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How to get better at drawing faces (8 Tips for Beginners)

Like most beginner artists, I struggled to draw faces well through most of my art journey. And let me be honest, the only way to truly get better at drawing faces, I think, is by practicing to draw faces over and over again despite being not very good at it at first.  

However, some things can speed up your progress in portrait drawing if you’re a beginner artist like me, such as knowing how to approach your portrait drawing routine and learning tips from artists who have spent decades perfecting their craft.

So if you feel like you’re not improving your drawing skills, I share some tips in this post to help you that I have learned by reading art books, taking art courses, watching other artists draw, and, most notably, practicing, which have helped me the most in getting better at drawing faces quickly.

How to improve portrait drawing skills

From my own experience, to get better at drawing faces quickly, we need to break down portrait drawing into these eight sub-skills that we need to learn and make an effort to improve actively:

1. Training yourself to see the planes of the face

2. Learn the basic proportions of the face

3. Learn the Loomis Method for drawing the head

4. How to draw the eyes

5. How to draw the nose

6. How to draw the mouth

7. How to draw the ears

8. How to practice drawing faces

In the following sections, I share tips and drawing exercises that have helped me improve at each of these 8 portrait drawing skills. I hope you find this information useful as well!

1. Train yourself to see the different planes of the face

When I returned to drawing earlier this year, I couldn’t convey the three-dimensional form of the face in my portrait drawings, which admittedly looked flat. After a bit of introspection and feedback from other artists, I realized it was because of my lack of ability to see the different planes of the face and how they interact with light.

Here are 3 exercises I did to train myself to see the different planes of the face.

Exercise 1: Asaro head studies

Asaro Head study I did recently.

One exercise that helped me better understand the different planes of the face is doing studies of the Asaro Head, which I think is an excellent reference for beginner artists because of its simple shapes.

Exercise 2: Skull studies

A skull study from my sketchbook.

One key difference separating a portrait drawn by professional artists and beginners is their knowledge of the skull’s anatomy. Skull studies I think are a great exercise for learning the planes of the face.

Doing skull studies can help to understand how the different parts of the face are placed on top of the underlying anatomy of the head. For me, these studies introduced me to some of the more prominent bones of the skull, like the cheekbone and the cranium planes, that can be highlighted in my drawings.

Exercise 3: Draw different statue heads

Some statue head studies from my sketchbooks.

I love drawing heads of statues by the old masters like David by Michelangelo because it helps me to focus on the primary forms of the face and the subtle play of light and shadow while not getting distracted by minor details like the skin tone, texture, and hair which can be too much for a beginner artist to process.

2. Learn the basic proportions of the face

Beginner artists can improve their portraits by knowing the proportions of the average face. Here are some of the critical face proportions to remember when drawing a face:

  • The eye level is at the verticle center of the head.
  • The bottom of the lower lip is equally distanced from the base of the nose and the chin.
  • The gap between the two eyes is equal to the length of one eye.
  • The outer corners of the nose are aligned with the inner corners of the eyes.
  • The ears connect around the middle of the head’s side planes adjacent to the nose.
  • The front of the face is divisible into three equal parts:
    • The forehead (hairline to the browline).
    • The nose (browline to the base of the nose).
    • The mouth (base of the nose to the chin).

You may consider checking out my articles on 7 Key Face Proportions for Artists and How to Draw Face Proportions Accurately in which I discuss the basic face proportions in greater detail as well as other relevant stuff like how the face proportions for men differ from women and tips for drawing accurate face proportions.

 

3. Learn the Loomis Method for drawing the head

My recent attempt at the Loomis Method. Need to practice these more to get more comfortable in drawing portraits in a structured way.

My portrait drawing improved a lot when I switched from copying the contours and values of a face in favor of the Loomis Method, which is a more structural approach to drawing a face.

By studying the Loomis Method, I learned how to build a drawing from basic shapes and structure instead of pure observation, which can often be a hit or a miss.

Here’s a quick intro to the Loomis Method for drawing heads by Proko if you need a refresher.

4. Tips for getting better at drawing eyes

Two of my better 30-minutes eye studies from my sketchbook

I think drawing eyes well can let you get away with other minor imperfections in a portrait because it’s often the first thing we tend to observe when looking at a portrait. Here are some tips I have learned from other artists that have helped me to draw better eyes.

