Facial Features

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It's important to have a clear understanding of the forms and proportions of the nose. It is often the area of the face that is closest to the viewer, and therefore, it has to be rendered with clarity. If clarity of form is achieved, the nose becomes a device that brings this part of the face closer to the viewer spatially, allowing the other parts of the face to recede.

With a view of the nose from this angle (a), you can see some of the distinct surfaces, or planes, of the nose. The underside of the nose is at a dramatically different angle from the two sides and the frontal plane; therefore, when the head is lit from above, it receives the least amount of light. Because the nostrils are deep recesses on the underside plane, in most cases, they will be darker than the general tone of the underside of the nose.

It is always crucial when rendering the features to think of the basic planes of the form and how they relate to the light source. In this case, the light is coming from above and in front of the head. The greatest concentration of light is indicated by the highlight, which is where the lower-right side of the front plane meets the lower-right side of the bottom plane.

This diagram demarcates the main planes of the nose (b). Even though there is a great multitude of nose types and sizes, they can usually be broken down into these basic planes. Of course, the sizes and proportions of the various planes, relative to each other, will differ from nose to nose.

How Draw Side NosesHow Draw Humans Expressions


The mouth is, without a doubt, the most flexible feature of the human face and is capable of an enormous range of expressions (a). At first glance, you might think that the mouth is a simple structure to render, but with careful examination, even when the mouth is in a natural, relaxed position, it consists of a series of complex forms and planes.

Of course, there are an infinite number of types of mouths (as is true with any of the features), but this example shows some of the principles that pertain to understanding the form of the mouth.

In terms of the large form of the mouth, it's helpful to think of the lips as conforming to the curvature of the teeth. In many, but not all, individuals who are viewed in profile, the top of the upper lip protrudes slightly beyond the lower lip. The upper lip often has more distinct planes, while the lower lip has rounder, broader, more gently changing forms.

As depicted in the diagram (b) below and diagram (b) on page 213, the top and bottom lip are at very different angles to each other. When seen in profile, the top lip is angled downward, with the center and highest point of the upper lip being the farthest point out. The lower lip is the exact opposite, being angled upward and with the center and lowest point being the farthest out. This is why when the light is coming from above—which is most common—the upper lip is in shadow and the lower lip is receiving direct light.

Bobby Singer


This copy after another Degas portrait of the same individual will be used to further examine facial features. You will notice that it is a very different view of the same model, and shows the same features from different angles. This is a very sculptural view of the model's head, as the light is strong from above and in front of the face, creating strong tonal contrast between the front and side planes.

Strong Facial Features
Copy after Edgar Degas' Head of a Man, by Dean Fisher

Second Portrait


From this angle (a), it becomes clearer how deeply the eyeball is set in the skull, with the eyebrow, nose, and cheekbone surrounding it for protection. The difference between this view and the front view is that if a vertical line were drawn down the middle of the eye (through the pupil), the left half would be considerably shorter than the right half.

Because we are seeing a % view of this eye, the eye is actually foreshortened. Foreshortening (which will be covered in more depth in Chapter 12) occurs when part or most of a form obscures the rest of the form that is behind it, thus giving the illusion that the part of the form in front is coming toward us (b).

Also take note of how much of the eyelids are visible and how the light and shadow changes on them, giving further roundness to the eye.

Eyeball Light Reflection Drawing


In this % view of the nose (a), the triangular side plane is defined as the shadow side of the nose. Of course, the shape of this side plane will vary greatly, depending on the character and shape of the nose you are drawing. There is a clear demarcation of the front and side plane, with the light coming from the front-right side of the model's head. Also, the angled underside plane of the nose is visible as a darker shadow that follows the length of the nostril. The greatest amount of contrast occurs where the front of the underside plane meets the front plane at this point, which optically helps the nose advance toward the viewer. Take note of the point midway down the bridge of the nose, where the sharpness of the light and shadow becomes the greatest. This is a point where the nasal bone is closest to the surface and often creates more abrupt changes in the planes of the form.

This diagram (b) delineates the three main planes of the nose that would be seen from this view.

Images Ghosts


Here the mouth is shown from a % view which, as with the eye shown from the same angle, foreshortens its shape (a). It is especially accentuated because of the far side conforming to the shape of the teeth, which makes it turn back on itself. The difference in how the light influences the lips is noticeable, with the lightest area being the lower lip because of its angle relative to the light. There is some direct light on the far side of the upper lip because the light is coming from that side of the head.

This diagram (b) indicates the main planes of the mouth, which helps to make its foreshortening clearer.

Because of the many shapes and sizes of features from person to person, the most fail-safe method to draw them well is careful observation coupled with the use of the various methods of measuring that were discussed in the previous chapters. All the verbal descriptions of the "nature" of the features can only take you so far. An artist's vision is their greatest tool; all preconceived ideas must be avoided to make art with truth at its core.

