If you are the kind of person who identifies yourself as someone who cannot draw a straight line, then the idea of drawing a face may be a little daunting to you. The fact is, everybody has some basic level of drawing skill. I suspect that you are even more capable of drawing a face than you may realize.
Let’s look at an example of a face that might be drawn by someone who is considered a beginning artist or a non-artist with little drawing skill:
This drawing includes many common mistakes made by people who struggle when it comes to drawing a face. Even if this is what you consider as the extent of your drawing capabilities, this is a good thing! This can be used as a foundation for creating a more impressive face drawing. The reason that some drawings look more professional or more appealing than others is very simple – attention to detail!
The goal of this one lesson is not to take you from a beginning artist to someone who can create a breathtaking portrait drawing that looks like a photograph. That does not happen in one day (although it can happen much sooner than you think).
We are not dealing with any complicated shading or blending techniques here. The goal of this lesson is to show you how to draw a face by bringing more attention to detail to what you are already doing – your line drawings. A line drawing is a drawing made up of lines and little to no shading.
The more detail you add to a simple line drawing, the more it will gradually take on a realistic appearance. How do you know which details to add? It all begins by studying faces and different facial features with careful observations.
Details to Look for When Drawing a Face
To help trigger your powers of observation and begin to add those subtle little details to your drawings, I have come up with a list of 15 details beginning artists commonly overlook when they draw a face. Let’s see how adding these 15 simple little tweaks to the drawing example above can improve our face drawing a bit.
1. Inner Corners of the Eyes
Let’s look carefully at this image of an eye. What do you notice at the inner corner of the eye?
This pink nodule is often mistakenly called a tear duct. In actuality, the tear ducts are located just above and below it. The technical term for one of these is “lacrimal caruncle”. Regardless of what it should be called, you should always draw this little nodule at the inner corner of each eye.
2. Rim of the Eyelid
All too often, people draw the almond shape of the eye and leave it at that. Then if they remember to draw eyelashes, they draw the eyelashes from this border of the eye, leaving a very unnatural look.
Upon closer examination of an eye, you see a rim of skin around the top and bottom. This rim of skin serves as the top and bottom of the eyelids.
Be sure to draw this rim around the top and bottom of your eye. Then when you do draw the eyelashes correctly later, they will spring from the eyes more naturally.
3. Highlights in the Eyes
When you are drawing eyes, you should always be in the habit of drawing the iris and pupil of each eye. Beginning artists very often draw an iris but no pupil. The ones that do draw both tend to leave out a third element – the highlight.
A highlight usually overlaps both the iris and pupil, but it can be located anywhere on the eye depending on the light source. It is often circular but can take on other shapes as well. If I am drawing without a reference photograph, I have always found you cannot go wrong with a circular highlight along the iris-pupil border. If you are not used to doing it, this one little detail alone can make a significant difference to your line drawing.
4. Eyebrow Hairs
The eyebrow is not one solid clump of mass. Therefore, you should not draw eyebrows as a harsh border and shaded in with solid or zigzag color, like this…
Rather, the eyebrow is a collection of individual hairs that happen to be living close together, flowing together in generally the same direction.
Instead of drawing an eyebrow, draw the hairs that make up the eyebrow. Use pencil strokes the same length as the individual hairs of each eyebrow. Draw in the same direction as the hair growth. Give the border a natural appearance by making evident some loose strands that are independent of each other.
5. Eyelash Length
Eyelashes are not perfectly straight, they are not equally spaced from each other, and they are not all the same length like in our example…
Eyelashes curve and taper from the rim of the eyelid (remember that rim we drew earlier?). Some are intertwined and other grow away from each other. More importantly, some are long and some are short.
Carefully study your subject to get the length of the eyelashes just right. If you are not drawing from a single reference photograph, look at several examples of eyelashes in photos of different people. I like to use the eyelids as a reference for how long I should draw the eyelashes. For example, do the top eyelashes extend beyond the top of the eyelid? In the example above, many of them do. Let’s try to fix our drawing to create a similar appearance.
6. Top of the Bridge of the Nose
The way the top of the nose protrudes from the face varies from person to person. Sometimes it is very subtle, other times not so much. You do not have to be drawing a profile picture to see this. You can even get a sense of this with a direct frontal view of someone. Just look at these two examples. Even the depth of the eye sockets gives a sense of protrusion.
When many novice artists draw faces, so much attention is given to the bottom of the nose, leaving the top of the nose neglected. Keep this top region of the nose in mind when you draw faces. Think about how the bridge of your subject’s nose connects to the bottom of the forehead. Indicate if there is an obvious crease or slope. Consider how the eye sockets curve into the bridge.
