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Loomis Method: 13 Steps for Drawing the Head

Hey there fellow artists. These past few months, I’ve been diving into portrait drawing, focusing on the Loomis Method. And I have to say it’s been a game-changer for me when it comes to the art of drawing faces.

So in this post, I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about the Loomis Method. I’ve condensed the insights I gained from reading “Drawing the Head and Hands” by Andrew Loomis into 13 straightforward steps. These steps will guide you in drawing faces from various angles – be it the front view, side profile, or the 3/4 view.

Additionally, I’ve added some helpful tips for practicing the Loomis Method. These are strategies that I’ve personally found super effective in quickly grasping the technique. Also, I’ve included my take on Loomis’ approach to drawing individual facial features, like the eyes and nose, based on the remarkable drawings of Andrew Loomis himself.

So let’s dive in!

What is the Loomis Method, and why you should learn it?

The Loomis Method is a systematic process for drawing portraits devised by Andrew Loomis, an American illustrator and art instructor. This approach to drawing portraits simplifies the complex task of capturing the human head from any angle in three dimensions. It all starts with a basic ball shape, and from there, you’ll pinpoint key measurements to map out the facial features.

Loomis emphasizes that accurately placing these features on the fundamental shapes representing the face and head’s planes is more crucial than focusing solely on the features themselves. This approach challenges how most beginners start drawing faces by trying to copy the contours of the face without considering its basic structure and proportions, which is why learning the Loomis Method can help budding artists draw more accurate and impressive portraits.

The brilliance of the Loomis Method lies in its ability to break down the intricate process of drawing the human head into simple, repeatable steps. Even if you’re a beginner, these steps are designed to be easily learned and applied.

Now on to the magical 13 steps that will empower you to draw the Loomis Head from any angle. For reference, here is the final drawing so you know the angle of the head I have chosen for this demonstration if you wish to follow along.

Step 1 Draw a ball to represent the cranium (skull)

Loomis suggests kick-starting your head masterpiece with a simple circle. This circle symbolizes the cranium – the upper part of the skull excluding the jaw. Think of it as a ball with slightly flattened sides.

No matter what the angle of the head is, the shape of the upper part of the skull is that of a sphere which is why it is a good idea to start your portrait with a simple circle.

With the foundation in place, we will transform this circle into a three-dimensional sphere by drawing some curved guidelines over it in the following step.

Step 2 Indicate the middle line, brow line, and halfway line.

Get ready to transform your circle into a three-dimensional ball by sketching three essential guidelines. These lines provide the framework for your masterpiece, dividing the face into distinct sections.

To complete this step, you need to first observe the angle of the head and then place these three guidelines wrapped around the curvature of the ball:

  • The middle line is a vertical line dividing the face into left and right sides. To determine the angle of this line, you need to focus on the angle of the center of the face and extrapolate.
  • The browline follows the horizontal angle of the brow ridge and the upper edge of the ears.
  • The halfway line is a vertical line dividing the side of the head.

Don’t be disheartened if nailing these lines seems tricky initially – practice makes perfect, and you’ll soon master it.

Step 3 Flatten the ball’s sides to depict the skull’s side planes.

As the human head isn’t perfectly spherical, it’s time to flatten those sides. By doing so, you’ll achieve a more realistic representation. Remember, the side planes should be roughly two-thirds the radius of the cranium.

The flat side planes of the head are easier to notice when a single light source is projected from one side of the head.

The browline and the halfway line we drew in Step 2 will need to be flattened out as well in this step.

Step 4 Draw a cross at the browline and middle line intersection.

This cross is one of the most critical steps in the Loomis Method. It’s your compass for placing key landmarks on the face.

Besides defining the perspective of the head, the cross helps us locate vital facial landmarks like the nose line, hairline, and base of the chin in Step 5 so it is crucial to get this right.

In his book, Loomis explains why this is such a useful measurement tool to locate the different features of the face because this particular point on the head is not only at the conjunction of major landmarks of the face but is also always fixed.

The cross only moves when the whole head moves unlike other landmarks of the face such as the base of the chin which can move independently from the rest of the head when the jaw opens or closes.

Step 5 Mark the hairline, nose line, and base of the chin.

Picture the face as three vertical segments – forehead, nose, and mouth/chin. With the cross as your anchor, you’ll draw these segments in perfect proportions.

Loomis divides the face into three equal segments: the forehead, the nose, and the mouth/chin.

To draw these segments in equal proportions, we start from the cross marked in Step 4 and work our way up and down to find the hairline, nose line, and the base of the chin.

The hairline is roughly placed midway between the browline and the top of the head. The top of the head is where the middle line intersects the halfway line. The area between the browline and the hairline is our first segment (the forehead).

Once we have figured out the hairline, we move the same distance downwards from the cross to find the base of the nose which gives us the second segment of the face (the nose).

An equal distance further down helps us locate the base of the chin and the last segment of the face (the mouth and the chin).

Step 6 Position the ears on the cranium’s side planes.

Moving on to the ears, one thing to remember is to always locate them in the lower back quadrant of the cranium’s side planes.

At this stage, focus on the basic shape of the ears. Details come later once you’re confident in the overall head proportions.

