Nov 26, 2012

Drawing Basics: Drawing the head, a step by step of the constructive method

head construction drawing
This time around I thought I'd demonstrate how to draw a head by building up to the features from basic shapes and forms in a step by step approach. 

The method I demonstrate  below is a combination of techniques I have learned over the years. These are fairly universal techniques that can be found in many resources and are taught at most schools that offer foundational art instruction.

Here, I want to show how to construct the head as we draw rather than just mimicking the features that we see. This will give us a better understanding of the forms of the head and face and allow us to make up the head in different postions without requiring us to look at a reference every time we need to draw the head.

Let's begin.

Lets start with the proportions. This is a critical part of drawing the face and head. If the proportions or sizes are wrong the shapes of the features will be drawn wrong.

A Circle

There are many ways to start constructing the head but one of the easiest is to start with a circle. The circle drawn to the right represents the cranium of the skull. It sets up the size we plan to draw the head in our drawing.

We don't have to worry about any of the details of the actual shape of the skull or head right now. We will get to that later. 

Head size

Since we have the size of the cranium worked out, the next thing we need to do is draw some sort of shape to indicate the total height of the head.

I learned in school to use a simple wedge or triangle shape to locate the position of the chin and the size of the head.

Again, we are not worried about the actual shape of the jaw at this point. What we are concerned about is the proportions and positioning.

Referring to the proportions guides the ratio of the cranium to the jaw is about a two thirds to one third. That is to say, the cranium takes up two thirds of the head height and the jaw is about one third of the head height. (remember these are just rough guide lines, as real people vary size and shape)

Center Line

The next thing to draw is the center line of the face. This is the line that we will use to place the nose, eyes and mouth. We can draw a straight line down the head where we want the face to be directed. 

We may need to adjust the specifics of this line later, for now we are just deciding on the direct we want our head to point.
Eye Line

One of the most crucial and misplaced proportion guideline is the line positioning the eyes. If we look at the proportion guides we can see that the eye rest at the center of the head (not the center of the circle or cranium)

Find the distance that is half way between the top of the head and the bottom and draw a line to indicate where the eyes will be positioned.

Again, we are not drawing the eyes yet , we are just working out the proportions.

Brow Line and Base of Nose

There are several different approaches to handle this next step. I will demonstrate my favorite way to do this which is coincidentally how I learned it in school.

What we are going to do is divide the face into thirds. The top of the top third will indicate the hair line, the top of the middle third will be the brow line, the top of the bottom third will indicate the base of the nose.

Here is where it can be a little tricky. Hairlines vary from person to person. Some people have smaller foreheads than others. Here, I just decide a good placement based on how large the face should be compared to the head. The actual hairline may be moved when I work out the spe.

If you don't like this approach there is other ways to establish proportion based on finding the keystone of the nose but this is my favorite approach.

The Mouth

The next thing we need to do is postion the mouth. To do this we look at the proportional guides again and see the the mouth is on the the upper third between the base of the nose and the bottom of the chin.

One common mistake is to put the mouth at the half way point between the bottom of the chin and the base of the nose. This is a mistake. There is variation between people as some have longer distances between the base of the nose and chin but rarely does the center of the lips line up on the half way mark.

Now that we have the proportions roughly hammered out we can start with the shaping.

Side of head

The head is not perfectly round. In fact, it is fairly flat on the sides. Most artists illustrate this as an ellipse drawn on the side of the cranium in most views. 

This ellipse is to illustrate the temporal side of the cranium. If we were to look at the head directly from the front the ellipse would disappear and be a flat surface.

This approach is rare to see and I learned this from the Michael hampton book. Most how to instructors have us carve out the eye sockets form the circle. This is how I learned it in school, but here we can see that I have added a wedge form to the head to create the brow and forehead. 

I like this approach much better because the cranium is a not a circle. The head is deeper than it is wider, meaning from a profile view it is oblong. Adding the wedge solves this problem with little need for any further adjustment.

Adding this wedge shape also allows the view to see that the eyes are set in the head (brow extends over the eyes) and not resting on the surface.

This really is an optional element. Some resources mention it others do not. I like it because drawing in this element sets up where the top of the nose begins.

The keystone really just the transition between the bridge of the nose and the brow. It is called the keystone because it ties everything around it together, like the keystone in a masonry arch.

To be honest, sometimes I include this at this stage and sometimes I do not. It is a useful guide for establishing the top of the bridge of the nose and the eye brows so try it out. 


I learned to draw the face from the center out so I often start with the nose.

At this stage we build a basic structure of the nose, working out the planes or surfaces of the nose without worrying about the detail.

The reason for this is to establish the size and surface structure without worrying about the details. 

If we draw the details to soon we focus on the wrong thing. If the features aren't positioned  sized right, or if we don't understand the directional plane of each surface then the details will be wrong. (think raisin nostrils)

Cheek bones and Chin Shape

Next we draw the check bones and the shape of the chin. This defines the front surface of the face.

At the same time We can draw lines indicating the bottom of the eye sockets. This will help with the shading later on.

Jaw Line

Next we draw the jaw line. To do this we draw a line to represent the location of the ear in the side plane of the cranium (the ellipse). We then draw the jaw line from this to the chin.

Jaw shapes can vary in but the always start in front of the ear.

Eye shape

Now we can draw in the eyes. Start by drawing simple shapes for the eyes. Don't worry about the details just yet. We want to make sure the general size and shape is accurate first.

If we work on the details to soon and the general size and shape is wrong then we have a lot of work to do to correct it. Remember the details should be last.

Adjust centerline

Sometime we need to adjust the centerline before we draw the mouth.

To do this we want to follow the contour of the forms as we redraw the centerline. This line should divide the forehead and the nose as it moves down the face.

The reason we may need to adjust this line is the first centerline is just a general guide line, helping us direct the face. We are now a a stage were more accuracy is required.
The Mouth

Now we can draw the mouth. Start by place the line where the lips meet on our line we drew to position the mouth back when we were working out the proportions of the face.

Next decide the width of the mouth and size of the lips and draw them in simply. Often artist use were the pupils of the eyes would go as a general guide to establish the width.

The Ear

Finally we draw the ear. Again just a simple form to work out size and placement.

There are different methods for placing the ear/ My favorit is to place the ear canal just below the eye line and draw the shape of the ear to fit that location. 
A Neck

Here I draw the neck just to give the head some sense of completion, Flouting heads feel unfinished and bother me.

Lighting to see results

I did this last image to demonstrate how this technique pays off.  Understanding the head and features as form makes it much easier to work out the shading based on the direction of light we  choose.


Practice this technique drawing the head from different views. Once you can draw this simplified head well you are ready to work on the details of the features.

Here is a video to help out:

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