Studying the Face Start

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with Your Own

Use your own face at first, since with this subject matter, you're the one most likely to be generous with your time. Find a mirror that allows you to see your whole face. Light it from one side to give yourself some clear value contrast. Make sure you don't create a complicated set of shadows.

But first, let's deal with some typical responses to using yourself as a model: "My nose is too big." "My nose is too short." "I hate my hair." "I have too many wrinkles." If any of such imagined, or even true, concerns are about to stall you, don't let that happen. Using yourself as a model is absolutely the best, and almost the only, way you're going to learn how to draw the face. And frontally is the way to start. Although we have a frontal view of faces less frequently than a three-quarter view, which encompasses everything slightly turned away from frontal to nearly profile, both eyes are not fully seen in three-quarters, whereas the frontal view allows us to see all features clearly.

How Draw Face Profile View
This "symbol" character lurks in all of us. The sure way to replace this image is by observing and recording new information about the face.

We're going to use a general structure that can be applied to all faces, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. It will provide you with flexible guidelines to be modified according to the particulars of the model you use. Your observations take priority over the guidelines. When you realize something is really "off" in your drawing, return to the basic rules of proportion to help you. You'll learn to draw the frontal view of the face using exercises that fall into four groups:

• Blocking in basic facial proportions

• Developing individualfeatures

• Shaping the face

• Creating dimension by adding values Students often begin by saying these exercises are too hard, but by the time they've completed their first face drawing, they have found the process fascinating. There's a lot of information to take in, but unlike in the classroom, at home you can take as much time as you'd like to read, observe, and apply what you learn in stages. Don't aim for perfection. Your aim is to take in the written and visual material, and continue to build on it through practice and ongoing observation.


As you begin this first step, placing features, it's instructive to check these proportions while observing your own face, without drawing at all until you're ready. Read through and then refer to the illustration. You'll build the next step on top of this first exercise, so make sure your lines are light and erasable as you sketch.

1 An oval (not a circle) represents the head. Make your oval about 10" high. You'll use this shape as a foundation, modified later. Keep your oval lines soft, searching, nothing rigid or dark.

Practice your ovals on scrap paper until you feel comfortable.

2 Draw horizontal lines at the top and bottom of the oval, to establish the top of the head and the chin level.

3 To find eye level, sketch a horizontal line halfway down the oval. Eye level is a horizontal line right through the center of the pupil, when the eyes are looking straight ahead.

4 To find midline of the face, sketch a vertical line from top of head to chin level, at right angles to eye level, dividing the face into two matched sides. We don't see this line, but it exists in the skull. Eye level, middle of front teeth, base of the nose, and middle of the chin are all on this midline.

5 To find base of the nose-level line, draw a horizontal line on the midline halfway between the lines for eye level and chin level. This represents the base, not the tip, of the nose. The tip is fleshy and in some of us dips down below the nose-level line.

6 To find middle of the lips, make a mark a third of the way down between the level lines for nose and chin. The lip mark is variable, but in general, lips are closer to the base of the nose than to the chin. As usual, you need to observe and be true to the specifics of your model's face. To establish mouth width, sketch two droplines from the middle of eye ovals two and four. Extend the mouth mark horizontally to meet them.

7 To establish eyeballs, draw five horizontal ovals along the eye-level line, bisected by it, so the line goes through all five, like a string through beads. Compare and adjust the sizes of your ovals to make them all equal in size and shape. Maintain a light and generalized line. Avoid "Orphan Annie" circles. You're representing the whole eyeball at this stage, not just the part visible between the lids, and not just a symbol.

8 To establish nose length, draw a triangle with its apex at a point on eye level centered in the middle eye oval. Place its base at the nose-level line.

9 To establish nose width, drop a plumbline from the inside corner of the second and fourth ovals to nose level. The space between these lines at nose level equals the width of the bottom of the nose. Bottom of the nose, triangle base, and the horizontal length of the central eye will all be about the same.

