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The Road Map to a Proportional Face in Portraiture - Profile

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!

Esther, Watercolor, 12 x 12" (detail)
Esther, Watercolor, 12 x 12" (detail)

This hub is a followup to an earlier article I wrote about the "correct" proportions for rendering the human head for portraiture (The Road Map to a Proportional Face for Portrait Artists). That hub dealt with the face when seen facing front. This article will give the same kind of "schematic" for the human head when seen from the side. As before, the road map will portray "classic" proportions. Each individual person's proportions will vary to some degree or another from this "norm." When an artist creates a portrait of an individual, he or she will look for these variations and will use them to help develop a likeness to that individual. A portrait artist can use this set of classic proportions to help them begin a portrait, sort of a "jumping off point" to depart from as the portrait is developed. The road map can also serve as a reference for an artist when there is just something "wrong" with a drawing/painting of a person and it's hard to determine what that wrong thing might be.

General Orientation of Ovals for Profile
General Orientation of Ovals for Profile

The Road Map

The head shape is comprised of two ovals arranged as shown in the first drawing. As you can see, the head is as long front to back as it is top to bottom. Many beginners will make the head too short from front to back. It is also worth noting that the "front" oval is tilted slightly with the bottom (or chin) extending beyond the top (or forehead). These two ovals are the basic building blocks for the head when seen in profile. When you begin a portrait, it is comforting to know that such simple shapes are all that are needed to get a good start on a proportional head. Remember, your shapes do not have to be perfect. Remind yourself that all drawing and painting is nothing more than a series of corrections. Draw lightly at this point - some of the lines you draw at this stage will need to be erased as you finalize the portrait. Lightly drawn lines are easier to erase. Also, if some of your lines end up being "wrong," it's easier to correct these lighter lines. Once you have drawn lines you are confident in, you can always go back and darken them.

Profile with Features
Profile with Features

Adding the Features

Once you have the ovals drawn, it's time to begin roughing in the features of the face. Refer to the drawing on the right to see where the different parts of the face should go. It may also be helpful to refer to my earlier hub, "The Road Map to a Proportional Face for Portrait Artists." In truth, there is nothing better to help an artist render any subject realistically than careful observation of the object being portrayed. Take time to observe people and their features. Be careful that you don't creep people out, though! Studying photographs is a good way around this problem! It's also great if you have people in your life who are willing to pose for you. Another solution is to look at yourself in a mirror. The more time you spend observing people, the better your portraits will be.

Using my drawing as a guide, modify the ovals to reflect the curves of the brow, nose, lips, chin and back of the head. Remember, these shapes are the generic "norm," and each individual will vary from this average in one way or another. However, for practice and for "roughing in" of the features, these shapes are useful. Continue to revise and refine your drawing until you are satisfied with the overall proportions of the head. It is helpful to remember that the bottom of the nose is roughly two thirds of the distance down from the hairline to the bottom of the chin. Similarly, the parting of the lips is approximately one third of the way down from bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin.

The eyes are arguably the most important part of the face when it comes to achieving a likeness. You will notice that the eye is halfway between the top and bottom of the head. In profile, the eye is set back from the front of the face a distance roughly equal to the size of the eye itself. You can see from the drawing that if you draw a line straight down from the inside of the eye, you will find the position of the outside of the nostril and the corner of the mouth. Use this as a reference point in drawing in these features. Place the eyebrow above the eye, using the drawing as a guide. Notice that the highest part of the arch of the eyebrow comes above the outside corner of the eye.

The placement of the ear is determined by the intersection of the beginning oval shapes. See that the bottom of the earlobe corresponds with this intersection and the ear itself is bisected by the "upright" oval. As with the face when viewed from the front, the top and bottom of the ears are determined by lines drawn straight back from the eyebrow and the bottom of the nose. The ear is a complex structure, so drawing it convincingly will take some time. Use the simplified ear shown in the drawing as a starting point. You can refine and improve your drawing using careful observation.

Finally, after you are satisfied with your rendering of all of the facial features, draw in the hair. As you can see, the hair is "on top" of the rest of the head, extending above the ovals that denote the skull. Again, remember do not try to draw each individual hair! Your drawing of the hair should indicate its shape and movement. Don't try to give detail here.

il papa, Watercolor, 14 x 11"
il papa, Watercolor, 14 x 11"


A portrait done in profile can be more emotionally compelling than one showing the subject from the front. Depending on the angle of the face, the profile can evoke feelings of melancholy or introspection or optimism and hope. When posing your subjects for portraits, consider this option. Using the tools outlined in this article and (as always) lots of practice, your profile portraits can be extraordinary!

I hope this hub has been informative and helpful to you. I further hope that you will find the confidence to try drawing people. Portraying people is definitely a challenge, but there truly is not a more fascinating subject. I know if you will follow the guidelines I've provided in this hub and will devote the time necessary for practice, you will be able to create portraits you will be proud to call your own!


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    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Hello, ninapaints! I apologize for not acknowledging your kind comment earlier. I seemed to not have received notice of it from HubPages for some reason. I'm glad I happened on it, because it is so positive and encouraging! I hope you will read more of my hubs. I will visit your hubs as well. Based on your comment here, I know they will be interesting and informative!

    • ninapaints profile image

      ninapaints 5 years ago

      Hello Dbro,

      This was a very informative hub! I have painted many portraits and found this information very helpful! will look forward to reading more of your hubs!