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Drawing Faces Part 1

I asked my people on Facebook what kind of lessons they would like to see on this blog and the general consensus was for me to address how to draw faces. This is going to take several posts, cause it is a HUGE topic. So here we go….

When thinking about how to draw the face and head, you need to remember that there is a skull underneath. I say this because the bones of the skull give structure to the face, even it’s softest bits. Only the hands and feet show as much bone structure as the face does, which, I think, is why they are all so difficult to draw.


When you’re thinking about the face, you can think about what is known as the five shadows. If you were to take the human face and narrow the features down to five shadows, it would still be recognizable as human.

Five Shadows2AMatronAndSomeOfHerChargesOnTheRoofAtEllisIsland-500


The one on the left is a very simplistic image, but it gets the point across. If there is an overhead light source, the shadows formed by the eyebrows, nose, upper lip and lower lip create the impression of a face. Have a look at the old photo on the right from Ellis Island. There are deep shadows on the faces of the women and children in them and almost no detail in the individual features, but they are still recognizable as faces. The shapes and configuration of these shadows even show the differences in each person’s features in the photo.

Starting with these shadows, we can begin to slowly refine these features to create the final face.

Eye Placement

You’ll notice that in the images above, the eyes appear at about the middle of the face (from top to bottom). A common mistake is to place the eyes too high in the head because there’s this tendency to forget that the top of the head doesn’t happen at the hairline, but significantly higher.

The freakish image on the left shows how big the eyeballs are in the eye orbits. Eyeballs are huge! The image on the right shows what happens if we put in eyelids and eyebrows. The lids form an almond-ish shape which I will speak on more in a later post. The eyebrows sit above the orbits. There is more to that as well.

Nose Placementimages


The nose gets placed partly in the third shadow and partly above it. The reason is that the nose sticks out from the face, so the shadow is partly the areas of the nose the light doesn’t hit and the area under the nose where it is casting a shadow below.

The fourth shadow is cast by the upper lip. If you feel your own face, you will notice that your upper lip faces downward, while your lower lip faces upward. This is why there is a space between the last two shadows. The lower lip catches the light and is defined more as its own shape. It also casts the fifth shadow just above the chin.

Ear Placement Ear Placement Lines

You’ll notice that the above faces have ears. They are at about the middle of the head and are the size of the area between the eyes and nose. Now, the ears and nose keep growing into old age, so this is something to keep in mind drawing older folks.

Adding Hair

This drawing shows what the face looks like when you add hair. There’s not much left of the shadows, as I have substituted them, mostly, for the more defined features of the face, but you can still see where they were. With only lines, this face is more cartoony and is something you would draw for a comic book or animation. I think I was sleepy when I drew this guy, cause he looks like he’s ready for bed. I know I am :).

Full Render

This face here is more defined. It has more shading to and sculpting of the features. There’s bone underneath, but there’s skin and muscle on top so the shading is smoother and more subtle. This is a very generic face that I drew with no reference. I chose to do it this way to get across how quickly you can create an image that is recognizable as a face. In the next posts, I will delve into the shapes and shading of each feature and show you how to capture the specifics of your subject.

See you next time.