Now Featuring: How to Draw Facial Features

We’ve already talked about the basics of drawing a head. But the facial features are what makes a head unique and give it character. Facial features are the cues we use to recognize the people we know, and the way we remember new faces, so they are extremely important to any effective portrait. Here are some simple tips everyone should know about drawing those facial features just right.

Let’s look at the face in front view and profile again. The blue horizontal lines serve to show how different features line up in each point of view.

facial features

This a great reference for facial proportions except for one problem– in the real world, you’re not likely to only see the face in front and profile view. More often, the face will be somewhere in between, and could be tilted up or down. We call the view of a face that is angled more or less halfway between front view and profile a three-quarters view face.

oil face

© 2013 Paul Heaston

This oil self portrait I did from a mirror is a classic example of a three-quarters view face. You might have noticed many of the proportion rules for a front view face are different, particularly the relationship between the eyes, nose and mouth. Let’s look at each of these features separately in front, profile and three-quarters view.

Notice on the eye in profile just how far back the eye is from the bridge of the nose. This is because our brow and the bridge of our nose protrude from the face to protect the eye. Also notice that the disc of the iris in profile is only a sliver. In the middle three-quarters view the eye, including the iris, is foreshortened, or compressed a bit from side to side. Because the eyeball itself is a sphere, the bottom and top lids wrapping around the eyeball stop more abruptly on the far side, and taper more gently on the side facing us. In all three views, you can also see very clearly how the top of the iris meets and goes under the top eyelid a bit, while the bottom contour of the iris remains visible. Remember, unless your subject is surprised, you will almost never see the entire iris.

The nose is a bit trickier. The contour of the bridge of the nose is most clearly visible in profile view, a little bit in three quarters, and only softly defined in full frontal view. Value can be used to better indicate the shape of the bridge in the more frontal views, which we’ll go into in a future post. In the profile view, notice that the walls of the nostrils meet the face much further back than the septum (the middle part between the nostrils), which meets the upper lip directly under the bridge of the nose. In three-quarters view you can start to see both nostrils. Note also that the nostrils, which we think of as being at the bottom of the nose, start a little bit higher than the actual bottom.

In this person’s mouth, notice there’s a little bump at the center of the top lip. Not everyone has one this pronounced, but there is often something there. A thicker line along the bottom of this bump is a good way to indicate its volume with just line. The bottom lip is usually (but not always) thicker than the top lip, and is generally a simpler curved shape, whereas the top lip is a bit more complicated. In addition to that bump, the top lip often has a depression in the center along the top from the filtrum (that funny little divot between the nose and lips). It’s best to indicate the top of the top lip more faintly than the bottom, where a thicker line can indicate that is overhangs the bottom lip just a bit.

I’m only showing you two views of the ear, as the differences between a profile, a front view and a three-quarters are pretty subtle. Ears can vary quite a bit from face to face. Some people have hanging lobes, some are connected, and some have shallow depressions and ridges within the ears while others don’t. It helps to think of an ear as something like a semicircle with a ridge around the back edge, the doubles toward the bottom to becomes two ridges. The outer ridge flattens and becomes the earlobe, while the inner ridge starts from somewhere inside and underneath the outer one and stops with a little bump above the lobe. Ears can be tricky, but with a little practice they are conquerable.

A good exercise is to try drawing your facial features individually in a mirror from different angles. How do they change as you look at them from below or above? What have you noticed about drawing facial features from different points of view?

Tune in to the Bluprint blog tomorrow to take a closer look at representational drawing.

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