Drawing human faces

with ink pen and pencil.


Simple guidelines

There are a lot of proportion rules for portrait drawing - and they can be quite over-whelming when we apply them all at once.
And it isn't necessary either.
Start with simple guidelines that are easy-to-follow and that keep you focused on the entire expression of the face without getting lost in all the details.

I have a really simple but super-helpful structure for you.
It's a structure that I apply to all my sketches - no matter how detailed my portrait drawings are. This method is based on the concept to divide the face into 3 equal parts - one part reaching from the chin to the nose, the second part from the nose to the eyebrows and the third part from the eyebrows to the hairline.

This enables you to define the proportions of the human face quickly. Let's start with the frontal perspective.

Choose a reference point

The definition of these 3 thirds gives us already a great basis.
For drawing more details in the face, it is very helpful to start with a part of the face that can be a point of reference for the rest of the portrait drawing.  

For me, eyebrows are the ideal starting point.
They are such a wonderful orientation for the rest of the fast.
The eyebrows are directly placed on one of the lines that we have drawn before, when dividing the face into 3 equal parts.

Another big advantage of drawing eyebrows first:

Their shape is simple.
They are simple curves in the draft.

Additionally: the lengths of these curves define whether the face is turned to the side, half turned or sketched in a frontal perspective.

Like here in this picture on the right: can you guess how the face is turned in these 4 eyebrow sketches?

Barbara Baumann Illustration Eyebrows

Side-face tips.

When drawing a human head from the side, the proportions can also defined with these four simple lines that I mentioned above.
Here are some further tips that can be helpful when diving into a side-face portrait:

#1 - the ears have approximately the same length as the middle third of the face (reaching from the eyebrows to the bottom of the nose)  

#2 - we tend to draw the eyes of a side-face too big - pay attention to this aspect when making the draft 

#3 - eyes are usually placed nearer to the bridge of the nose than we tend to draw them - so you can instantly correct this in your drawing ;) this happens very often to my drawing students - and to me as well ...  

#4 - add a ball to the ellipse at the height of the ear to better define the back of the head

How to start a portrait in a 3/4 view?

As the face is partially turned to the side, it is quite hard to instantly find the correct place for eyes, nose and mouth. The eyes have different sizes - the one that is nearer to the observer is slightly bigger, whereas the other one is smaller and it's full length isn't visible. The same for the lips: one side is better visible and larger than the other side.  

But, as the vertical face proportions are nevertheless the same, we can apply the 3 thirds again to divide the face into equal parts.  

Remember the eyebrows, that we talked about before:
They are now a helpful guidline to define how strong the face is turned to the side by drawing different lengths of the right and the left eyebrow. The length of the eyebrows gives us precious information about the changed position of the other parts of the face.

Little hint before you start sketching ...

Portrait drawing isn't only about drawing. It's about getting to know the facial characteristics of humans. Portrait drawing is therefore also about observation:

It's about looking at the faces of people and trying to define what makes them special and unique compared to other faces.
It's about seeing the drawing.  

And it's about practice: sketch a few quick faces everyday and you'll soon see a stronger expression in each of the faces you are sketching!  

PS: Don't start drawing portraits with specific expectations - it's much more fun to be surprised by the result, instead of aiming to sketch the perfect portrait all at once.  

Dive deeper into the art of figure drawing. 

Drawing human portraits is fascinating, isn't it?
No matter, if they are rough sketches or realistic portrait illustrations ...
You can capture so many expressions with pencil and pen.

And you can capture even more expression, when you draw the entire human figure.

In my Free Drawing Class about the human figure you'll get all the basics you need to make powerful sketches.

The structure of the class:
3 x 15-min-lessons about essential basics of figure drawing: proportions, dynamic and clothes.

We walk through the process of drawing a human figure in correct body proportions step by step. You'll learn how to add dynamic to a pose and how to sketch clothes in a realistic way.

At the end of this class, you'll feel at ease when it comes to figure drawing.

See you in class!  

Free Drawing Class: ENROLL


Or ... you feel so captivated by the human face and all its expressions, that you want to dive deeper.

In that case, the Eye Drawing Focus Class might be a great fit for you, as it gives you all the tools you need to draw stunning human eyes in a realistic way as well as in a sketchy or even cartoon style - full of expression.

Barbara Baumann Illustration

About the Author

Hallo, I'm an award-winning illustrator and drawing tutor from Austria. After great experiences in the Marketing and Database sector, I finally realised that I simply need to follow my enthusiasm and fascination for drawing and illustrating.  

What fascinates me most, is this way to communicate without using any words. So expressive, so global. And this leads me to my second fascination about drawing: the exchange with others, with you! In my drawing courses I simply love to see the enormous developments of each participant - initiated by exchange and practice. That's what I like to do here, too. 

The idea for this blog comes from the bottom of my heart: to get you close to drawing and to show you that you too can draw #drawinggang  

It's all about learning to feel the drawing!

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