Step 7 Sketch jawlines converging towards the chin.

The jaw connects to the skull behind the ears so it’s a good idea to start drawing the jawline from there and converge both sides of the jaw towards the base of the chin.

Step 8 Outline the prominent intersections between the front and side planes.

With the right lighting, you can spot the dominant rhythm lines on the forehead and cheeks that separate the face’s front from its sides.

You don’t need to be overly precise here – a few confident lines will do the trick, conveying the shift in the face’s planes.

Step 9 Shape the mouth and lips, following the curvature of the teeth.

3. Draw the planes of the lips and the border of the chin.

The Loomis Method for drawing the lips

  1. Divide the last third segment of the face (ie., the area between the base of the nose and the base of the chin) into equal thirds:
    • The first segment is for the philtrum.
    • The second segment is for the lips.
    • The third and last segment is for the chin.
  2. Mark the general shape of the lower border of the upper lip (the smile line) and the corners of the lips in the second segment. It is important to remember here that the lips follow the rounded formation of the teeth.
  3. Indicate the planes of the lips.
  4. Suggest the shape of the area between the chin and the lips.
Loomis suggests dividing the lips into these 5 planes which I personally find really helpful in drawing the lips.

Step 10 Draw the planes of the nose starting from its base.

Before going into the nitty gritty of drawing the nose, it is useful to know generally how the nose aligns with the rest of the face.

On average, the nose aligns horizontally with the ears. The corners of the lips vertically align with the tear ducts and the corners of the mouth are often wider than the wings of the nose.

The Loomis Method for drawing the nose

  1. Draw the basic shape of the ball of the nose.
  2. Define the bony parts of the nose bridge.
  3. Connect the nose bridge to the brow ridge.
  4. Mark the outer corners of the sides of the nose.
  5. Define the contour of ball of the nose right above the nostrils. This is usually the shadowy part of the nose.
  6. Mark the nostrils below the contour line.

Step 11 Draw the eyes after outlining the structure of the eye sockets.

5. Sketch the pupil, iris, and the eyebrows.

The Loomis Method for drawing the eyes

  1. Mark the shape of the eye sockets.
  2. Draw the eye line right below the brow ridge. A good rule of thumb is to place the eyeline right in the verticle center of the head and adjacent to the upper corner of the ears. Depending on the pose, the angle of the eye line may vary slightly from the angle of the brow line due to foreshortening.
  3. Mark the inner corners of the eyes in line with the edge of the nostrils.
  4. Mark the outer corners of the eyes. Remember that the distance between the two eyes should be equal to the width of one eye when viewed from the front but is proportionately reduced to the average of both eyes when viewed at an angle.
  5. Draw the upper and lower eyelids. It is important to suggest the thickness of either the upper or lower eyelid depending on whether the head is tilted upwards or downwards.
  6. Draw the border of the Iris and the Pupil. Iris isn’t a perfect circle but more of an ellipse because it is structured on top of a round surface (i.e., the eyeball) and at times partially hidden behind the eyelids.
  7. Sketch the shape of the eyebrows over the browline. No need to draw the individual hair of the eyebrows but focus more on the overall shape.

Step 12 Detail the secondary planes and features of the face.

With the major features of the face in place, it’s time to define the secondary planes, forms, and landmarks, such as the ears, cheekbones, forehead, and hair.

Once we’re confident with the basic construction of the head, we can proceed to the fun part of the drawing: shading!

Step 13 Polish the drawing with shading and highlights.

This is where your drawing comes alive. I personally find shading and highlighting the most rewarding and satisfying parts of a drawing.

Loomis method is not intended to instruct a certain type of rendering which is understandable because everyone has their own preference when it comes to art style. So feel free to experiment and shade your portrait drawing as realistically or minimally as you like.

In the next section, I share 9 tips that I find really helpful in learning and improving the Loomis Method quickly.

9 Tips for Getting Better at Drawing the Loomis Head

As you embark on your Loomis Method journey, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Visualize the full head construction: Imagine the entire head’s construction, even the parts hidden from view. This helps you position features accurately.
  2. Draw both sides of the face at the same time: Simultaneously place features on both sides of the face – eyes, ears, cheekbones. This helps to draw portraits with better proportions.
  3. Embrace roundness: Capture the curves and forms of the face – from the muzzle to the eyes. Don’t depict them as flat surfaces.
  4. Add masculinity: Shift toward more boxy planes in later stages for a more masculine facial structure.
  5. Focus on the landmarks of the skull: When drawing expressive faces, remember that the jaw is the only bone structure of the head that can move independently. And since the Loomis Method is based on the landmarks of the skull rather than muscles, the measurements do not change on account of different facial expressions unless it concerns the last segment of the face (i.e., mouth and chin).
  6. Structure before shading: Begin shading after securing your head’s basic structure.
  7. Practice over pictures: Practicing drawing the Loomis Head over pictures of people from old magazines is a great way to familiarize yourself with the Loomis Method and understand how the Loomis Method can be used to draw a range of different face types and angles.
  8. Study anatomy: Familiarize yourself with the Asaro Head and learn basic human head anatomy.
  9. Practice, practice, practice: Mastery comes with practice, so keep at it and enjoy the journey!

Happy drawing!