Facial Expression

Facial expression is conveyed most dramatically by eyes and mouth. Aliveness is most apparent in the eyes. To portray expressive quality:

• Fill in specific values carefully around highlights.

• Record the visible amount of iris and surrounding white of the eyes accurately.

• Consider the angle of each brow.

• Observe and record the midline of the lips carefully.

• Note the depth and angle of the crease between nose and mouth.

• Estimate the angle of the nostrils with care. If you're a careful reporter, you can simply let go into recording shapes, rather than try to figure out how to convey a specific mood at the outset. Specifics recorded will result in a specific mood. Remember, the "happy face" self-portrait is rare in art. What you're more likely to see is the artist's expression of deep concentration recorded as the self-portrait was created.


Place your self-portrait on a wall near a mirror, where you can see it and yourself at one glance. You may want to deepen or lighten some values on the eyes, hair, and brows. Emphasize shapes and darken values gradually. Make sure your overall mouth value is filled in, and you haven't left lips white.

Check expressiveness. Do your eyes look lively? If not, add highlight areas. Be sure their outlines are not darker than the surrounding value. If they are, fill in the iris value precisely around them. If your mouth has one rigid line, soften it with your eraser.

Rely on the shadow below the mouth to suggest the shape of the lower lip. Did you develop the indented value area of the cheek where it meets the sides of the mouth?

The face is your focus. If your eyes wander persistently to your hair or the nice earrings or necktie you might have added, erase and blur out those areas a bit. Be more selective in what you develop. Very active lines, high-contrast areas, and details draw the eye away from the features. Finally, if your neck, shoulders, and collar look like they were cut from steel, soften the angles.

Drawing Cut Someone Face


Draw your face again in a couple of weeks. Or get someone else to pose for you. Have the model's gaze fixed on a spot near one of your ears, rather than looking directly in your eyes. If someone else is drawing with you, you can work simultaneously on portraits, alternating posing and drawing. Trade off after about four minutes per pose. Start with the bridge of the nose and one eye; switch, then draw the other eye; switch, and so on.

As with these beginners, if you've drawn the human face and recorded values and proportions accurately, then you're on your way; mark your progress with a big Hooray! student drawings by alexandra tebay (left) and anita st. marie (below)

Human Face Proportions Basic

right: "The first time, it didn't look like a real person. As I went along, I'd get an eye right or part of the nose right. Finally, at number five, I got it to look like me."

—student tracey m. robinson

"At first, I was afraid of the self-portrait. But I ended up liking it, because it afforded me unlimited

'stare time.' We're conditioned to think staring is rude, particularlj staring at individual facial features. The freedom to study a human face, to draw wrinkles and blemishes with abandon, came as a relief."

-student margaret ross

Then Came Bronson All Seeing Eye

opposite: "I turned out all the lights in the room and just used a single lightbulb, then set up a big mirror where I could sit and look at myself. I worked on my portrait three or four times. The first time, I did most of the drawing, over four or five hours. Then I put it on the mantle in my bedroom. I'd wake up and see the things that needed to be fixed. The nose didn't look right, and I'd go back and work on that with the mirror. The values changed a lot, but I started out very light. This was my first drawing course since seventh grade. I didn't expect to see it come out and look like someone I recognized—so I was pleased when other people knew it was me. There wasn't any conscious thought about the border. I have a lot of pent-up energy, and it needed someplace to go. As a self-portrait, it looked too calm without It. " —student |im hohorst below: "I carried my self-portrait further than any of my other drawings. I was willing to redo. I did the eyes four times, the nose three times, the mouth twice."

—student barbara kops


Look at people around you more carefully to continue developing your storehouse of information about the human face. Look in art books and photography magazines and annuals for frontal views of faces to draw.

As you learn to draw the human face, animal faces may become more interesting to you. You can more clearly relate to the extended-family concept when you notice similar features and structures in our face and the faces of dogs, cats, horses, and other "relative relatives" of ours. Notice, in particular, the expressive brow pads on your pets' faces.

"I started taking drawing because I wanted to do still life. It felt like the safest thing, and then I started with the face and it was like—an epiphary!"

-student anne osso porco

Expresive Frontal Faces


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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

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