7. Wings of the Nose
As mentioned previously, more attention is often given to the bottom area of the nose. That being said, it still remains a major point of frustration for a lot of beginners. Drawing the nostrils can be especially bothersome if you are drawing two dark circles and wondering why the nose does not look right…
The nostrils are not just two holes poked into a single lump of flesh. The nose has several components that work together to form the nostrils. The major players in the creation of the nostrils are the “wings” of cartilage that curve from the tip and form those openings that we so lovingly call nostrils.
Think about how these wings are to be shaped. Draw each wing so that it looks folded and leaves an opening. This opening will be a more natural-looking nostril for your line drawing.
8. Dip on the Top Lip
If you look along the top border of a top lip, you will likely notice a dip directly under the nose. It kind of makes the border of the top lip look like an elongated letter “M”, grabbed at both legs and stretched out wide.
Between this “M” and the nose, you should also notice a slight depression in the skin. Be sure to reflect both of these traits in your drawing as best as you can.
9. Line around the Lip
Depending on your subject, sometimes there is a little pale trim or ring that hugs the border of the upper lip. You might see it around the lower lip as well.
Again depending on the subject, it may or may not be that noticeable. I have noticed it enough times that I find myself looking for it in new reference photographs as I draw new faces. If you notice it and add it to your drawing, that will be one additional piece of detail that could potentially enhance your drawing.
10. Corners of the Mouth
Whether it be a smile, smirk, or frown, those facial muscles at the corners of the mouth play an important part in expressing your subject’s mood. The little lines that form these muscles can also be very unique from person to person.
Try to imitate the lines you see at the corners of the mouth as closely as possible. Draw dimples if you see them. Include any smile lines that originate from the nose too. This can really help develop the likeness and recognizability of the person you are drawing.
11. Grooves in the Lips
Look closely enough at a pair of lips, and you will see vertical little grooves that line both the top and bottom. Some stand out more than others, but they are usually apparent on some level on all lips.
Although these little grooves are not very obvious at a distance, it does not hurt to add a few. Of course if you are drawing a close-up image, a few more might be appropriate. Even then, you still should not feel the need to overdo it with these.
Drawing ears can easily be a trouble spot for many people, but they don’t have to be with a couple of well thought out lines. If you are drawing the frontal view of a face, you may barely be able to see the ear anyway. Nevertheless, you will still likely see the helix, which is the outer band of cartilage that establishes the shape of the ear.
Make sure the shape of the ear looks right by first making sure the ear is long enough. It should be roughly the length of the nose. Then draw the rim just inside the border of the ear and parallel to it. Notice how it tapers off toward the bottom.
The antihelix is the curve of cartilage adjacent to the helix.
Whenever you draw the helix, half the work of the antihelix is done (sometimes). If you are drawing a profile shot with a more direct view of the ear, you would have to more carefully study and draw the curves and shapes characteristic of your subject’s ear. If it is a frontal view drawing like in our example, you might have to indicate it with a slight overlap of the helix line, as seen in the above photograph on the right.
14. Overlapping Hair
Just like you should draw a collection of hairs that make the eyebrows, you should draw a collection of hairs to draw the hair on the head. Obviously these hairs are much longer than eyebrow hairs, so there might be a lot more overlap.
Look for sections of hair that overlap other sections. Draw strands that represent a natural, loose flow. Don’t feel the need to draw each individual strand or the entire length of a strand. You can draw them at their source on the scalp, at their destination, and at a length or two along the way, especially where they might be overlapping other hairs.
15. Loose Strands on the Outer Edges
Look for strands of hair that separate themselves from the overall mass. These strands are commonly visible along the outside edges.
You might notice an abundance of these loose strands or not many at all, depending on the hairstyle. Again, there is no need to draw every strand that you see. Drawing just a few of these runaway hairs can add that final touch of authenticity to a line drawing.
How to Make These Tips a Habit
So after beginning with a basic drawing and applying these 15 details, here is the before and after result:
You should be able to check for and add these 15 things in your drawing no matter how much of a beginner you are. I hope you find these tips helpful in improving your drawing, even if it’s a little.
Understandably, it could be difficult getting used to remembering and drawing all of these little detail tips every time you draw a face. This is especially true if you have a habit of drawing a certain way and have been doing so for a long time.
So how do you make a new habit? You have to be consistent at repeating the desired task over and over until it becomes routine.
To help you remember how to draw a face with these face-drawing details so they are no longer overlooked, I want you to have a copy of my “Face-Drawing Checklist”. Not only does it have all 15 tips I covered in this post, but there are 7 additional detail tips to look for that I did not cover here – 22 in all. You can download it in the box at the end of this post.
My recommendation is to establish a disciplined routine of drawing at least one face per day. Keep the checklist close by as you draw each face. You should see progress in the quality of your face drawings over the course of a week. You will undoubtedly begin to notice even more little facial feature details that you did not notice before. Steadily over time, the more of these little details you add to your drawings, the better they will become!