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Are you getting a bit tired of always drawing stiff, flat faces looking forward? Do you enjoy portraiture and would like to learn how to draw faces in different angles? Do you frequently find something is a bit off when you finish your portrait drawings?
In this blog post I'll explain why it's important to have a basic understanding of the underlying structure of the face (the skull) in order to draw more believable portraits, and will be reviewing basic facial proportions/locations of individual facial elements within the head shape.
Then, I will move on to explain how to draw a face at a 3/4's angle, which is one of the most-used angles in both painting and photography portraiture.
I will share my own 4-step method for drawing portraits and also a video time-lapse demonstrating how I do my quick face sketches. This blog post includes several free downloadable PDF's that you can use for practicing, so make sure to check those out at the end!
I'm going to start off by saying that drawing portraits is hard! The main reason being that what we see most everyday are the faces of those around us. This means that most people, artists or not, will be able to notice if something is off when viewing a portrait, even if at first they can't pinpoint exactly what it is.
With a portrait drawing being off, I don't mean small differences in eye sizes or eyebrow shape. Human faces have natural imperfections and aren't 100% symmetric (most of the time). What I'm referring to is shape, proportion and location of facial elements within the head shape.
Most of the time something looks off, it's due to an ineffective placement or proportion of any (or all) face elements.
This is why it is very important to understand and keep these things in mind when attempting to draw any type of portrait (unless you are intentionally going for an unrealistic style).
Though I don't particularly go for high levels of realism with my work, I do like starting with a concrete foundation in order for it to have a believable aspect to it.
*This post is intended for those who have already had some amount of practice drawing faces at a forward-facing angle. Still need a bit more practice with drawing faces in a forward view? Visit my blog post titled How to Draw a Face (for Beginners). There, I offer free downloadable PDFs explaining to do draw a basic head shape as well as individual facial elements.
If you enjoyed this video, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel! :) I publish a new video every-single-week sharing art tips, drawing/painting tutorials, and encouragement for aspiring artists.
I've made studies of skulls like this one to the left, and have found them extremely helpful. They've allowed me to gain information that I'm later able to apply in my drawings or paintings without giving it much thought at all!
I really recommend making time to create a few sketches of skulls or even paintings like I have!
As previously mentioned, most artists start off their portraits by creating simple shapes much like the ones below. These shapes and lines allow them to visualize where the facial elements will be placed.
Understanding Basic Facial Proportions
While there is an incredibly vast array of face shapes, as well as shapes and sizes of individual facial elements (eyes, nose, lips, ears), there will always be general guidelines to follow in terms of their placement within the head shape.
By this point, you've probably already seen something like this before:
By seeing the diagram above, we can conclude the following:
-For drawing purposes, the head can be divided into three parts
-Drawing vertical and horizontal lines down/across the head shape will allow us effective placement of facial elements
-Effective proportion and placement of facial elements calls for some degree of measurement
-The hair line is BELOW and not ON or ABOVE the head shape
-The width of approximately five eyes should fit along the main horizontal line
-We can use the inner corner of the eyes to define where the curves of the nostrils should end
-The lower part of the face (from end of the nose to tip of the chin) can also be divided into three parts
So how does this information translate into a head at a 3/4's angle?
In a sense, we are distorting facial proportions when drawing a face at an angle. We are no longer looking to create symmetry, as we usually do when drawing someone facing forward.
We are now dealing with certain levels of foreshortening, depending on the angle of the head and what perspective we're seeing it in.
When viewing a face at a 3/4's angle, we are able to see much more of one side of the face than the other. We are able to see one eye completely, but perhaps only part of the other one.
Usually the eye on the side opposite to us is at least a tiny bit smaller! We are able to clearly see one half of the person's nose and mouth. All this means we have to be able to draw believable facial elements that are skewed.
Here are some (very) basic ways to draw facial elements in both forward-facing and 3/4's angles:
How to Draw a Face in a 3/4's Angle in 4 Steps
-Pencils (I recommend HB-4B)
-Quality reference pictures (you can use your computer or print them out)
-Paper or sketchbook
*Optional: Tracing paper
*If you wish to use the same images I have, download them for free by clicking on the portraits in the instructions below.
