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The Road Map to a Proportional Face for Portrait Artists

Updated on May 10, 2012
Dbro profile image

I am Diane Brown (dbro), an artist and illustrator living in Texas. I enjoy all phases of the creative process. Enjoy and comment!

Introduction

The human head is an extremely complex and intricate structure made up of many layers of bone, muscle, skin and hair that all work together to create the endless variety of faces we see everyday. This huge variety is created by many factors: age, gender, race, ethnicity; not to mention the styles that impact the individual's appearance.

When an artist decides to create a portrait of an individual, this complexity can be intimidating at best and paralyzing at worst! However, this complicated structure can be simplified, analyzed, and rendered in a way that will bring believability and sense of reality to the portrait you create.

In this hub I will present some "schematics," some simplified drawings - a "road map" if you will, to help the artist render a convincing drawing of a human head. As with all forms of art, practice and study will increase the artist's ability. Along with practice, careful observation will greatly improve the quality of your drawings.

The "road maps" in this hub represent the generic "norm" of the proportions and relationships among the features of the face and head. These relationships represent what is usual or expected. The way a specific individual varies from this norm (and we all do) is where the skilled artist discerns and captures the "likeness" of the subject.

In the drawing below, you will see the head with its features in their "classic" positions and proportions. For this discussion, I will limit my descriptions to the head as it is seen facing directly at the viewer.

Facial Road Map - Facing Front

Example Face
Example Face

Instructions

The head itself is a tapered oval, wider at the top than at the bottom. The eyes are set within the skull in the middle (from top to bottom) of this oval. A frequent mistake artists make is to place the eyes too near the top of the head. It can be deceiving, because frequently the hair line will make the eyes seem nearer the top of the head than they really are.

When I begin drawing a face, I like to begin by rendering the eyes to the extent that I get their placement and basic shapes captured. I don't want to invest too much time in great detail at this point in case I need to make adjustments or corrections. Remember, drawing is nothing more than a series of corrections.

As you can see on the "road map," the eyes are placed side to side such that there is one eye's width from the side of the head to the outer corner of the eye and one eye's width between the eyes (when the face is seen from the front). A word should be said about the shape of the eye. Many inexperienced artists portray the eye as a pointed oval or "football" shape. Careful observation will show more subtle tapering and rounding. Remember the muscles and skin around the eye house a spherical eyeball and, therefore, protrude slightly.

When you have drawn the eyes, you can place the eyebrows above them. Refer to the "map" to determine how far above the eyes the brows should go. You'll notice on the example face that the brow begins directly above the inside corner of the eye. As you can see, the brow arches slightly with its apex immediately above the outside corner of the eye. From this point the brow curves back down to the level of its inside end and tapers to a point.

Once the eyes and brows are roughed in, it's a good idea to map out the basic placement of the nose and mouth. As you refer back to the road map you will see that the bottom of the nose divides the space between the eyebrows and the bottom of the chin. It's advisable to lightly indicate this placement with a pencil mark. Refer to the example face to see the simplified shape of the nose. You will see that the outer flares of the nostrils fall directly below the inside corners of the eyes. Again, remember these placements and proportions are the average. Use these guides for practice and/or your initial stages of a portrait of an individual. In the latter case, once your portrait is roughed in, begin observing and recording how your particular subject varies from this norm.

You can see by the schematic that the parting of the lips corresponds with the first one-third distance down from the bottom of the nose. Study and render the basic shape of the mouth. Notice that the corners of the mouth fall (more or less) directly down from the pupils of the eye when the subject is looking straight ahead. Generally the lower lip is slightly fuller than the upper.

Placement and size of the ears is a simple case of extending the guide lines from the bottom of the nose and the brow line. These will be the lower and upper edges of the ears. Unfortunately on my example face I drew hair over the tops of her ears. I guess you'll just have to take my word on this, or you can verify it for yourself by looking in the mirror!

At this point you have created a basic head with its features in their "normal" positions and proportions. Once you have a drawing you are pleased with, you can then suggest a hairstyle. Here you should loosely render the shape and growth pattern of the hair with just a few pencil strokes. Do NOT try to draw each individual hair! The same holds true for eyelashes - a heavier line along the upper eyelid will suffice. Drawing each individual eyelash makes the eye appear cartoonish.

Granny, acrylic 10x10"
Granny, acrylic 10x10"

Conclusion

Following these guidelines and road map will help you practice your drawing skills and gain confidence as you learn to portray the incredibly varied but always meaningful and beautiful human face!

I hope you've enjoyed this hub and found it useful. Please take a moment to leave a comment. I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Comments

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    • samadaslam profile image

      Samad Aslam Khan 5 years ago

      Sketching and Painting is my hobby and I love to spend my spare time in it. Loved it! Thanks for sharing nice tips.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      I'm glad you enjoyed my hub, samadaslam. I love it too! Do you draw or paint portraits?

