a more constant indicator—if a skull has it, it's definitely male. Without the brow ridge, the female profile always shows a smoother transition from forehead to nose. Note the slant of the glabella (C)—it always looks downward.

Muscle Down Forehead NoseThe Strong Bridge Nose



The nose socket has a keyhole-shaped, raised edge. The upper portion, between eye sockets, is formed by the bridge of the nose. The bridge, a strong, sharp-cornered form (A), projects outward at about the same angle that the glabella (B) projects inward. The angularity of this (never softened by fat) produces the sharpest edges on the head. When light comes from the side, nowhere else is the boundary between light and dark as clearly visible. The bridge can be felt clearly under the skin; below the bridge the rim of the nose socket is not so clearly marked on the surface.

A. Three flat planes arranged in an upside-down U make the bridge of the nose, also called the nasol bone. This shape is similar to that of a row of staples.

B. To complete the nose socket, the side planes of the bridge are extended down the skull, flaring outward slightly and curving in a sort of oval. The bottom of this construction, found on the living face beneath the tip of the nose, is simply a little flat shelf.

The angular cheekbones, like the forehead and bridge of the nose, can be felt just below the skin. Once you find the beginning of the cheekbone beneath the eye socket, you can follow the raised bony surface back to the ear. But just below the cheekbones no bone is felt at all. This is the location of the thickest fatty pad on the face.

Here, the cheekbones are visualized as resembling a pair of cardboard spectacles. The flat, squarish front planes are similar in size to the eye sockets; where they sit is always the widest point on the face. The eyeglass "stems" are known as the zygomatic arches, prominent not just on our skulls, but also on those of many of the mammals, like cats and mice. The arches end just in front of the ear-hole, halfway back on the skull. Where the stem and the front plate join, a thin, upright stem arises, following the eye socket along its outer rim. This form can be clearly seen on thin people.

Base of nose to chin. The lower portion of the skull is more or less wedge shaped, the product of the combined forms of the upper and lower jaws. The fixed upper ¡aw (the maxilla) is much simpler in overall form; the horseshoe-shaped lower ¡aw (the mandible) is the one that moves. The forms of both jaws are somewhat hidden on the living face; the clearest penetration to the surface is the outer edge of the lower ¡aw, which forms the chin and the ¡aw line extending back to the ear.


The upper ¡aw drops from the cheekbones and nose socket like a small half-cylinder. It's a bit flattened, as cylinders go, particularly the front part. The teeth aren't distinct from the ¡aw above in terms of shape and direction. They're curved just as their supporting cylinder is curved: a bit flat in the front, turning suddenly to the side. (Line A separates identical curves of upper teeth and upper ¡aw.)

The cylinder of the upper ¡aw and teeth—like the matching cylinder on the lower ¡aw—is more sharply rounded than the rest of the face. The mouth, which follows this surface closely, is also more curved than the face surrounding it. The shape of the upper ¡aw and teeth has a major impact on the shape of the smile, when the stretched upper lip is pulled into close contact.

Simplified HeadHorseshoe Shaped Upper Jaw

The lower jaw is basically a horseshoe with arms, supporting the half-cylinder of the teeth (B). It's squared off in front (like the teeth), angling backward like the two legs of a V. Two flat, vertical arms rise from the rear end of the ¡aw to a hinging point just ahead of the ear. The movable mandible can add an inch or two to the length of the face when it drops open.

It takes very little to turn a skull into a face. In many places the outline of the face is the outline of the skull. If you practice drawing the skull for a while, after a time you get the impression of "seeing" the bone through the surface.

Cheekbone Variation

A. The eyebrows grow out of the superorbi-tal ridge.

B. The cheekbones and orbit are always on the far outline in three-quarter views.

F. The temporal line sometimes shows on people.

Here are the features, superimposed on a drawing of the skull. The outline on the left side of the face follows the bone exactly, except for the soft area between the cheekbones and the chin. On the right, the skull defines the plane turnings: forehead, cheekbone, edge of the orbit, bridge of the nose, chin.

A. The eyebrows grow out of the superorbi-tal ridge.

B. The cheekbones and orbit are always on the far outline in three-quarter views.

C. There is a change in direction where the cheekbone ends and the fleshy cheek begins. This line is usually fairly straight.

D. The mouth is centered on the upper teeth, not the edge where the teeth meet. The curve of the lips follows the curve of the teeth.

E. The ear is located just in back of the end of the zygomatic arch. This is the location of the earhole.

F. The temporal line sometimes shows on people.

It takes very little to turn a skull into a face. In many places the outline of the face is the outline of the skull. If you practice drawing the skull for a while, after a time you get the impression of "seeing" the bone through the surface.

Visible planes. This figure shows the shadow edges that follow the planes of the skull underneath. The sharpest edge is usually along the side of the nasal bones, at the bridge of the nose. Notice how the edge softens as it moves onto the fleshy part of the nose. The skull also shows around the inner edge of the orbit and the entire lower edge of the jaw.

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  • Sebastian
    What is the angle between forehead and nose?
    8 years ago
  • Sirja
    Do we say, "was it she or was it her"?
    3 years ago

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