  • Avoid using a splash of pure white when drawing the eyes, and use light midtones instead to show the sclera (the white layer covering the eyeball). Pure white may only be used sparingly to draw the eyes’ highlights.
  • The eyeball sits inside the two eyelids, so consider adding a dark shadow below the upper eyelid and a highlight in the lower eyelid to create a sense of depth and volume.
  • Unless you’re trying to go for hyper-realism, I find that limiting the number of eyelashes and simplifying their overall shape helps to make the eyes look more prominent.
  • Starting an eye drawing by making a sphere with vertical and horizontal gesture lines can help visualize the different shapes and forms around the eyes.

Here’s one of my favorite resources to learn how to draw eyes properly by Robert Stacy (Sinix Design). I just love his drawing aesthetics, his approach to studying the different parts of the face, and how he explains things so easily in his tutorials. I’ll be sharing his relevant videos throughout this article and you should definitely check out his Youtube Channel for more videos.

5. Tips for drawing better noses

The part of the face I struggle to draw well the most is the nose. Here are some tips I have learned from other artists that are helping me to get better at drawing noses.

  • To draw a nose, I like to start with a sphere to depict the nose ball that converges with flat planes of the sides of the nose and the nose bridge. You can check the reference video below for an example.
  • Once I’m happy with the basic structure, I outline the tonal shapes to show where the major shadows and highlights need to go.
  • Any shadow under the nose must follow the contour of the philtrum (the space between the upper lip and the nose) to give the illusion of its form.
  • When shading the sides of the nose, it helps to change the direction of shading compared to the ball of the nose to show the change of planes.
  • How much of the nostrils are visible depends on the degree of tilt of the face.

 

6. Tips for getting better at drawing the mouth

I obviously need to learn a lot more about drawing the mouth properly.
  • When drawing the face from the front view, many beginner artists end up with lips that look like they are placed on a flat surface. One thing that helped me draw lips with a better sense of their volume and shape was drawing them on top of a sphere representing the muzzle. This really helped me to understand how the lips recede from the center of the face towards the side planes of the face.
  • To draw the lips, I like to start with the upper lip by drawing three shapes and the lower corner of the second lip. Breaking up the lips this way helps to visualize the different planes of the lips. The reference video below shows a great illustration of this process.
  • Playing with the line weight of the center line where the two lips overlap, and the corners of the mouth can help show the volume.
  • Usually, the highlights of the lips are found on the lower lip, and I find it more visually appealing to show one or two clear highlights on the lower lip instead of several streaky highlights unless I’m going for a very realistic look.
  • There is often a clear shadow between the lower lip and the chin ball because this part is inclined slightly inwards compared to the lips and the chin.

7. Tips for drawing better ears

Happy with how this ear drawing turned out.

There seem to be so many variations of ears that it can be hard to get comfortable drawing them. Here are some helpful tips for drawing the ears.

  • One of the most basic things you can do to learn how to draw the ears, I think, is to familiarise yourself with the visible parts of the ear because as soon as we start recognizing something by name, it helps us to observe it better and memorize its form.
  • I find it easiest to draw ears when I start with a disc shape and then sculpt out details from this basic form.
  • Drawing the shadow along the contour of the AntHelix helps to elaborate its curvature in the portrait.
  • The ears are connected to the side planes of the head at an angle. Many beginners draw the ears as if it’s parallel to the side of the head, making the ears look a bit flat. I like to use slightly different tones for the ear compared to the side of the face to elaborate the change in angle.
  • Using lost and found edges when drawing ears is a great way to make them look easier on the eyes and also drive the focus of the drawing towards the front of the face.

8. Tips for portrait drawing practice

Putting in the 10 thousand hours of practice is obviously going to improve anyone’s ability to draw faces, but that is often easier said than done. 

One thing that seems to be helping me to retain my interest in portrait drawing and practice more consistently as I work my way towards completing my 10K hours is to mix up my portrait drawing routine with a combination of:

If you’re interested to learn more about how I practice drawing faces you should check out my article 8 Ways To Practice Drawing Faces in which I explain exactly that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmy

Saturday 2nd of March 2024

You are very talented. Thank you for the tips!

Ammar

Saturday 2nd of March 2024

Thanks for the kind words Jimmy! Glad I could help. ☺️