“This drawing took me five minutes, but it took me sixty years to get to this point.” – Pierre-August Renoir, French painter (1841-1919).
Drawing is becoming less and less common as a hobby, with only a small percentage of people saying they draw in their spare time for pleasure these days.
Amateur drawers generally think that drawing a face is one of the most difficult drawing exercises.
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Whether you are an apprentice drawer, starting out with drawing classes or at home, a self-taught artist, a caricaturist, a painter, a specialist in drawing female characters, there are loads of techniques to learn.
It’s important to learn how to respect proportions, give your drawing volume with light and shadow, draw expressions and convey attitudes in order to produce a realistic and beautiful piece of art.
Drawing a face from various angles, making some marks on the paper to map out the space between the eyes and knowing how to erase sufficiently to shade your drawing correctly are all skills which require a precise and confident control of the pencil.
How can you draw the different shapes of a face without making mistakes? It’s a good idea to start with a guide on the basics of drawing.
To get to grips with the basics, there are few other alternatives that are as worthwhile as taking an online drawing course and making sure you practise, practise, and practise some more!
The fundamental lessons of learning to draw is the not be afraid of making mistakes, not getting frustrated if you’ve failed an attempt, and to always give it another go until it’s right.
How can you learn to draw different angles in order to draw in perspective? (Which ground are you drawing in, where is the vanishing point, where is the horizon line?)
Let Superprof show you some simple techniques to help you find your feet in the art of portraiture. Whether you want to learn to draw the face of a manga character, design a tattoo or produce a realistic portrait, the basics are the same.
It’s all just a question of practise, perseverance and observation.
Superprof has put itself in the shoes of an art teacher to show you the drawing techniques you need to learn how to draw faces.
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How Can I Draw a Realistic Face? What Tools Will I Need?
What kind of drawing equipment is needed to easily draw a portrait? What is needed to sketch a manga face and drawings for children?
There are lots of tools for the different elements of a figurative drawing.
Some people favour using charcoal, whilst others prefer working with ink or pencil. In all cases, the material used depends on the desired results, but also on the mastery of different drawing techniques.
Try not to be too concerned with a budget for drawing equipment, because unfortunately, artistic activities are always quite costly.
Here’s a list of drawing materials necessary for a beginner learning to draw faces:
- Soft type B pencils (2B, 4B, etc.): this model of graphite pencil is very useful for shading. By pressing with varying pressures, these pencils will give a uniform gradient throughout your work
- Hard type H pencils (2H, 4H, etc. up to 10H)
- An eraser: a rubber is absolutely essential for correcting pencil mistakes and erasing initial pencil sketches.
- A putty eraser: this is an indispensable accessory, especially useful for working with light and shadows. It allows for softening and lightening pencils and even charcoal. Putty erasers are malleable and can therefore be modelled for working with small or large surfaces and with small details
- A blending stump: this tool will help you shade your drawing and avoid blurring lines with a cloth or your finger – an absolute essential for drawing!
- Bristol paper: strong textured paper especially for artistic use
You could also use some modern tools and technology to create 3D portraits.
Expert drawers use varied tools to draw a portrait. Generally, to create a portrait, you will need:
- Charcoal: thanks to the varying drawing techniques of charcoal drawing, it’s possible to make very precise sketches, but also to apply it in think lines for bolder sketching. This technique can add textured effects to the drawing, and can create shading for graduated or blurred effects.
- Sanguine: there are chalks and pencils available in sanguine, which is a range of orangey-red to beige colours. Sanguine is commonly used for portraits because it offers a great range of volume to the drawing.
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What Proportions Do I Need to Understand in Order to Draw a Face?
Above all other things, in order to learn to draw a face step by step, it’s crucial to have some reliable points of reference.
- What are the proportions of a face?
- How can you place the mouth, nose and eyes in the right spot?
Here are some simple tips to help you draw a realistic portrait.
Some general points for drawing faces:
Every face has its own characteristics (thin, round, long, square, etc.). But in order to draw a portrait, you must be able to use your points of reference to trace an oval shape, then divide that into four parts.
This is the preparatory step taught to young children when teaching them to draw men’s and women’s faces.
To do this, trace what are commonly known as the division lines: one vertical line through the middle of the oval, then the horizontal lines.
Drawing the nose:
The first line drawn horizontally must correspond with where the eyes will go, but this is for later on. First of all, concentrate on the second horizontal line which splits the oval into two parts.
It’s at this point of intersection with the vertical line that you must draw the base of the nose: place a nostril on either side of the vertical line.
Drawing the mouth:
The mouth will be located on a third axis drawn horizontally so that the lower part of the oval circle is divided into two.
The bottom of the lower lip must meet this new line: draw the separation line of the two lips, then draw the upper lip and finally the lower lip.
