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Facial Proportions for Drawing – Beginner’s Guide

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to drawing. One important thing to understand when you’re learning drawing is facial proportions.

Drawing a portrait or a realistic face is one of the most challenging, but most rewarding quests for an artist. Learning Facial proportions can give you a general guide of where exaclty to place the features of the face such as eyes, nose, and mouth.

Here is the start of one of my portrait attempts:

Understanding facial proportions when learning to draw the human face can be a helpful guide for beginners. This will help you to rely on your eye or intuition when drawing a portrait in the future.

That said, we recommend using these facial proportions as a loose guide and not something that should completely dictate your drawing when attempting to draw the human face. Everyone has their own process or way of drawing. You can’t really pin down what’s the right way to draw something.

If there’s one golden tip I can give when attempting to draw portrait with the correct facial proportions is to make sure that you get the size, distance, dimension, and placement of the eyes and brows first.

If you can get the eyes correct placed and shaped you can then use them as a guide for all of the other features of the face.

Get your general outline and shape of the head then start with the eyes and brows and work your way down the face

The important thing is you now have a basis that can help you out when drawing faces! 

Table of Contents

    What Are The Proportions When Drawing a Face?

    Facial proportions can be difficult, given that each face is different. However, once you know the basics, you’ll find that it can be applied to any face you know. Here are the basic proportions when drawing a face:

    EyesThe eyes are slightly above the middle of your face. The distance between
    both eyes can be determined by placing a third eye between them.
    The distance from your eye to the side of your face is approximately half an eye.
    NoseThe nose sits halfway between your eyes and chin.
    MouthSlightly below the nose. The edges of the mouth line up
    with the inner edge of your eyes.
    EarsThe bottom of the ears is in line with the bottom of the nose. The top lines
    up with the corner of your eyes.

    I will explain this more in detail later in the article, so keep reading!

    How Do You Draw Proportions – What You’ll Need

    Here’s a list of items you’re going to need to practice drawing proportions:

    • Pencil
    • Paper
    • Eraser
    • Reference Photo
    • Clear Ruler (optional)

    Pencils, papers, and erasers are obviously a must unless you intend to practice with a stone and a chisel. I recommend using a 2B pencil for this as you’re probably going to be erasing and repeating a lot as you’re learning. For paper, any paper will do as long as it doesn’t easily tear. Like I said, you’re likely going to be erasing a lot so it’s no use getting paper that will easily rip.

    As for your reference photo, I suggest using a face that doesn’t express intense emotions. While you will definitely have to study facial expressions sooner or later, when you’re starting out, it’s important to take it one step at a time and not overwhelm yourself.

    If you’re still learning proportions then there’s no need for you to worry about expressions just yet. Stick with a simple reference of your favorite celebrity or someone you really want to draw. If you can’t find a reference, a lot of artists offer some on their websites.

    Lastly, you may need a ruler. This one, however, isn’t really a must. You can just eyeball the measurements and walk away fine. But if you’re the meticulous type then having a ruler wouldn’t hurt.

    General Tips for Drawing a Face

    Stay light and loose

    When you’re just sketching the face, it’s important to stay light and loose. Don’t grip your pencil too hard and don’t hyper-fixate on one tiny detail.

    Don’t be discouraged initially

    If you don’t like how your sketch is turning out, don’t be discouraged. This is considered the ugly phase and it will pass. You don’t look at flour and eggs and think “Wow, this cake tastes horrible.”

    The same can be applied to your portrait. Just because you’re in the sketching stage, doesn’t mean it’s gonna turn out awful.

    Don’t be afraid to erase and start over

    If your portrait does turn out to be far less than what you expected, don’t be afraid to start over. Repetition is part of the learning process. You’re not gonna be good from the get-go. You’re going to have to go through some really ugly drawings first.

    The more you draw and practice, the more natural it’ll come naturally. Eventually, you’ll be able to draw faces casually.

    Try to focus on getting the brows and eyes proportionate and correct first then use them to measure the rest of the features like the ears, nose, and mouth

    If you don’t know where to start on the face, I suggest beginning with the eyes and eyebrows. From there, you can measure where to place the rest of the features. Most facial proportions rely on the eyes anyway.

    A portrait really comes to life with the final details like most other drawings

    If you feel like your drawing looks bare, don’t worry. Once you reach the final stage and add all that there is to add (shading, details, etc.), it’ll come to life.

    The details you add on top of the sketch you’ve made will really make your portrait pop. Just make sure to not add too much attention to details otherwise you’ll end up spending too much time on one particular feature.

    Drawing a face is one of the most challenging but rewarding artistic attempts

    The face is one of the most complicated things to draw. Not only is it made up of so many parts and features but it also comes in different shapes and sizes. It takes a lot of practice to master drawing faces.

    But once you get used to it and are able to draw faces naturally, you’ll find that is one of the most rewarding things to do. To see a face come together and form something you can recognize brings so much joy.

    So if you’re in the beginning stage of learning how to draw faces, don’t be discouraged by the mistakes you make. Think about the results that will come from consistent practice and work towards that.

    If you’re wondering why so many people struggle with drawing faces, have a look at this video:

    Why Are We So Bad At Drawing Faces?

    Drawing Face Proportions Step by Step – How to Draw a Face

    Now let me take you through a step-by-step guide on how to draw a face.

    Step 1: Draw a circle and a cross

    Start by drawing a circle. In the middle of the circle, draw a horizontal and vertical line (a cross basically). That line will be the basis for the facial features. Don’t be afraid to have the lines go outside of the circle, in fact, I recommend it as it will help us determine the face’s overall shape.

    Step 2: Draw the shape of the face (use marks to help guide you)

    Once you have your cross, imagine the overall structure of the face and place marks on the areas that will define the shape of the face (the chin, the forehead, the width, etc.). After that, draw the outline of the face by connecting the marks together.