    • Bldg an Architect profile image

      Bldg an Architect 5 years ago

      Thanks for the informative tips! I need all the drawing help I can get!

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Drawing is certainly a growth process, isn't it? I love the act of drawing, and I feel like I learn something every time I pick up a pencil. Thanks for your comment Bldg an Architect! Keep practicing!

    • profile image

      claire cunningham 5 years ago

      Well done Diane...allows a total amature like myself attemp to draw. You go, girl!

    • Maddie Ruud profile image

      Maddie Ruud 5 years ago from Oakland, CA

      Thanks for the tips! I'm no good at drawing, but you give people like me hope. ;)

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Yay, Claire! I'm glad my article proved informative! Give my tips a try to see if they help your drawing. I think the main thing to work on is observation skills. Seeing is 9/10ths of drawing.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      You give people like me hope, too! Everyone can improve their drawing skills. The main hurtle to overcome is being to judgmental about your efforts. Keep trying and remember it's only paper! Thanks so much for your encouraging comments Maddie Ruud!

    • profile image

      Vanster 5 years ago

      You have a gift for teaching and encouraging. Thank you for your clear, simple, and pleasant instruction.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you, Vanster! I hope my advice helps. The main thing is to practice, and to be kind to yourself as you go through the learning curve!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Congratulations on your HubNugget nomination. I have always been hesitant to draw faces, but I feel more confident now that I have read your hub. Thank you! I love the Granny painting as well.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, Millionaire Tips! I'm happy to have discovered HubPages. I've enjoyed it so much! I'm glad I could give you some confidence. The key is practice and to really observe your subject. I hope you'll keep drawing, and don't judge your efforts too severely. The more you draw the better you'll get!

    • profile image

      claire cunningham 5 years ago

      I have cast a vote for Diane's face drawing tips...great for a complete non-artist like myself...

      great stuff Hub Pages!

      Claire

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, Claire! I'm glad my tips are helpful.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      The face and drawing it in proportion is a challenge but once you know how it does get easier. :) Thank you so much for this tips.

      Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. To read and vote, this way please https://hubpages.com/community/HubNuggets-Competit... Enjoy the Hubnuggets!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thank you for your drawing tips. I remember reading somewhere once that the proportions of a baby's head are different from that of an adult. I loved the portrait, too.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      You're right, BlossomSD. The proportions of babies and young children are different than those of adults. Maybe that's a subject for another hub! I'm glad you enjoyed this post and my painting.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your comments, Ripplemaker. Having some kind of guide really does help a beginner make progress. It helps me too when something in my drawing isn't quite right, but I can't figure out what it is. Thanks also for props on my hubnuggets nomination. I'm very flattered!

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 5 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Good instructions and example. From one artist to another, thank you. I do enjoy drawing portraits and painting also.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks, elayne001! I'm glad you enjoyed this hub. No matter our experience level, we can always benefit from more instruction and insight, can't we?

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

      Nicely explained. Many beginners do try try do draw each hair from root to tip, and it looks awful. I find it's better to treat hair as layered curved shapes. Each shape, because it is curved, reflects light accordingly, and the shapes cast a shadow. The odd suggestion of the glint of a flyaway hair or two, and general direction of stroke is what gives an impression of hair.

      Voted up !

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Manna in the wild. I agree with your suggestions about portraying a person's hair. Shape is much more important than detail when it comes to hair in a portrait. You sound like a person with some experience in this area. Are you a portraitist?

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

      Hi Dbro - yes I specialise in graphite and carbon portrait rendering.

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      That's great, Manna! I would love to see some examples of your work. Do you have any displayed in your hubs?

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

      Hi Ddbro, you can see all by googling spooks-art

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      You know, Manna, I did look your work up online, and it's fantastic! I can see you speak from experience when you give advice about portraiture or portraying a person. Thanks for your input on my hub!

    • SherryDigital profile image

      Sherry Duffy 4 years ago from Here. There. Everywhere. Currently: Portland, OR

      Great work! Thank you for the tutorial! I am really happy to stumble across your art hubs. I will definitely be reading more of your work! Voted up!

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thank you for your comments SherryDigital. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I'm glad you found my hub useful. I would love to hear about you. Are you an artist yourself?

    • Anjo Bacarisas II profile image

      Anjo Bacarisas II 4 years ago from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

      Thank you for sharing this, the tips are very useful. This is very useful, the hub is so fascinating. :))

    • Dbro profile image
      Author

      Dbro 4 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks for your kind comments, Anjo! I'm pleased that you found this hub useful. Are you an artist yourself?

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