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Mastering the Basics of Drawing Faces: Understanding Head Structure

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To draw a portrait, we are often tempted to start by learning how to draw an eye, a mouth, or details that, at first glance, seem unimportant.

 

We begin by focusing on the details, without even knowing where to place them on the head (or even how to draw the head itself).

 

In the end, we don’t really know how to learn to draw portraits in a simple and effective way. And despite all the step-by-step tutorials we follow, we don’t progress as much as we would like.

 

The good news is that we are going to fix this right now by focusing on the foundation: the structure of the head. 🚀

Discover our free guide to start drawing easily. You will learn practical methods and exercises to put into practice right away.

1 - The Learning Process to Draw a Portrait

To master the art of drawing a portrait, it’s not enough to learn how to draw each detail. Knowing how to draw an eye, a nose, and a mouth individually won’t create a stunning portrait.

 

What truly helps us is understanding the fundamentals and seeing the portrait as a whole, rather than getting caught up in individual details.

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We will always begin by drawing the structure of the head. The challenge here is to avoid getting fixated on the details and individual facial features. Instead, we want to learn how to draw the overall shape.

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Once we learn to draw the structure, we can then add the facial features. Before attempting to draw portraits, it’s essential to practice using references.

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Once we become comfortable with references and observational drawing, we can more easily develop our own style. The learning process is straightforward: we learn the basics, practice with references, and explore!

Imagine you want to learn to play a musical instrument. You would start by learning the notes, basic chords, and all the fundamentals.

 

Then, you would learn to play existing songs to understand rhythm, technique, and more.

 

Only after mastering all the rules would you be able to play with creativity and compose your own music. The same process applies to drawing.

2 - Starting with the Head Structure

Drawing a face begins with understanding how to draw the head. The face doesn’t float on a flat surface; it sits on a real bony structure.

 

Our goal is to grasp the volumes that make up the skull to create a credible 3D foundation.

 

By constructing the head with simple volumes, you’ll be able to draw your portrait from any angle.

The idea is to assemble simple volumes together to reconstruct a more complex form. In the end, we are like sculptors, adding our volumes step by step, thinking in blocks.

🔸 Step 1 : The skull

The sphere is the most suitable shape to represent the cranial mass. It is simple to draw and allows you to envision the volume in 3D.

Simply start by drawing a circle.

If you are struggling to draw a perfect circle, your lines are shaky, or you don’t feel confident enough, take a look here: “Improving and Mastering Your Strokes”

To give a sense of perspective to our drawing, we will define the orientation of our sphere.

Draw a horizontal line that goes around your shape, and then a vertical line that cuts your sphere in half.

This way, the cross that forms in the middle of the sphere gives us an indication of the orientation of the character’s head. We can better understand which way the character will be looking.

🔸 Step 2 : The temples

The human skull is not entirely spherical; instead, it has several planes. The temples are located right where this change of plane occurs: transitioning from a frontal plane to a side plane.

 

To ensure that our structure serves as a consistent foundation for all types of faces, we will cut our sphere at the level of the temples to mark this change of plane.

Draw an oval to represent the temples and the side of the head. The size of the oval should be approximately 2/3 of the large circle.

🔸 Step 3 : The jaw

To complete the structure of the head, all that’s left is the jaw. Thanks to the previous steps, we can now draw it more easily.

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Thanks to the previously drawn oval, we can identify the positioning of the different facial elements.

  • By extending the top line of the oval, we get a reference for the hairline.
  • The middle line corresponds to the eyebrows.
  • The last line of the oval gives us the base of the nose.
  • By applying the same distance, we can identify the location of the chin.

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By extending the vertical line of the oval downwards, we obtain the jawline. All that’s left is to connect the two lines at the chin.

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Then, we draw a curve from the center of the oval to the chin.

 

⚠️ Don’t forget to draw the vertical line to define the center of the head. It will always help you better position the facial elements in perspective.

To summarize the process:

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Start by drawing a sphere, then define the angle of the head.

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Cut the sides of the sphere at the temple level by drawing an oval. This will be the side of the head.

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Draw the jaw using the method of thirds. Your structure is ready!

3 - Drawing the Head from Imagination and in Any Angle

Now that we have a better understanding of how to draw the head, we can practice drawing it from various angles.

 

The first step is to decide whether we are seeing the head from above or below. To better understand this, we will use a simple shape: the cube.

Next, we need to determine whether we are looking at the head from the left side or the right side. By practicing drawing the head from all angles, it will become much easier to draw portraits from imagination.

4 - Facial Proportions and Features​

Now that we have covered the structure of the head, let’s learn how to position the facial features in a drawing.

We have already seen how to position the hair, eyebrows, bottom of the nose, and chin.

 

Thanks to this method, we can now position any facial feature using simple guidelines.

🔸 Step 1 : The ears

Start by positioning the ears. They are located in the lower back corner of the oval.

With our guidelines already in place, it becomes super easy to position our various facial features!

🔸 Step 2 : The eyes

The eyes are actually deeply set into the face. The eye sockets create a hollow, adding a lot of depth.

 

To draw a face with depth, we will create an inclined plane.

 

The two eye sockets are separated by the bony structure of the skull, which has the shape of a small hourglass.

🔸 Step 3 : The nose

Since we already have our reference point for where the bottom of the nose is located, we can draw it with the correct proportions.

 

Start by simplifying its shape into a cubic volume, like a box. The goal is to always start with the simplest forms before delving into the details.

🔸 Step 4 : The mouth

We will divide the last third into three equal parts (from the bottom of the nose to the chin). The first line will help us position the middle of the lips, and the second line will be the top of the chin.