Proportions The Human Head
This "jack-o'-lantern" image gives you the foundation upon which you'll develop the face. The relationships formed around the triangle are the core proportions of the human head. They'll go a long way to help you overcome the common perceptual pitfalls in drawing the face.
Line Drawing Face Proportion

"I began to realize that if I concentrated on the little pieces and got them right, without even thinking about the fact that I was doing a head, when I was finished and stepped back to look: Shazam! There was the face."


Be careful not to make:

• Circles for eyes

• Midline not vertical

• Eye level not horizontal

• Blocking in lines dark, unbroken

-student al roberts


Before going to the next step, put your picture on the wall and view it from a distance to make sure that:

• Eye level is halfway down the oval, parallel to bottom of page, with midline parallel to side of paper.

• Eye-level line goes through the ovals, not under them.

• Nose level is halfway between eye and chin levels.

• Mouth level is one-third distance (not one-half) between nose and chin.

"One of my favorite moments was instruction on drawing a face. I was amazed that what I thought was beyond rry scant ability was well within reach—just an oval, bisected, five eye-widths across, and so on. Miraculously, a well-proportioned face emerged."

-student margaret ross


This exercise starts to build individual features. Refer now to your own face and to the illustration for guidance. The following pages contain more detailed instructions for developing each feature. Use light, directional lines to:

1 Establish the bridge of the nose, bisecting the eye-level line.

2 Draw eyes, building lids within the eye oval, on the oval, covering part of the iris.

3 Place brows, duplicating the space shape between crease and brow.

4 Draw the mouth with the centerline broken and darker than the outline.

5 Structure the nose in parts. Note the angle of nostrils and leave space between them.

6 Verify the vertical lineup of mouth corners with the pupils, and sides of the nose with tear ducts.

Face Drawing Examples

Use this example as general reference only for developing individual features. Of course, when drawing your own face or any other, copy only those unique features, not the ones shown here. Drawing in features is a bit like arranging a still-life of small objects. You focus on each interesting cluster of value shapes and contours, then take in their relationships to a larger symmetrical structure.

Value Shapes

• Eyes too small for oval

• Mouth stretched


Be careful not to make:

• Eyes too large, irises too big

• Sides of nose attached to tear ducts

• Nose too short, bottom too small


After you've blocked in the general relationships among the features, start referring specifically to your own face. Begin to sketch your own features on top of the blocked-in oval you've prepared. Erase blocking-in lines a bit if they're dark, or they'll distract you when you draw. At first, it's difficult to be detached about your own face. It can be a strange new experience scrutinizing this person (you!) staring back at you. But self-study is an excellent aid in learning to draw the face.

To try drawing your own face, begin the same way, by blocking in proportions. Then focus on each individual feature, reporting on what you observe as accurately as you can. Look at your entire face as you work, to relate each feature accurately to the whole. And now that you've made a symmetrical basis for your face, it's time to tell the truth! The end of the nose is often wider than your markings; eye and eyebrow pairs often appear mismatched; and the eyes are sometimes not quite at right angles to the midline. However, the

Face Angles Drawing

If you wear glasses while you work, treat them as just another shape. Try to create lighting without direct highlight on the lens surface, drawing by student stephanie seidel symmetrical guidelines will serve as a basis for comparison, enabling you to catch those particulars of your face. Sighting to line up features on the vertical is your best tool in evaluating specific placement of features.


Our faces are capable of expressing a wide range of emotions. We're aware that intense communication can issue from the eyes and is expressed at the corners of the mouth. However, the brow, cheek, nose, and jaws all have a part to play in our expressive capacity. To get an idea how the action of facial muscles creates your expression, watch yourself in the mirror as you make the face that corresponds to each feeling listed below. Ham it up to get full benefit as you say:

• That was a wonderful experience! Repeat the exercises while your eyes are closed, with your fingers on chin, cheek, and brow, to make the experience even more revealing. Could you feel your facial muscles move up and down with your emotions? Although we're going to study the face in a composed state (at least you'll attempt to remain composed), it's helpful to become more sensitive to the expressive role of brow area, movement of the jaw, and even tension around the nose.


The bridge of the nose marks the middle of the head, and is an anchor point for all facial features. Continue to use light sketching lines as you draw in the bridge. Yours may be somewhat triangular in shape or it may be columnlike. The bridge sits inside the central eye oval and is never wider than the bottom width of the nose.


Sketch the triangular shapes of your tear ducts pointing in at the nose within ovals two and four. That detail not only helps to shape your eyes, it establishes space needed for the orbital setting of the eyes. Look carefully at the steep angle of the contour of your upper lid that leads up from the tear duct and continues above the iris. This angle is significant to eye shape, and is often surprising to beginners, who assume it has a rounded shape.

Be careful not to make the eyes too large for the face, a natural tendency considering their importance to us emotionally. How can you avoid this common mistake? Be aware that the nose is longer than the lengthwise measurement of the eye. Compare the length of your own eye by sighting on the horizontal (end to end) and comparing it to the length of your nose on a vertical. This is the general proportion to maintain in your drawing. Check it against your drawing. If you have made the eye measurement longer than the nose, it's probably inaccurate.

The eyes are fraternal, not identical, twins. Look for the differences that make each one unique. You'll often see size and shape discrepancies, and sometimes, tilted eye levels that are not quite at right angles to the midline. Rely on contour drawing to capture the unique quality of each eye.

Still building on your initial blocking-in drawing, sketch in both upper and lower lids within ovals two and four. They'll be continuous to the contour of the tear ducts. Make sure upper lids overlap lower lids at the outside corner of each eye. The fleshy inner portion of the lower lid, not the lash line, rests against the eyeball. If a challenging area makes you darken and reinforce your lines, practice the feature on scrap paper to avoid doing that.

Bony Orbit

The crease of the eye, where the eyeball nestles into the bony orbit of the skull, usually mirrors the rise and fall of the upper lash line. Use the fleshy shape between the crease of the eyes and brow to help you sketch this area more accurately. Some eyes are hooded-that is, the crease of the upper lid isn't visible.

Sketch in the iris-the colored portion of the eye—as a slightly rounded cube. We often imagine we see the iris as a full circle, and mistakenly draw it that way. Usually, only when the eye is expressing extreme emotion or when it is very large, do we see the entire iris. Much of the upper rim of the iris is covered by the upper lid. The lower rim of the iris is often slightly overlapped by the lower lid.

Keep the pupil lighter than you think it is, to avoid the common tendency to make it too dark and more prominent than it is. The pupil will always be in the middle of the entire iris, but not in the middle of the iris that's showing.


The brows angle up above the eye from the contour of the sides of the nose, then descend toward the temple. Avoid the "Arch Fiend" look that may occur if you let the brow continue to ascend. Feel the bony brow line that juts out over the eye where your eyebrows sit, to get a sense of the downward curve the brows will follow. Sketch in the brow as an angled shape, not as lots of hairs.

Use directional lines to build from an oval to an eye. Things to avoid (see below) are corrected here (left): Eyelids are reduced in size and placed inside original oval; entire iris does not show; tear ducts are now indicated; lashes to be added subtly, later.


Be careful not to make:

• White of the eye too large

• Iris too large and fully visible

• Lids too large and outside original oval

• Spikey lash fringe


Oh, no! The nose! Since you're apt to focus on eyes and mouths more often than on noses, take a really careful look at this feature before you start drawing. Sometimes beginners think the nose will look too prominent if they follow the blocking-in measurement; or what they see doesn't compute with what they think they should see. Many are reluctant to put what they see on paper for fear their observation is rude or wrong. For instance, a nose may have nostrils that don't match, perhaps because the nose tip turns slightly to one side. Draw it that way if that's what you see when achieving a likeness is important to you. Be true to what you see and it will move your skills ahead. Here are some basics to keep in mind.

