Drawing Faces To Look Realistic:
Doing it The Professional Way

Drawing faces can be a wonderful experience both for you and your sitter. You know you have done well if your sitter exclaims "Wow, that is so good!" This is a great validation for you.

Like most things, drawing a face is easy when you know how. Getting to the "how" can be frustrating and sometimes daunting when you can't seem to get it right and you feel down a little.

Just follow along with me here with this first tutorial on drawing faces which I will make as easy as I know how... and if there are any questions or something you do not understand, do please contact me here, I'd be glad to help. As a sidebar, none of my tutorials are charged for including help online with questions.

Here We Go
Looking at a face directly in front of you, notice it is quite balanced (the left and right side) so draw a line straight down the middle of the oval (see image below.) One side is a mirror-image of its opposite. Some heads are oval, others quite round while others squarish, so check to see which shape it is.

Some basic notes here:

  • A baby's head is practically round
  • A man's head can sometimes be almost shaped like a box.
  • Drawing Faces or head shapes can be divided into three parts
  • Notice in the drawing here that the eyes are more of less halfway between the top of the head and bottom of the chin.
  • Whether an adult head or an infant's, the bottom of the nose should be halfway between the eyes and the chin.
  • The mouth should be about halfway between the nose and the chin. This can vary a lot but use your keen observation skills to get it right. Initially you can try a 2-thirds up from the base of the chin.
  • Half close your eyes when looking at your model (or photo if you don't have a model to start off with) and notice the eye sockets which will be mainly in shadow if you have an overhead light. Also note a shadow beneath the nose and chin.
  • If you get these rough proportions correct you will have a drawing which faintly resembles your sitter.
  • To make it easier for you, I suggest you sit your model directly under an overhead light. This will then emphasize the eye sockets (see drawing) and the shadows under the nose and chin.
  • Do please stand back a little from your model and half close your eyes or squint to eliminate all detail. You need to see these basic shadows and roughly fill them in with charcoal or a soft pencil.
  • Now you should see these "masses" which should be about three or four "values" or "tones" - a light medium and dark should be enough. Once you get this right, you'll have a solid foundation for a reasonable likeness of your model.
  • An ideal exercise to jump start your quest for an accurate likeness is to draw a cube in 3D and "fit" a head inside it. You will then start to visualize faces in 3D and the shadows that create these effects. See drawing below on right.
  • At this stage of your drawing, do not attempt to put in any detail; stand back from your drawing to see if there are any inaccuracies, do this constantly as the pros always do. Get the bone structure in first and if you can see a "shadowy" likeness then try a few details.
  • Start off with a full frontal face first.
  • Make sure your model is on the same eye level as you otherwise you will encounter foreshortening and perspective problems
  • We'll do a slightly more advanced tutorial once your mastered these drawing faces basics.

We'll be chatting about how to draw eyes, how to draw mouths, ears, noses, hair—and how to fit them all together to make a perfect portrait. So subscribe to the RSS Feed or the free monthly newsletter to keep in touch with new tutorials as they arrive.

Scroll down for the portrait drawing gallery

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