The human face is a very intriguing and inspiring subject. It is also one of the most challenging and scariest things to draw because it is so easy to produce a “bad” picture.
When it comes to illustrating human facial features, beginning artists simply think that their work may not be good enough or fail to look “real” or authentic. This is especially true when it comes to portraiture, an approach that requires accuracy, technique, and skill in order to produce a realistic image.
As a beginning artist, what you may not know is that drawing the human face can be a fantastic opportunity to explore different techniques and improve your drawing skills. Learn how to draw faces using some simple tips from this post, and you can begin to build the right skills in order to approach this art form with confidence!
Drawing a Face… Any Face
There are two ways you can draw human faces: draw a “generic” image or create a likeness.
A generic image is quite simply something you imagine, something that you come up with and sketch onto paper. A likeness, on the other hand, is a drawing that resembles a real person.
A portrait is a likeness, which means it will require a slightly different technique in order to create an image that is realistic and close to the source image, such as a reference photograph or a live model.
Regardless, there are certain issues that must be understood in order to create an image that is believable and artistic.
Eyes, for example, may appear too high on the forehead or too far apart, or the lips may appear too high above the chin. Proportion refers to how one part of the face appears in relation to the other parts, such as the nose, mouth and ears.
With good proportion, a multi-featured object such as a face will appear more aesthetically pleasing. But how do you achieve proportion?
One simple way is to measure. When first trying to draw the features that make up a face, use a ruler or tape measure and take measurements, such as the distance of one edge of the eye to the other edge, the length of the nose, the distance between the eyebrows, the distance of the chin from the edge of the lower lip, the width of the nostrils, etc.
By taking measurements, you will be able to see the relationship between features of the face and learn how to put them together on a blank space so that they make sense. In time, you will have proportion down to a science, making it easier for you to make adjustments in order to create a more pleasing image.
Another way to achieve proportion is to follow some commonly accepted guidelines for the placement of facial features. Check some out in the image below. The more measurements you make and the more studying of faces you do, the more you will realize these guidelines for yourself.
A tip: From time to time, hold up the image you are working on in front of a mirror to see if the lines and proportion are just right. Alternatively, you may view the same image in reverse by holding up the paper against a light source and viewing your drawing from the back. Features of the face should appear even and well-proportioned. If anything appears lopsided, make the necessary corrections.
Note: Proportion is relative. What works for one face may not work for another. The above guidelines are broad and general. If you are doing portraiture, remember that each face is different. Some people, for example, have higher foreheads than others. They may have close-set eyes, narrower nostrils, thinner lips, smaller chins, etc. If your goal is to capture an accurate likeness of a particular person, you may want to try an even more reliable technique. What matters, though, is that you understand basic proportions of each face and use them to build your image.
How to Draw Faces Using Profiles
First, let us learn of the three major ways that a face is drawn: the Straight On View (face is forward), the Profile View (face is turned to the side) and the Three Quarters View (face is turned slightly or halfway to the side).
Of these, the Profile is usually the easiest to draw because only one side of the subject’s face is shown. The Three Quarters requires a view of about 75% of the face and shows both eyes, the nose and most of the mouth. The Straight On is the face in full view.
Here is where things can get a little tricky again. Each view has its own set of challenges. For example, the Straight On View calls for an appearance of symmetry, and if you don’t deliver this symmetry, it is usually easy to spot. You don’t have to worry about symmetry for the Three Quarters View, but drawing, for example, one eye smaller and a different shape and angle than the other can be tricky and problematic for many beginners trying to get it just right.
One suggestion I can give you that has been very helpful for me is to look at how the facial features align with other reference points around it. You can use an imaginary line for this or even a ruler.
Let’s say you wanted to draw a portrait using the reference photo below. Not only is it a Three Quarter View, but the subject’s head is tilted down for an extra element of challenge!
Immediately, you should look at how different parts of the face are positioned in relation to other parts of the photograph. The white lines represent examples where you can use a ruler or even “eyeball it” and trace the path with your finger.
Notice how the man’s right eye at the far corner lines up with the middle of his hairline at this angle? You can also see that the lower left edge of his nose is directly below his left pupil. Also, the top of the right eye is in perfect alignment with the bottom of the left eye and the attached lobe of the left ear.
Simply keep looking for positional relationships like this, and you can draw a face angled in any view, any position!
Although this technique has worked well for me over the years, it can be a little time-consuming to discover all of these interesting alignments. Also, if you get lazy and don’t line up some features properly because you are rushing (like I have done in the past!), your results might not be what you had hoped for.
There is a much faster method of drawing a face in any position, and it removes the likelihood of you not placing your facial features properly. You can read more about it here.
Next, let’s look at some basics for drawing facial features. You can begin by learning how to illustrate each of these in isolation, and later integrate the techniques with the proportion guidelines shared earlier to create a whole Straight On face.
How to Draw Eyes
The eyes are the soul of an otherwise lifeless illustration. With eyes, you can create different expressions and convey certain emotions.
To start, draw a horizontal line across the page using a pencil. This will be your guideline. Starting at just below this line, draw an almond-shaped line, allowing the pencil to move smoothly over the guideline to create a graceful arch. Stop when the line reaches the horizontal guideline. Complete the almond shape by drawing under the guideline.
