Nov 26, 2012

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

A head construction drawing
This time around, I thought I'd demonstrate how to draw the 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 positions without requiring us to look at a reference every time we need to draw the head.

Let's begin.

Let's 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.

The circle can be used to start a drawing of the head.
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. 

To get the cranium and jaw of the head sized right, we can use a circle and triangle to represent each. These basic shapes help us with the proportions.
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 are the proportions and positioning.

Referring to the proportions guides the ratio of the cranium to the jaw is about 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 guidelines, as real people vary size and shape)

We can draw a line to establish the center of the face and head.
Center Line

The next thing to draw is the centerline 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 direction we want our head to point.
We can draw a line a the halfway point of the height of the head to establish the location for the eyes.
Eye Line

One of the most crucial and misplaced proportion guidelines is the line positioning of 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 halfway 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.

The base of the nose, brow, and hairline are spaced at about one third of the face.
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 hairline, 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 on 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 details.

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

The mouth sits a little over one third of the way down of the distance from the base of the nose to the chine.
The Mouth

The next thing we need to do is position the mouth. To do this we look at the proportional guides again and see the mouth is on 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 halfway 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 halfway mark.

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

To help shape the head, we can draw an ellipse to set up the temple and the side of the head.
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 used 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.
The wedge drawn here shows us one way we can shape the forehead and the brow.

This approach is rare to see and I learned this from the Michael Hampton book. Most how-to instructions have us carve out the eye sockets from 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 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 viewer to see that the eyes are set in the head (brow extends over the eyes) and not resting on the surface.
The keystone shape is used as a centering shape to set up the smaller shapes of the brow.

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 eyebrows so try it out. 

We can draw a box or pyramid form to establish the size and basic shape of the nose.

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 too 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. 

A good way to shape the face is to draw a line to separate the planes of the front of the face and the side of the face.
Cheekbones and Chin Shape

Next, we draw the cheekbones 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.

The jawline starts at the halfway point of the ellipse representing the side of the head.
Jaw Line

Next, we draw the jawline. 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 jawline from this to the chin.

Jaw shapes can vary but they 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 are accurate first.

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

We can then shape the eyes, setting up the basic shapes.
Adjust centerline

Sometimes 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 guideline, helping us direct the face. We are now at a stage where more accuracy is required.
Draw the mouth using the proportion guideline we drew earlier to place it.
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 artists use where the pupils of the eyes would go as a general guide to establish the width.

Place the ear at the halfway point of the ellipse on the side of the head.
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 favorite is to place the ear canal just below the eye line and draw the shape of the ear to fit that location. 
The finished simplified head drawing using the constructive technique.
A Neck

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

This example has some shading to show how the light might affect the look of this head.
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: