Thursday, October 11, 2012

How I Draw Faces

I was watching an episode of Ink Masters the other day and tattoo artist Chris Nunez said something that really resonated with me. I don't remember his exact quote, but it was something like "Faces are one line away from greatness or failure." I couldn't agree more with this.

So many artists, me included, struggle with drawing faces and I think Chris Nunez's statement is the reason why. It really only takes one line just slightly off to throw off the whole feel of the face. I think this is especially true if your art style expresses the features of a face in lines instead of only values. Which is the case in most tattoo art and also the style that I draw. The struggle with most of the artists that draw in this similar style is to look at a face that is mostly different values and break that face down into simplistic lines.

Although I feel like drawing faces has gotten easier for me over the years, I still get a little nervous when I start sketching out the face. A face can totally make or break a piece so you could spend hours and have a beautiful painting, only to have a bad face because one of your lines was slightly off. The more you draw, the easier it gets of course, but I still don't think it's ever super easy.

So I thought I would share some tips and tricks that I've learned over the years that might hopefully help you out when you're drawing a face!

Here is a recent face that I drew that I was really happy with. This is my new zombie, rockabilly, pinup girl named Lexy.

This is a 3/4 view of the face which means you can see both eyes and sides of her face, but the right  side of her face and eye are more prominent and bigger than the left. It may seem pretty complex and hard to draw, but to get started the easiest thing is to break the face down to basic shapes and proportions. I'm going to show you my step by step process right over this sketch so you get an idea of an easy way to construct a face.

My first step is shown here in red. I draw a basic head shape. It's mostly just a circle at top with a pointy area for the chin at the bottom. I don't focus on any of the details of the face at this point. I just try to get the right size head and head position for the piece that I'm working on.

My next step is to draw some basic construction lines. There's a lot of different tutorials out there about the different measurements and proportions of a face. I really try not to get too fussy with exact measurements (though maybe I should!), I just try to go with what looks right. I trust my eye.

The first line I draw is a vertical halfway point of the face where the center of the nose, middle point in between the eyes and center of the mouth hits. Make sure to curve this line if you're doing a 3/4 view face. A face is 3 dimensional and not flat, so this line actually curves along almost the same curve as the outside of the face.

Next, I draw the line where the eyes will fall. This line is about midway down on the entire face shape. And again this line curves on the 3/4 view.

Lastly I draw the line where the bottom of the nose will hit and another where the center of the mouth hits. These follow the same curve as the line for the eyes that you drew.

Once you have those lines drawn, you can work more on refining the head shape as seen here in purple. You can see that I've pulled the line in a bit on her left eye and under her mouth. This gives her a pretty high cheek pone and chin. Then I also adjusted the line by her ear to give her a jaw line and an ear lobe. The face construction lines you draw should help you determine where to make the head shape adjustments.

The next step is to break the actual facial features into basic shapes. I always start with the eyes as sort of pointy oval shapes. On the 3/4 view her right eye is going to be bigger while her left eye is smaller. They are still the same shape though and should fall along that construction line that you made with the middle of the pupils hitting the line.

Then I make the nose. I always break the nose into 3 circles. A large circle for the middle of the nose and two little circles on either side. For 3/4 view, the circle on her left side will be smaller than the one on her right side. This gives her nose a dainty pointy upturned nose which I prefer on my faces. The bottom of the circles should hit the nose construction line.

Then I just draw a line for the mouth where the lips would part. This should curve along the same construction line that you drew and the left side of the line should match up with the middle of her left eye and the right side of the line should match up with the middle of her right eye. This is how you determine how wide to make the line.

I also throw on some lines for the eyebrows at this point. These follow the same curve as your construction lines. Depending on the style and look you're going for they can be different shapes and sizes. Usually a longer high arched brow is what I tend to go for because it gives the face a sexier look.

And when you get to that point, the hardest part is done! Because everything is in the right place, so next you just have to finish sketching out the features which I think is the easiest part. Getting everything in the right areas is the biggest battle.

I thicken the brows, add eyelashes, finish drawing out the nose and add an upper and lower lip. I try to work from simplistic shapes to complex shapes. So instead of drawing the eye like it's shown above from the beginning, I start with the basic pointy oval shape and add more and more detail as I go along, building up the entire face at the same rate so that it's easier to make adjustments and see mistakes from the beginning.

But I really think the key is to practice, practice practice! If you struggle with faces, try to set a goal to draw a certain amount of faces per week. Try different angles, shapes, styles, etc... until it becomes second nature to you. When I first got started there was no way I could draw a face without looking at some sort of a reference. Now, it just comes so much more naturally to me and I no longer have to look at a reference to guide me. But it's still a never ending learning experience and something I hope that I will continue to get better at!


  1. Love this post! I could not agree more. When I do portraits you can draw a line a little bit off and then next thing you know the person looks too old... or the person looks mad or sad.

    I am a HUGE fan of this new piece for many obvious reasons!

    1. Aww thanks Nicole! I actually thought about you when I was sketching out this piece, so I'm so happy that you like it! I hope that you've been doing well. =)