Drawing the eyes:
At the level of the first horizontal line - in the middle of the oval - draw two large circles on either side of the line: these are the eye sockets.
Briefly mark out the eyebrows at the top of these two circles, then draw two small almonds inside each of them: the space between the eyes should be the width of a third eye.
Draw each iris and then the pupil, each time in the centre of each circle and on the axis of the eyes. Colour each pupil in black in order to mark out the white of the eye.
Then move on to the eyelids: try to make a second almond within the first, going around the iris.
Drawing ears, hair, neck, and details:
The bottom of each ear should be at the same level as the base of the nose. The upper point of the ears should be at the same level as the eyebrows.
After this, you must draw the hair and neck, and add some small basic details: some shading, some definition on and around the nose, the chin, adding expression to the face.
When sketching, the drier, stiffer and more pronounced the lines are, the older the face will look. To create a younger-looking character, you should try to make the lines more rounded and flexible.
Once these marks are drawn, we will be able to refine the shape of the face, and especially of the chin. You could also go a bit further and even add the shoulders and clothes!
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Tips for Drawing a Human Face
For drawing an imaginary character for comic books, it’s the creativity of the drawer which comes into play and must be drawn upon.
On the other hand, if the goal is to do a portrait of a live model or a photo, it becomes a question of very close observation to reproduce the elements and maintaining the right proportions of the original.
Observe and draw grids to reproduce a face
It’s the same process as drawing a hand: the illustrator who wants to draw a hand will very carefully observe the shape of the fingers and nails, the colour and pigments of the skin, etc., before drawing the lines and contours with confidence.
Another technique is to draw a grid on your drawing paper to realistically reproduce the face’s shape and proportions.
Whichever technique you choose to draw your portrait, the important thing here is to find a way of faithfully respecting the proportions of the model and every individual part of the face.
Some essential elements to observe:
- The width of the mouth in relation to the nose
- The positioning of the eyes in relation to the mouth
- The characteristics and the position of the eyebrows on the face.
Amongst these useful tips, it’s important to make sure that:
- The spacing of the two eyes corresponds with the width of a third imaginary eye in between the two
- The base of the nose is aligned with the inner corner of the eyes
- The corners of the mouth are aligned with the inner edge of the iris.
The initial proportions are fairly general, but being attentive to the smaller details makes it possible to mark out the right reference points with the first pencil strokes. After that, all that remains is to refine the lines in order to reproduce all the details you’ve observed.
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Trust Your Emotions
When drawing, it’s important to disconnect the left half of the brain – that of reason – so that you can give free rein to feeling and expression.
To achieve this, you will be guided purely by your perceptions, which comes from the right side of the brain.
The idea is not to seek meaning as such, but rather to reproduce exactly what one sees in a descriptive, sensory way.
Remember that portraiture is not an exercise in symmetry. You will realise pretty quickly, by studying models in close detail, that no face is perfectly symmetrical.
The most important thing to achieve when aiming for an accurate drawing is to bring the face to life with three-dimensional drawing. It is therefore important to make your markings accurately according to the model you are observing and stick to them closely.
The nose may not be quite straight, the smile crooked, eyebrows misaligned, but that doesn’t mean the drawing is inaccurate - the hand must draw whatever the eye sees!
Tips for Drawing a Realistic Portrait
So here it is, the first sketch has been made!
From now on, you should work on the small details so that you can transform your drawing into a realistic portrait which resembles the model as closely as possible.
To work on the resemblance, each element counts. There are many important points that shouldn’t be neglected in drawing, not least the facial features such as the mouth, nose, hair and especially the eyes.
In each case, try to observe your model as closely as possible so that you can faithfully reproduce what you see, particularly the facial expression. After all, the facial expression is one of the most complex elements to draw.
It’s not just necessary to respect the shapes of the eyes, but it’s also crucial that you pay attention to the eyelids, the iris and pupil, the eyelashes, and also the eyebrows.
The main difficulty lies in having to focus on each eye individually, whilst ensuring that there is a consistency between the two eyes at the same time.
These are the particular details that allow you to capture the facial expression. In order for a portrait to be a success, you must learn to draw a vivid and expressive look.
To get started, you should observe all the details (not forgetting light reflections), but you should also learn how to use empty spaces. The empty spaces in drawing are very important, because they create a cohesive whole - so it’s crucial not to neglect them!
Do you need to design a logo based on an eye or other facial feature? Having great observation skills and an eye for detail is the key to success.
Those who have trouble drawing the outline of the eye can, for example, focus on the white of the eye and the iris. By drawing these elements one by one, the drawer’s hand will naturally reproduce the shape of the whole eye. The thickness of the eyelids is another important point to consider.
For a portrait to be truly complete, you must also observe the shadows and reproduce them as accurately as possible.