*You can also download and print the free PDF's I've attached at the end if you'd like to use the face maps I've created. Use a piece of tracing paper to transfer the face map onto the paper you will be drawing on and move on to the next step!
1. Find a quality picture to use as reference
I thoroughly recommend using reference photos when starting to draw portraits. Even if you're not intending to create a full-on realistic representation of the person in the image, having a reference will give you a solid foundation to work from.
It's always awesome to take your own pictures to use as references, so never hesitate to take a photo of your own face to study from!
Really observe your reference image and compare the facial elements with each other in terms of size and shape. Notice the distance between them and where they rest on the head structure.
Compare one side of the person's face with the other and pinpoint differences. Pay attention to the silhouette created by the brow bone and cheekbone of the side opposite to us.
Analyze the shapes of the eyes, the nose, mouth and ears, as well as those created by the shadows within the picture.
For the purpose of this tutorial I will be using the following two images found at Pexels and Unsplash. If you wish to use them, simply click on the photos to get to their original sources and download from there.
Pexels, Unsplash and Pixabay are great options if you need free quality images to use as references for your artwork. To find a list of my favorite free image sites visit my blog post My Favorite Free Image Sites & Two Examples of References with Finished Illustrations.
2. Create your initial face 'map'
Using the information you already know about facial proportions and locations of facial elements, create a 'map' using vertical and horizontal lines. Usually, these lines are going to be slightly curved, as opposed to the straight lines created when drawing a map for a forward-facing portrait.
It'll depend on whether the person is looking slightly upwards or downwards.
If you take a moment to observe the image of the woman I used, you'll notice that her chin is pointed slightly inwards. This was probably a deliberate choice made by the photographer, as it emphasizes her eyes and makes them seem bigger.
Even though the photograph is cut and we can't see the top of her head entirely, there is a bit of foreshortening happening for sure! We are able to see more of the top of her head when compared to the picture of the man, who has more of a leveled head.
*If this is your first time drawing a face at an angle, I highly recommend printing out your reference photo (preferably letter-sized) and using a piece of tracing paper to create your face map, then transferring it to the paper you'll be drawing on.
3. Start placing individual facial elements
Once your face map is set, start drawing your eyes, nose and mouth lightly (this will allow you to erase mistakes). I usually start with the eyes because they fall in the center of the face and allow me to visualize the other facial elements.
Look at your reference photo constantly and try to replicate the shapes you see. Drawing eyes, noses and lips on heads at different angles is a lot harder than drawing them on a head that is facing straight forward. This is why practicing individual face elements is so important!
As previously stated, the elements on one side of the face are going to look different from the ones on the other side. We are no longer trying to create perfect symmetry! However, they do have to look like they are all part of the same face.
Draw lightly and don't get discouraged if you need to erase a lot. The following image will help you get an idea of how to draw eyes, noses, lips and eyebrows at a 3/4's angle. At this point, focus on achieving adequate shape, size and proportion. Don't even think about starting with your shading yet!
*I love using a desk easel when drawing so that my surface angle is more similar to the angle of the image I'm looking at. When I draw faces on flat, horizontal surfaces, I often find that my drawings end up distorted! If you're having this problem, I can't recommend a desk easel enough.
4. Once your initial sketch seems on point, move on to creating values
Take a final look at your initial outline sketch and make sure that the location and proportion of facial elements looks correct. Don't worry about your drawing not looking like the person in the picture, just focus on making things look believable.
Afterwards, decide how you will be creating your tonal range throughout your drawing. To learn about crosshatching and other ways to create shadows/values in your drawings, visit my blog post titled Guide to Shading Techniques: Hatching, Cross-Hatching, Scribbling and Others.
Having a picture to work from provides you with a solid reference of where to place your darks, lights and mid-tones which will later lead to believable form and three-dimensionality.
Pay close attention to your reference image! If you're having trouble discerning lights from darks, I recommend opening the image in a photo-editing software and desaturating it so that you're working only with grayscale.
Personally, I enjoy the sketchy/unfinished look, but this final step is where your personal style comes in! I love to create values using hatching and crosshatching, and give a lot more emphasis to the face than I do to the hair or anything else, which is were I want to draw the viewer's attention towards.
Take your drawings as far as you'd like and remember to have fun with it.
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