If you've drawn the triangle, it will help you to assess nose size. The bottom of the nose is probably wider than you expected and often wider than the standard given, but rarely smaller, so make sure not to shrink it within the guidelines. It can line up with the inside rim of each iris. Lining up the sides of nostrils with the tear ducts is also helpful. The length of the nose, not including a wayward tip or two, is rarely longer than the guidelines, but is sometimes shorter. Modify the blocking-in measurements as needed to portray the nose you're drawing.

Think about the structure of the nose before drawing it. The long, upper surface is composed of a rigid shaft and a softer, more malleable, end. Together, they create the overall shape of the nose. The shaft has fewer value contrasts than the

Drawing Portrait Stage

The nose is successfully portrayed in this portrait with just a few delicate lines to suggest its complex shape.

drawing by student anne ballantyne bridge and nostrils, so it's a less noticeable shape. Find the bump on your nose just below the bridge. Follow that shape until it narrows and transitions into the wider end of the nose. This basic structure appears thicker or thinner with each nose, just as the slope along the sides of the nose differs from one face to the next. Some faces have flatter noses with only subtle indications of this bony area, while it is angular and prominent in others.

The nose tip is rather like the end of a diving board, and springy as well. Pay special attention to the space between the nostrils at the very base of the nose, a key defining area. Due to its shared border with nostril openings, it has the greatest value contrasts. Capture the angle of this shared contour and you go a long way toward portraying the look of a specific nose. Check the angle in context with the entire face.

The fleshy contours of the nostrils share their contours with the upper surface of the nose, but sit on a lower plane. You may think of them as rounded, but look again. Many people have almost straight contours to the nostril, sometimes almost vertical or slightly angled in. Study the fleshy part that wraps around the nostril opening. Check it out on your own nose, but remember to level your head when you draw the nose.


Practice the complex structure of a nose on scrap paper first to reinforce your understanding of it before drawing the nose on your portrait. Then, working on the triangle you drew earlier: 1 Start at the bridge of the nose. Sketch in the changing movement of the shaft of the nose as it descends to the end, avoiding dark outlines. The side of the nose is a subtle area, best developed with values later.

Use light, directional lines to simplify shapes. Leave space between nostrils, and note that nostril coverings wrap around the openings.

2 Draw the fleshy end of the nose. This area often has a unique shape that can be defined by sketching its shared contours lightly. Document common borders with the adjoining fleshy nostrils and their inner angles.

3 Look for the middle dividing mark curving down from the end to the base of the nose. If the tip of the nose dips down over the blocked-in nose mark, the base of the nose won't be visible. The underside of the end of the nose will be defined by the values.

4 Sketch in nostrils with small, angular strokes, rather than making the classic "ball-bearing" symbols. Simplify the nostril covering contour with small directional lines, then check out angles within the whole face context. Avoid lining the upper curve of the nostrils with the base between them in one flowing line.


Be sure not to draw a nose that looks at its end like (from top):

• The canary-beak nose

• The synchronized-swimmer's pinched nose

• The frilly-apron nose


Next, block in the mouth. The midline of the lips has an undulating movement that is more pronounced in some faces than others. The center of the upper lip may protrude slightly, producing a small overhang that fits into the center of the lower lip. I find lip contours comparable to a mountain-range elevation map. Does your mouth have high peaks and low valleys, gently rolling hills, or a fairly level surface?

Pay attention to the angle changes of the dark midline and upper-lip contour, which help greatly in capturing specific likeness to the model.

Top And Bottom Teeth Midline Asymmetry
As each carefully observed featured is developed on the oval structure, a unique individual begins to emerge. Values and face shape specific to the subject are then added to create further likeness, drawing by student amy miller ~ ~

Both sides of the mouth generally line up on a vertical with the pupils, when eyes stare straight ahead. However, sides of the mouth don't always line up precisely, so don't stretch the lips to do so. A smaller mouth or a wider nose will mean the reference shifts slightly. Also notice that the lower lip is often more defined by the shadow just under it, than by a strong contour line leading to the corners of the mouth.