This will give volume to the parts of the face, and will make your drawing more realistic. This is why it’s key to learn how to work with gradients and play with light and shadow, adding a new dimension to the portrait.
Finally, the thickness of the features will influence the final result.
When you start to draw, you usually tend to focus on the contours by making stronger lines. This can result in mistakes and inaccuracies, which should be avoided.
For example, contrary to the common temptation to draw the contours of the lips, the most important line for drawing a mouth must be the one that separates the lower lip from the upper lip.
The contours of the lips will form with lots of lighter lines rather than more pronounced, heavy lines. This is also an example of where shading will help to give the lips their definitive form and give the mouth its volume.
It’s important to take into account the lighting of the face to produce an accurate portrait of your model.
And why not attempt to design your future tattoo based on a face?
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How to Draw Faces: 7 Mistakes to Avoid!
When getting started on the first page of your sketchbook, a novice sketcher will usually seek to overdo the lines and details, when just gently scribbling would be enough.
Or instead, we tend to start by drawing the eyes before marking out the rest of the head – but think about the human skull, the eyes are important, but they are not the first thing you should draw, far from it in fact!
We’re exaggerating a bit – but to sketch out a beautiful portrait, you should start by getting rid of bad habits and avoiding common mistakes. And even if you are not planning to draw realistically -for example, when designing logos - it's important to understand the basics!
- Draw parallel lines
It’s crucial to always ensure that the dividing lines of the face are parallel to each other. Good distances will result in a good symmetry of the face.
Making uneven lines runs the risk of the distances between the elements of the face being completely inaccurate, and you’d have to start all over again.
- Don’t neglect the contours of the human skull
knowing how to draw a face also means taking into account the outline of the skull: a face too fine will give the impression of lacking structure, or being too flat.
If the top of the head is too low it will be hard to add hair accurately later on: a flattened skill truncates the shape of the hair, preventing your ability to achieve a realistic portrait.
- Adding the right amount of detail to the sketch
Our brain can play tricks on us, and sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture when we focus too early on the fine details. This is a common mistake among beginner: adding too much detail from the beginning.
This is a mistake, and actually creating outlines and building shapes saves time in the long run. So give priority to light sketch and to outlines of shapes without too much precision, and once you’ve got all the structure in place, you can start detailing.
We start out by sketching out the three major parts of the face: the eyes, the nose and the mouth.
- Don’t rush it!
Make sure you don’t make rash moves with your drawing: taking your time and not taking shortcuts is the best strategy to bypass the temptations you might feel to hurry your portrait along, but you must learn to control erratic pencil strokes.
If you feel blocked by a particular obstacle, continuing regardless would be a mistake because the consequences of doing so will affect the overall results of your work. Aim to tackle every obstacle head on until you’re happy with the result.
Taking your time also helps you to properly observe your model, their expression and the structure of their face. And then keep at it until it looks perfect!
- Don’t neglect perspective
Understanding the concept of perspective is a fundamental part of drawing. The most common mistakes when it comes to drawing faces are:
- An inaccurate depth to the nose
- An inaccurate distance between the eyes
- Flat eyes and eye sockets
- Ignoring the thickness of the eyelids
The eyes are incredibly important in a portrait – in the same way that the mouth is – because they are the features which give the most expression on the face. But amateur drawers easily fall into the trap of drawing what they see as flat.
It’s equally important to draw with a three-quarter view (between profile and face-on): the nose should hide the space of the eye in the background to create the illusion of perspective that the eye in the foreground is further from the base of the nose.
The left side of the face must therefore be smaller than the right side, seen in the foreground.
- Suggest depth with your drawing
The neck is in the background on a three-quarter facial view. To create this depth, a small trick is to use the shadows and the outline of the neck.
The most common mistake is to connect the jawline with the neck line, but these two lines should normally be on different planes.
To avoid falling into this trap, the drawer must make a small shift in the contour of the neck to stop it joining directly into the jawline.
- Correctly position the ears
The last mistake that is very commonly made is where to put the ears.
When drawing a face in profile, an ear can be difficult to place – is it nearer the eyes, or the mouth? How far between the two?
Drawing an ear too close to the face will make it look too long, but if it is too far away it will make the skull look misshapen.
Placing the ear on the head requires measuring the distance between the eye and the chin, and then the measurement of the eye to the ear: we get an isosceles triangle, with the optimal location of the upper ear in line with the eye.
Finally, even if it varies widely from person to person, the ear will generally be in line with the eyebrows and the base of the nose.
To learn how to draw a woman's or man's face, it’s best is to take up drawing lessons with a real tutor in portrait drawing.
To learn to draw and to acquire good drawing techniques, don’t hesitate to consult drawing blogs and draw inspiration from online drawing tutorials.
In any case, it’s crucial to practise and persevere!
Once you feel more at ease, you can easily draw beautiful portraits, manga characters or master the art of caricature!