The arch of the eye should be graceful and rise gradually from the guideline. If it is too steep, it may make the eye appear rounder and bigger.
To make the other eye, repeat the same steps, except that the second eye must be a mirror image of the first eye. The distance between two eyes must be the width of one eye.
To draw the iris, measure the height of the eyes at the highest part. This will be the diameter of the iris or the big circle. Within this circle, you may draw a smaller circle, also known as the pupil, and another small circle or two for highlights. Add the lids and the eyelashes.
How to Draw Noses
The nose may seem like a simple job but it can actually mean the difference between a well-executed drawing and a mediocre attempt. To start, consider the different parts of the nose: the bridge, the ball (the slightly rounded or pointy tip), and the nostrils (including the wings (or alars), which are the fleshy parts). You will need to integrate these parts into your drawing and make them work together.
Next, draw a vertical line the length of which you want the nose to be. On both sides of this line, draw diagonal lines that are angled away from each other so that the image forms a very steep triangle.
At the base of the triangle, draw two dark strips to represent the nostrils. Using light pencil strokes, start building the nose by drawing the ball and finishing up the alars. Create more strokes to define the nose and provide shading.
Tip: Keep in mind that noses can be any shape, width or length, so you do have some flexibility in drawing the nose that you like.
How to Draw Ears
The ears are easily the most complicated part of drawing faces because of the different folds of fleshy areas that compose each ear. Since the shape is irregular, all you really need to do is learn the basics and practice so that you are more comfortable drawing the lines next time.
To start, draw a rectangular box with the short sides on the top and bottom. Use a 1:2 ratio to make the size proportional – that is, the long sides should be twice as long as the short sides. Using the box as a guide, draw the basic shape of the ear within it. Go gently on the curves, especially the upper arch at the top of the ear. Once done, erase the rectangle so you are left with the basic shape to work on.
Add the small bump (called a tragus) on the opposite side, slightly at the lower middle area. Make a parallel outline of the ear shape (the helix) and stop just above the lower middle point. Starting at the upper area where the tragus is, draw a thick Y-shape that curves gracefully downwards, following the outline of the ear. This line should meet the lower end of the tragus. Once you are done, you have a basic ear. Begin shading areas to create depth and dimension.
Note: Ears appear different depending on the profile of the face you are drawing. A full side view or profile will show a full view of the ears, which means you may have to create better details. For reference, study photos of real ears to familiarize yourself with shape and shading.
How to Draw Lips
Men’s and women’s lips differ slightly but for the sake of learning the technique, let’s try to draw a woman’s lips. A woman’s lips usually appears thicker and fuller, with more curves.
To start, draw a short horizontal guideline. This line will mark the middle part of the lips. Using the line as a guide, draw two peaks to represent the bow curve of the upper lips. The line should rise gently from the guideline to create a more natural look.
Starting at one end of the line at the base of the peaks, draw the lower lip, finishing the drawing to make sure the lines all meet. Refine the lines and add shading or color.
Tip: Lips may appear thicker or thinner and may even be modified to illustrate a smiling portrait. Watch for proportion in relation to the base of the mouth and the chin.
But My Drawing Still Looks Nothing Like the Face I Wanted It to Look Like!
In this post, I shared just a few simple tips to help you with some of the beginning basics of drawing a face and the facial features properly. That said, there is a lot more to drawing the face than I can cover in this one post, especially if you are striving to draw a face from a reference photo and you want the likeness to match that of the photo!
If you like the suggestions in this post but still want a faster and easier way to draw faces…that is also certain to have you end up with a better drawing in the end…
…then I’d like to share with you a special guide that I wrote titled “How to Make Realistic Line Drawings of Any Face”. (You can download this guide for free when you sign up for my newsletter). It provides information on a very effective technique with thorough details and examples that will have you drawing any face from any reference photo, perfectly proportioned and having a true likeness to your subject.
You will also see how to get more detailed, realistic-looking facial features with your initial line drawing. Here is an example of a reference photo of a woman’s eyes, followed by my rendering.
A line drawing is typically the first (and most important) step before adding shading to a portrait to make it as realistic as possible. If your initial line drawing is already detailed and accurate, that makes your final portrait that much more convincing.
A line drawing can also stand alone as artwork of its own!
After drawing for 15 years, I learned this incredibly simple method that had me immediately drawing better, literally overnight! I will teach you to do the same.
Perfecting the Human Face
The human face itself is a blank canvas that can be painted on to show a wide range of features and emotions. From pain and regret to joy and bliss to annoyance and rage, faces can be manipulated on paper to appear as you want them to appear.
However, as you build your drawing skills, make sure to learn from the best teacher and the best source of inspiration, which is real life. When you are learning how to draw faces, learn to observe, to look, to see. Study people’s faces in pictures and in videos. Also study and learn from drawings of faces and drawing videos. If you have a willing model, take advantage of that as well. Observe how different parts of faces are put together and determine the relationship of each feature with the others.
Be an observer of life. Implement the simple tips on this page while you keep practicing. Seek more effective techniques when you are ready. The more you are aware of your environment, the better you will be at translating what you see on paper, and you will see that drawing faces is no longer all that tricky!