 

The area of the mouth is unique; it is curved. Therefore, it is not flat but more like a sphere or a cylinder.

And there you have it! We have now seen how to construct the head and position each facial feature! By mastering these essential foundations, you can then delve into every detail as much as you desire. No more floating faces and inaccurate proportions.

💡 To delve deeper into adding details and drawing a complete portrait, check out the article on “Drawing Realistic Portraits from Photos”.

Our must-have drawing books

Each page guides you through short, at-home lessons on how to draw realistic faces. It has a lot of step-by-step guides, ideal for getting started in drawing.

This book is a great guide to drawing the human head and portrait, featuring the classic mediums and methods of the Old Masters.

From basic facial structures to finer details, the book teaches you the fundamentals of portraiture, and also allows you space to practise on the page.

To conclude

We have covered the basics of learning how to draw a face. With practice, you will be able to draw the head from all angles and position any facial feature with ease.

 

Drawing the structure of the head is truly the first step in creating a portrait. There’s no need to master drawing an eye before being able to easily draw the head.

 

Just like the foundation of a drawing, its skeleton, a solid and believable result is achieved by focusing on the basics of volume. So, remember to develop your skills in this area! ✍️

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28 comments

SharkAttack 23 September 2020 - 14h31

Wow, I didn’t know you had to cut the sphere of the head at the temples 😮 😮 😮 ! I’m going to try, boss!

Reply
Zephy 23 September 2020 - 14h37

These kinds of little details help improve drawing, it’s awesome that you discovered this technique! Practice well. ☺️

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Ulrich 1 October 2020 - 22h05

It has been of crucial importance to me. Thank you!

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Zephy 2 October 2020 - 9h53

You’re very welcome, Ulrich. I’m glad it could help you!

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Nadia 10 November 2020 - 20h32

Good evening,
Thank you for all your valuable advice. I will practice on the skull instead of the mouth or the eye. You are absolutely right. Thank you very much.

Reply
Zephy 10 November 2020 - 23h58

Good evening Nadia,
You’re welcome! The rest will come much more easily once the head is well constructed. ✨

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Clémence 1 March 2021 - 17h44

Great zephy

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Zephy 1 March 2021 - 17h45

Thank you Clémence! ☀️

Reply
Zouly zo 4 October 2021 - 22h57

Hello, your explanations are great! But your Pinterest boards are no longer accessible, do you know why? thank you

Reply
Zephy 5 October 2021 - 20h19

Hello, thank you so much for your feedback. ☺️ The Pinterest links have been updated, everything is fine now. Thanks for bringing this little issue to my attention, and happy learning to you! ✨

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_caricaturasporlacaracpc 27 November 2021 - 9h49

Muchas gracias por tu tiempo

Reply
Zephy 27 November 2021 - 11h07

You’re so welcome ☺️

Reply
Housna 13 January 2022 - 14h00

Honestly, I don’t know how to thank you. Thanks to you, I will be able to draw my characters and improve more and more. Do you have any lessons on drawing the body or other details, please? 😵
Thank you so much.

Reply
Zephy 14 January 2022 - 10h03

With great pleasure, if it can help you, then that’s perfect! ✨
I offer a course to master the basics of drawing which includes drawing the human body and everything you need to know to better understand anatomy.
In parallel, more content is coming to the blog!

Reply
Roxane 8 February 2022 - 15h55

Awesome! The drawings, the explanations, etc 🙂

Reply
Zephy 9 February 2022 - 22h00

So happy it can help!

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art diamant 7 May 2022 - 11h12

Great! Thank you for this very informative article

Reply
Zephy 7 May 2022 - 12h13

With pleasure!

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regis 11 May 2022 - 9h38

Hello,
I am a big fan of your drawings, but especially of the educational aspect that you emphasize, which is close to my heart. As a Physical Education teacher, I would like to draw inspiration from the face of the young man you illustrate in point 1 for a project. I wanted to know if you authorize me to use your sketch, which exactly matches what I am looking for.
Congratulations again for this website.
Best regards

Reply
Zephy 12 May 2022 - 22h51

Hello Regis,
Of course, feel free to use this sketch for your project. 😊
Thank you very much for your feedback!

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Estelle 19 June 2022 - 15h33

Great article thanks for the tuto

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Zephy 23 June 2022 - 12h12

Always a pleasure! ✨

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création d'art 26 December 2022 - 20h12

Hi there!

Thank you for this well-explained article! I didn’t realize that drawing was actually so complex.

Reply
Nina 12 February 2023 - 12h16

Hello, are there any corrections for the exercises?
Anyway, great website, I’ve been fully engaged since yesterday!

Reply
Zephy 14 February 2023 - 15h39

Hello Nina, glad you’re enjoying the content. I haven’t added corrected sheets yet, but they will be available soon.
Happy drawing! 😊

Reply
Nina 14 February 2023 - 16h37

Ok, thank you! 😊
In any case, congratulations, the site is extraordinary, in just 3 days, I have already made a lot of progress 😍😍
The explanations are very clear!

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Xitrok 26 February 2023 - 17h56

Hi Zephy… great course, I have really learned a lot thanks to you! It’s just a shame that there are no corrected exercise sheets! Will there be some soon? Otherwise, I love your courses, thanks again

Reply
Zephy 3 March 2023 - 11h50

I’m glad you enjoy the tutorials and courses! ✏️ Corrected exercise sheets will be coming soon, it would indeed be a good bonus to help you self-assess. Thank you!

Reply

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