Be careful not to draw:

• The lip outline as dark as the midline

• Rigid, unbroken, dark lines


Be careful not to draw:

• The lip outline as dark as the midline

• Rigid, unbroken, dark lines


Avoid tangling with teeth as a beginner. Take a clue from the general absence of toothy smiles in the history of art, and keep your model's mouth shut. If you are determined to put the teeth in, remember the viewer sees only a few defined teeth at a time from one point of view. Treat them as an overall shape with minimized individual definition. Also note that when your mouth is closed, if your teeth are parted, dropping your lower jaw, your chin will lengthen, changing the original blocking-in proportion of the mouth to the rest of the face.

"Something clicked inside my mind and I was able to see things differently.

Instead of looking at what I was drawing as a whole thing, I looked at its parts. "

-student tragey m. robinson

Face Frontal Shadow

above: Use long, directional lines to define face shape. Pay attention to line angle relative to features as you work. Block in overall hair shape, not individual hairs.

EXERCISE: SHAPING THE FACE Now that you have defined individual features, shaping the face is the next way to bring forth a likeness. Make a general observation of your face shape before you begin. Is your face squarish, rectangular, heart-shaped? Is it wider at the jaw than at the forehead, or just the opposite? Some people have a narrow, chiseled face. Others, a full one. The variety is endless, unique to each person.

1 Use long, angular loose strokes, holding your pencil farther away from the point than you did before.

2 Adjust the contour of the face relative to the features. Keep looking at your face to modify and verify your choices. Use a kind of artistic liposuction to remove unwanted or unecessary roundness as you reshape the original oval.

3 Adjust the sides of the face, which come closest to the features just above the brow line at the temples; below the cheekbones on a horizontal line with the bottom of the nose; and at the chin line on a diagonal down from the lower lip.

4 Now sketch in the shape of the ears, which extends from eyebrow level to the middle of the upper lip. (You'll define ears with values a little later, very lightly, to avoid drawing attention away from other features.)

5 Block in hair as a shape, like an interesting hat, and relate it to the developed face shape, rather than to the original oval. Use long, loose, angular strokes to suggest the hair's overall contour.

6 Further define the shape of the forehead. Record it as a puzzle shape that shares borders with the hairline and brows.

above: Use long, directional lines to define face shape. Pay attention to line angle relative to features as you work. Block in overall hair shape, not individual hairs.

left: From left, is your face wider at the cheekbones, wider at the jaws, or rectangular in shape?

How Draw Jaws

After developing features with light pencil strokes, this beginner has added more dimension and definition to his drawing with selective darker values and crisper edges, drawing by student nancy opgaard

With the addition of values in the eye, a sense of life and vitality begins to emerge in this portrait, drawing by student pamela shilling


Now that features and face shape are defined on your original oval, begin to develop their dimensionality further by adding values. If you've retained a light, flexible line until now, you can build successfully on that. Use your 2B pencil until it's time to focus on skin values.

1 To turn a blank stare of the eyes into an expression with vitality, treat the varying value pieces of the iris as though they were part of an abstract puzzle. Within each iris there are light changes. Small, mosaiclike highlights are visible. Record these white shapes lightly, neatly merging their outlines with the surrounding iris value, which darkens as it nears the upper lids.

2 Avoid making the pupils an overly crisp, dark value, or you may create a Dracula-like stare. The pupil merges with the value in extremely dark eyes.

3 Treat the recessed eye orbit as a feature by drawing a shadow on either side of the nose and under the inside corner of each eye. These values lend depth to the face and keep the eye at an accurate distance from the nose. Sometimes artists think these shadows and so-called "bags" under the eyes add unflattering aging to a face, so they omit them. But even children's faces have some degree of both. The fullness under the eye corresponds to the lower half of the eyeball; the shadow, to the recessed orbit. The entire eye orbit from brow to under eye shadow can be filled in with a light shadow value.

4 We know lashes and brows are composed of individual hairs, but we see them as value shapes, with only some individual hairs visible. Fill in the value to the shape, then perhaps add a few characteristic hairs.

Defining Adding Value

With features defined and face shape refined, adding values to your portrait contributes greatly to suggesting dimensionality.

Dope Inappropriate Pencil Sketches

Treat the iris carefully by adding values lightly. Fill in the local value precisely around the outline of highlight shapes. Add shadow values to the orbit area to give the face dimension.

How Draw Shadow Face

The end of the nose needs dimension to be convincing. Pay attention to value patterns, especially at the base of the nose, which will make the tip seem to push forward, as it actually does. Subtle shadow values along the shaft add dimension.

The darkest line of the mouth is the midline, not the outside contour. Value patterns there give fullness to the mouth. Shadow values under the lower lip and at the corners of the mouth add dimension.

Value Shapes

5 Squint to find the value shapes along the sides of the nose. Accent values lightly on the side farthest from the light source. Place values under the tip, down and across the base to recess this area, making the tip of the nose seem to advance toward the viewer.

"The main thing I had to get over was trying to make myself look like what I want to look like instead of drawing exactly what I saw. I got past that by looking at the forms. My nose is just a shape, the way the handle of a cup is a shape."

-student susan parsons

6 Fill in the overall value of the mouth before adding shadow values. The lower lip is usually fuller and lighter in value than the upper lip, because it catches more light. Give the midline of the mouth its darkest value, regardless of lipstick. Make that midline more like a long, slender value shape than a narrow line for a more expressive result. Notice how the sides of the mouth press into the flesh of the cheeks. Indicate this important area with two soft value shapes.

7 For light skin tones, switch to a 2H pencil, which shows less contrast to white paper, so it's easier to avoid the five-o'clock-shadow look where it isn't warranted. Then squint to isolate shadow shapes, and put light value in with a fine crayoning application. Light skin value doesn't need an overall value (though some beginners like the effect); white paper is accepted as local skin color.

8 For darker skin tones, use a 2B pencil. Fill in local value of darker skin tones partially, rather than completely-just enough to suggest overall skin value. To avoid flat cheeks, use soft, multidirectional strokes. Make shadow values darker than the basic skin tone. If skin values look too grainy, smooth with your finger and/or subdue with a 2H pencil.

Heart Hands Drawing

Sketch the overall shape of the hair. Then draw in its overall value. Then add deeper and lighter values, specific movement, and some individual hairs.

9 Establish the overall local value of hair applied rapidly with long, crayoning strokes. Most beginners fill in with a gazillion hairs. If you do that, no overall hair color will emerge. Squint as you work over the first local value layer with smaller scribbles and more pressure. Darken hair at the crown near the roots, along the part line, behind the ears, and along the neck. With your pencil point, suggest straight, wavy, or curly hair with a few restrained strokes here and there, and add some loose tendrils that break the overall outline.

Sketch the overall shape of the hair. Then draw in its overall value. Then add deeper and lighter values, specific movement, and some individual hairs.

How Draw Wavy Hair With Pencil

The hair should reflect the unique value range of the individual sitter. A dark overall value, specific texture references, and creation of dimension through shadow values all contribute to the success of this likeness, drawing by student mimi weakley

Dimension Face Drawing
"I had never analyzed anyone's face with such scrutiny before. What power I held in my pencil—to create age or youth!" —student cail k. robinson

10 For blond, white, or gray hair, fill in the overall middle gray that is under the lightest values. Erase back to create the lighter values. Use an eraser stroke that mimics the movement of the hair. Then add pencil lines over those areas to mimic the hair's movement—straight, wavy, or curly.

11 Add a neck, or you'll have a disembodied face (like Oz the Great and Powerful). Find the location on your chin where the sides of your neck become visible. Keep your contour light in this area or you'll detract attention from the face. Don't run the neck to the end off the page, or the eye will run with it. A slightly asymmetrical rendering generally looks better, so follow through slightly more on one side.

12 Suggest shoulders with a sloping triangular angle that begins toward the middle of the neck. A shirt collar would begin at this slope on the neck.

Drawing Realistic Facial Expressions
A good adjustment to the neck area, raising the shoulder slope, added accuracy to this portrait, drawings by student kathy epstein

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