    If you’re having difficulty, put marks on your reference photo and imitate said marks on paper. It’s up to you how many marks you want to put, but personally, I just put marks on the important aspects of the face like the chin, forehead, and cheeks.

    Step 3: Determine where each part of the face is going to be

    You have the face’s shape, now it’s time to figure out where things go.  

    Start with the cross in the middle of the circle. Just above the first line, add another horizontal line. This will be the basis for the eyes.

    Always start with the eyes and eyebrows first when drawing a face. Once you draw the eyes, you can use it as a guide for the rest of the features.

    The space between the eyes is approximately the same size as one eye (this may vary depending on what kind of face you’re drawing, but generally, it’s the same size as one eye).

    Once you have that down, from the corner of both eyes, draw an upside-down triangle. On the tip of the triangle, draw three circles. One big circle and two small ones at each of its sides. This will be the nose.

    Just below the nose, draw the mouth. The corner of the mouth aligns with the inner corner of the eyes. To draw the lips, once again, draw three circles. In the big circle, draw an upside-down triangle for the cupid’s bow. Once you’ve drawn the cupid’s bow, simply draw a downward slope from the bow to the edge of the mouth, then draw another bow for the bottom lip.

    For the ears, it’s quite simple. The top of the ears lines up with the corner of your eyes meanwhile the bottom lines up with the nose. Ear shape may vary but typically, they’re just a laidback connected question mark.

    How to Sketch a Face from a Photo

    Sketching from a photo sounds difficult, but knowing the basic proportions of the face may help lessen that difficulty.

    To sketch a face from a photo, first, figure out where your subject is facing. If you’re a beginner, I suggest starting with a simple front-facing reference photo, but if you’re taking it up a notch and drawing someone who’s facing a different direction, try to pinpoint where they’re looking at or what direction they’re facing.

    After that, get the basic shape of the face. Draw marks on your reference and try to replicate them on your paper. This will be a lot easier if you print out your photo, however, if you’re unable to, simply using the default edit function on your phone or laptop to draw the marks on your photo is enough.

    You can even draw a circle and a cross on top of your reference to really help you out.

    Once you’ve figured out the direction they’re facing and the shape of their face. It’s time to start adding the details.

    Now the facial details are what makes a face recognizable. The shape of the eyes, the thickness of the eyebrows, the size of the nose, etc. All of these can be boiled down to basic shapes. If you know how to recognize basic shapes on a photo, you’ll be able to replicate these details easily.

    If you end up with a drawing that looks nothing like you’re reference photo, don’t be discouraged. Keep practicing! Train your eye to recognize simple shapes and build off of that! You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to draw things, not just faces, once you start to understand shapes.

    If you really want to copy a photo and paste it as a drawing, use grid lines. Although time-consuming, grid lines can help you replicate a photo by focusing on drawing a detail one square at a time.

    Training your eyes to identify the shapes that make up a person’s face will help you draw faces easier. Photo credits: Marvel’s 2011 Thor

    How to Shade a Face

    Shading a face is simple. As with shading any drawing, all you have to do is find out where the light source is and where the light hits the face. To make it easier, draw a simple circle to where you want the light source to be then add arrows, kind of like sun rays, that point to the face.

    From there, you’ll be able to see where the light hits and where it doesn’t. Shade in the areas where the light doesn’t hit.

    Once you know where to shade, take a pencil with a darker grade than the one you used for the outlines. I recommend somewhere around 5B to 7B. 8B if you really want a dark shade. Grab a cotton swab or a blending stump for blending.

    Start by gently coloring in the shaded areas with your pencil. This doesn’t have to be that dark just yet as this will be the first layer of your shade and will help you to create midtones.

    After the first layer, shade with your pencil again but this time add a little bit more pressure than the last time. On the third layer, add even more pressure to make it darker. Keep the mid-tones in mind, the nearer it is to the light source, the lighter the shade should be.

    When you’ve finally added the shades, you can start blending with your cotton or blending stump.

    No idea how to shade? Have a look at our other article here: Why is Shading So Difficult?

    How Far Apart Should Eyes Be When Drawing?

    The distance between your left eye and your right eye is approximately one eye in length.

    If you’re not sure how to measure the distance between your eyes when drawing, draw a third eye between them. If you’re not sure about the distance from the side of your face to your eyes, draw half an eye. You’ll be surprised by how useful eyes are as a unit of measurement when drawing.

    What Percentage of Your Face Should Your Forehead Be?

    Your forehead is 1/3 of your face, meaning it should take up about 33.33% of your face.

    To make this easier, you can divide the face into three equal parts. The first part is for the forehead, the second for the eyes and nose, and lastly, the third one is for your mouth and chin. Now, this may vary as people have different forehead lengths, but generally speaking, it only takes up about a third of our faces.

    How Can I Improve My Face Drawing?

    Here are my tips on improving drawings portraits and faces:

    • Train your eye to recognize the shapes that make up a face.
    • Use multiple faces as references and not just one
    • Don’t spend too much time on one detail
    • Don’t be discouraged if the drawing looks nothing like the reference photo

    These are just some of the tips I have for drawing faces. Now that you have a basic grasp of facial proportions, it should be easier for you to learn and study how to draw the face.

    Of course, you won’t improve right away just because you now know the basic proportions. You still need to learn about eye shapes, how to draw different lips and noses, and different facial shapes!

    As I said earlier, the human face is one of the most complicated things to draw as every face is different. So don’t expect to get good at it right away. Your first couple of portraits will most likely not turn out the way you want them to. If that’s the case, don’t be discouraged. Brush it off, learn from your mistakes, and move on. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to draw faces in no time.

    Thanks for reading! I hope this article helped!

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