How Make Identical DrawingDrawing Facial Features

As this is the first drawing demonstration of an animate subject in the book, you might be surprised that the approach is identical to that of other subjects. Although it may seem a little calculated or cold, using careful observational methods is the best way to achieve a convincing depiction of your subject in realistic, three-dimensional terms.

This tonal charcoal portrait begins on a good-quality piece of charcoal/pastel paper. The first step is to create a medium-value tone on the paper by using the side of a piece of soft vine charcoal and then lightly smear the charcoal with a paper towel to make the tone more uniform.

Carefully observe the model (or sitter) to take notice of his/her posture or gesture. A large part of achieving an excellent likeness comes from capturing this aspect of your subject. A useful technique is to look at the tilt of the model's shoulders compared to the tilt of the head. Most people don't sit with their shoulders exactly horizontal or with their head and neck completely vertical.

To see this subtle relationship of angles more clearly, you can use a long, straight instrument such as a paintbrush or dowel rod. Hold it through the center of your model's head (the center of the top of the head to the center of the chin). In the diagram, this line is labeled as A. Then place the brush or rod in front of his shoulders (at the tops of the shoulders) and label as B. Compare these angles. Also check the angle of the neck, C—usually less tilted than the head. Record these three angles on your toned paper with very light lines. After you have done this, you can begin to build the shape of the head and its placement on the shoulders and torso of your model. Once you have very roughly placed the features, you can put a line through the center of the eyes and mouth, and at the end of the nose. This will make you draw these features at the right angle for the head. These lines are parallel to the chin.

How Draw Facial Features

The best example of achieving a likeness can be considered in this way: You are walking outside at dusk, and it's slightly foggy. Someone you know is walking toward you, and you are able to recognize this person based on a bare minimum of information. What you're registering and recalling about this person is the overall shape of his head, the placement of his features, and his posture. When you think about it in this way, it does seem remarkable that someone could be recognizable based on such a small amount of information . . . .

In this stage, the artist mapped out the shape of the model's head, the width and length of the neck, and the width of the shoulders using the measuring methods in Chapter 4. It is crucial to establish the correct width of the head versus its height because this is another very important aspect of achieving a likeness. At this all-important stage, failing to draw the shape of the head correctly can adversely affect the placement of all of the smaller components and features. After this was done, the artist found the line of the eyes, placement of the nose, and the line of the mouth and hairline using the measuring methods. Feel free to draw these lines in your drawings to use as guides. As long as you draw them lightly, you'll be able to eliminate them later.

How Draw Facial Features


Jack Montmeat

In this stage, using line, the shape of the head and the placement and shape of the features have been refined. At this point, there is no need to rush into using tone until you are satisfied that you have approximated what you are seeing.


It is highly recommended that you move your easel and drawing next to the model and step back 8-10 feet to compare the two side by side. Doing this often is the best way to check your drawing for proportional errors.

The drawing undergoes a big transformation with the development of the pattern of light and shadow, and darker tone for the hair. Suddenly, with the use of these three simple tones, the drawing takes on a sense of form and light. For now, all that is necessary is the development of these basic shapes of tone without all of the variations that take place within them. At this early stage, even without the inclusion of extensive information about the features, we can sense the eyes in the eye sockets and the nose and mouth being fairly well developed. This is because the artist has taken the time to establish the pattern of light and shadow fairly accurately.

Remember that you are working from large shapes to smaller shapes. The best way to see your subject in these basic terms is to squint. This is a simple but extremely effective and important technique to practice!

Here the artist has begun to develop some range of tone. The drawing has been "keyed" at this point, indicating the lightest light and darkest dark. Every other tone in the subject will fall between these two tonal points.

Because the model has very dark hair and the darkest dark occurs there, the entire shape of the hair has been darkened, which in turn makes the light side of the face appear lighter. Be careful not to overstate the lights in the hair; the highlights, may appear light, but if you compare them to the lightest lights, you will see that in reality they are usually considerably darker. As the shadow is darkened in the central area of the face close to where the shadow meets the light, the face begins to appear rounder because of the increased tonal contrast. Remember, contrasted tones will emerge and less contrasted tones will recede.

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Portrait of Tommy, by Dean Fisher

In the final stage of the drawing the artist proceeded to refine the features, mainly the sitter's right eye. It's crucial to pay special attention to the eyes, as this is usually the first place the viewer of the portrait will look. Much of the expression is carried by the eyes, but it is very important that the mouth and musculature throughout the face be rendered to be consistent with the facial expression that is being sought after. The half tones in the light area of the face are added to give form to the cheek and mouth, which are slightly flexed to help render the gentle smile of the sitter. More attention is given to the rendering of the hair and shirt, keeping in mind that these areas must also be modeled with solidity, with a consistent light source to the rest of the drawing.

