I must admit that most of my sketchbooks are filled with portraits of women because, traditionally, I find drawing women a lot more satisfying than men. In an effort to become a more well-rounded artist, this past week I made it a point to draw more masculine faces and study how the old and new masters approach portrait drawing of men and women.
In this post, I share what I have learned about the difference between portrait drawings of men and women and some tips that I have found helpful in making the portraits look more feminine or masculine.
Differences between male and female faces in portrait drawing
Men and women share similar face proportions but are noticeably different because, in general:
- Women have a more rounded face.
- Bones, muscles, and planes of the face are more prominent in men.
- Women tend to have bigger eyes and higher eyebrows.
- Feminine faces tend to have a smoother texture.
From my observation, the overall proportions of the face only differ slightly between men and women, but it’s how the different elements of the face are shaped and aligned that gives the face a masculine or feminine quality.
In the following sections, I briefly explain some of the key differences between the anatomy, shape language, texture, and features of the average male and female faces and also tips on making your reference model look more masculine or feminine.
Comparing the anatomy of the male and female head
An experienced archeologist can identify whether the skull belongs to a man or woman by observing the way the skull is structured. The knowledge of structural differences in the skulls of males and females can be really helpful for artists in portrait drawing as well because, in my experience, the structure and facial proportions defined in the initial stage of your portrait drawing have a great impact on the overall quality of the finished portrait.
Here are some key differences between the skull shape of males and females:
- The forehead bones of the female skull are more round, whereas the male forehead bones are a bit more inclined at an angle and flat.
- Males have a lightly broader skull compared to females.
- The jaw in masculine faces is more squarish, while feminine jaws appear more angular.
- The brow ridge is bumpier in males.
Shape language of masculine and feminine faces
- Round shapes generally suggest a feminine face, whereas masculine faces are better represented by boxy shapes.
- The bony parts of the face, like the brow ridge, jawline, and zygomatic arch, are more prominent in masculine faces.
- The muscles and planes of the head are more prominent in masculine faces. Females generally have a more subtle transition between the different planes of the face compared to men.
Differences in the features of the male and female face
- Bigger eyes are more suggestive of feminine faces, and so are high arching eyebrows. Males typically have less gap between their eyes and the brow ridge, which makes their eyes appear even smaller.
- Smaller nostrils and less defined noses also give the impression of a feminine face. Masculine faces generally have a sharp and well-defined nose that is also a bit wider compared to feminine faces.
- Masculine faces generally have leaner lips compared to feminine faces, which usually have fuller and rounded lips.
Textural differences between masculine and feminine faces
- The transition of planes in feminine faces is less obvious, giving them a smoother texture than masculine ones.
- The shadows and highlights in masculine faces can appear more prominent compared to feminine faces in a similar lighting setup.
- Facial hair, even if it is shaved, gives additional texture to the men’s face.
Tips for drawing a feminine-looking face
- When drawing a female portrait, try to be more selective and subtle in suggesting the face’s planes, muscles, and bony parts.
- Using soft edges and limiting the range of values to show the transition between the different planes of the face helps give a smoother texture to the face, which I think can enhance the feminine quality of a portrait.
- Drawing bigger eyes and increasing the gap between the eyes and the brow ridge can make the subject appear more feminine.
- Moving the outer corners of the eyes higher than the inner corners can make the person look more feminine.
- Adding round highlights on the lower lip helps suggest fuller lips and glossy texture, which I think gives a more girly feel to a portrait.
Tips for drawing a masculine-looking face
- Consider starting your portrait with a slightly wider and squarish outline than you usually would if you’re used to drawing female heads more often (like me).
- Draw the eyes closer to the brow ridge and emphasize the bony parts of the face, like the zygomatic arch, chin bone, and brow ridge.
- Try to define the planes of the face by contrasting the shadows and highlights.
- Suggest a slopy and flat forehead.
- Draw the jawline slightly lower and more adjacent to the chin level to get a more manly look.
Is it easier to draw the faces of males compared to females?
I guess this is one of things that depend on the individual abilities and perceptions of the artist.
Personally, I find male portraits easier to draw even though I don’t draw them too often because I feel like I can get away with minor imperfections when drawing men.
In comparison, when I’m drawing female portraits, I feel like I have a lower margin of error because the smallest mistakes in them seem to become magnified. I think drawing the female face requires more subtlety and deeper observation and I just love the challenge that drawing female portraits presents.