This beautiful portrait was drawn in charcoal and white chalk on orange/brown paper. The artist achieved a wide range of tones, from the black of the charcoal to the white of the chalk and many subtle gradations in between. The artist skillfully allowed the warm mid-tone color of the paper to show through in the lights, mid-tones, and darks to make a more efficiently executed drawing, as well as to impart an overall warmth to the work.

The white chalk and charcoal was applied with a variety of hatched and parallel lines, which remain "transparent" throughout the drawing, thus allowing the color of the paper to show through. This quality would have been lost if the medium had been smoothed out.

Learn from the Work of Other Artists

The history of portraiture is a long and rich one, with hundreds of dazzling examples throughout the centuries. Art students are so fortunate to have an instant opportunity to view a museum's entire collection online. They can also go to the library to find wonderful art books or, best of all, visit many great museums in person.

Seek out as many drawing examples, and glean as much technical and artistic insight from these works, as you can. Study, take notes, and make copies of the art that inspires you the most. Then, apply what you learn from other artists' work to your own art. After all, you can be sure that this is the way that the great artists of the past developed their skills.

Portrait of Sue, by Jack Montmeat, courtesy of the artist

This poetic drawing has a wonderful, almost shimmering quality of light that is the result of the almost complete elimination of hard edges. The only really crisp edge is at the point where the shoulder meets the neck and on the cast shadow on the neck.

Even though this is a portrait of a particular person, because of the lack of detail and the diffused quality of the shading, the subject becomes much more about form and a gently sifting quality of light.

The forward lean of the subject and the wispy strokes around the hair suggest a feeling of movement that adds to the ethereal mood of the drawing.

Ethereal Drawing

This is a very animated pencil drawing that conveys a clear feeling that it was drawn from life. There is even the feeling that the artist might have been in conversation with the model while the drawing was being done.

Eventually, when you reach a high level of skill, you'll be able to draw models that might move a little, for example, while in conversation. These slight movements of the mouth may be a little disconcerting at first, but try to capture them when you can. The more you do so, the more proficient your skills will become. Movements such as these give some animation and liveliness to your drawing.

Drawing Facial Features
Portrait of Mary Crisp, by Heidi Harrington, courtesy of the artist

Because this contemporary (modern-day) portrait has a serene otherworldliness and a marked emphasis on the two-dimensionality rather than the three-dimensionality of the form, it is reminiscent of early Renaissance portraiture. The high level of realism comes from the sensitive linear rendition of the face shape and the features.

This portrait is drawn with charcoal and white and grey pastel on a cream-colored paper. The layering of the darker gray pastel over the lighter pastel gives a shimmering, luminous quality to the skin.

Silvius Character Analysis

Portrait of Rosa, by Silvius Krecu, courtesy of the artist


This portrait, which was created with diluted black acrylic paint and brush, demonstrates a sureness of touch that comes with years of experience. The darks in the drawing were created mostly with vertical brush strokes using various opacities of paint, and varied in tone by the strength or delicacy of the touch of the brush.

There is a dramatic quality of light created by the use of dark shadows and a dark background, with very light lights that mostly come from the white of the paper.

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Portrait of Sergei Rachmaninoff, by Shell Fisher, courtesy of the artist

When a drawing is cropped this closely to the face, you can create a very immediate and personal portrait. It's as if you are 10 inches away from the subject, which is a closeness that only occurs with family and the closest of friends. When this format is chosen, it gives the viewer a chance to really explore the face, and ideally the internal world of someone previously unknown.

The closeness of this portrait is further intensified by the very direct gaze of the model. Another form of immediacy comes through the asymmetry of the mouth, as if the little girl were biting her lip.

How Draw Girl Mouth

Portrait of Jorge, by Frank Bruckmann, courtesy of the artist


This is actually a reproduction of a painting that was created along with a number of drawings as studies for a larger composition. This work was included because of its similarity to many of the drawing examples that have been shown so far, in terms of the rendering of the form. The only difference is that the medium was oil paint applied with a brush, instead of graphite or charcoal. You can see that the leap into painting isn't that far away!

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Study of a Figure, by Dean Fisher

In this graphite drawing, a small range of tones was used for the sake of creating a particular mood. Only the first third of the tonal range is used, which allows for a light and airy quality.

Because of the high-keyed tones and soft transition from one tone to another, there are no barriers to stop the flow of light and feeling of movement.

How Draw Realistic Facial Expressions

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  • Jeffrey Foster
    How to draw side noses?
    8 years ago
  • Grace
    How to draw humans expressions?
    8 years ago
    How to draw a girl mouth?
    8 years ago
  • Kimmo Tiainen
    How to draw realistic brown hair girls?
    8 years ago
  • Hamid
    How to sketch cheekbones?
    8 years ago
    How to draw reflections in eyes?
    8 years ago
  • Mathias
    How to draw a girls mouth?
    7 years ago
    How to drawrealistic prtraits?
    7 years ago

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