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Loomis Vs. Reilly Method for Portrait Drawing

Two of my recent attempts at drawing a portrait using the steps outlined in each method.

When I got back to drawing portraits earlier this year, I wondered what I should learn first to draw the human head properly: the Loomis Method or the Reilly Method. 

My initial impression of the Reilly method was that it was too complicated for beginner artists. So I decided to learn the Loomis Method first in the hope of exploring the Reilly Method later. After gaining some basic understanding of the Loomis Method, I did study the Reilly Method to see how it compares with the former. So in this post, I share what little I have learned about the two approaches for drawing the human head, their similarities, differences, examples, and my final thoughts on which one is better for beginner artists based on my experience.

After I dive into the Loomis Vs. Reilly comparison, I’ll briefly share my (admittedly limited) knowledge about the basic process of drawing the human head using each method and my recommendations on the best resources to learn more about each technique.

Loomis Vs. Reilly

The Loomis and Reilly Methods are both very useful guides for portrait drawing. While the Loomis Method aims to help artists draw the basic structure and proportions of the face, the Reilly Abstraction helps to bring drawings to life by improving the flow, likeness, and accuracy of portraits.

Both methods are great resources for artists, and I think everyone who wants to improve their portrait drawing skills can learn a great deal from each technique.

And although there is a lot of overlap between the two methods when it comes to the actual process of drawing the human head as I’ll explain later in this post, there are significant differences between both approaches.

Here’s a more detailed comparison of the differences between the Loomis and Reilly methods. My goal for writing this comparison is to help beginner artists like me who are unsure about which approach to study make an informed choice.

Loomis MethodReilly Abstraction
In his book Drawing the Head and Hands, Andrew Loomis published his approach to drawing the human head and hands.There is no first-hand written account of the Reilly Abstraction by Frank J. Reilly himself. However, some of his students, like Jack Faragasso, who wrote Mastering Drawing the Human Figure, have attempted to document and preserve his approach to drawing the human face and figure.
The Loomis Method is relatively easier for beginner artists to grasp because Andrew Loomis explains things in layman’s terms.The Reilly Abstraction is more appropriate for artists who are already somewhat familiar with the basic anatomy of the face and proportions.
Although so many instructors have taught the teachings of Andrew Loomis, the method itself does not vary a lot from instructor to instructor, which helps to consolidate the understanding of the drawing process as a beginner artist.There are very few quality resources to learn the Reilly Method, and the actual process of creating a portrait using the Reilly Abstraction varies slightly from instructor to instructor.
Because of this, beginner artists who like to study things from different sources may find it hard to consolidate their understanding of the Reilly Method.
The Loomis head is great for mapping out the basic shapes and proportions of the face fairly quickly.The Reilly Abstraction is really helpful in scanning the portrait for errors and informing the artistic choices to improve the drawing’s likeness, flow, and accuracy.
Andrew Loomis doesn’t go into much detail about developing the individual features of the face or how the planes of the face connect to the suggested shape of the head.Frank Reilly taught detailed guidelines for creating the different elements of the face and connecting them using rhythm lines to form a coherent portrait.

In the following couple of sections, I try to sum up the steps involved in drawing the human head using each approach so those of you who are new to Loomis and Reilly can get a basic idea of the process.

Do stick around till the final section of this post as I’ll be suggesting some of my favorite resources for learning Loomis and Reilly methods along with some words of (hopefully) helpful advice based on what I’ve learned so far.

Steps for drawing the Loomis Head

Andrew Loomis developed a logical process for drawing the human head in space by using simple shapes to represent its complex forms in correct proportions. The basic idea behind the Loomis Method is that to draw the head correctly, the artist must be aware of the three-dimensional structure of the entire head and know how to place the individual features correctly.

In the words of Andrew Loomis in his book Drawing the Head and Hands, ”it is impossible to draw the head correctly by starting with an eye or nose, oblivious of the skull and the placement of features within it”.

The Loomis Method helps artists to recreate the human head in their drawing by forcing us to think of the underlying structure of the head and is an excellent way of determining where to place the different features of the face in a portrait.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial for drawing the Loomis Head.

Step 1: Draw a Ball

To begin with the Loomis Method, we draw a ball to represent the mass of the cranium (the upper part of the skull surrounding the brain that does not include the bones of the jaws).

Step 2: Flatten the sides of the ball

If you observe your face in the mirror, you’ll notice that the front planes of the face merge into the flat side planes of the head around the temples. We flatten the sides of the cranium ball drawn in Step 1 to show these flat circular side planes of the head.

The flattened sides are roughly two-thirds the size of the cranium ball, but the degree to which they are visible to the observer depends on the angle of the face relative to the viewer. When drawing the head from the side view, we draw a smaller circle within the cranium ball to represent the side plane.

The inner circle represents the head’s side plane in profile view.

Step 3: Draw the browline, middle line, and halfway line

The browline establishes the angle of the head in our drawing. We draw the browline wrapped around the center of the cranium ball (like a rubber band) by observing the relative angle of the brow ridge and the top of the ears.

The middle line marks the vertical center of the face, whereas the halfway line represents the vertical center of the cranium ball from the sides.

Step 4: Mark a cross on the center of the face

The intersection between the browline and the middle line is crucial in establishing the overall perspective of the face and is critical in locating the different landmarks on the face. This cross marks the vertical and horizontal center of the head.

Step 5: Indicate the hairline

Andrew Loomis suggests that we draw the hairline halfway through the distance between the midpoint marked in Step 4 and the top of the head, where the hallway line and the middle line meet at the top of the cranium ball.

This step can be confusing for beginners, especially when the top of the head is not visible. I find it easier to estimate the hairline by drawing a line parallel to the browline starting from the top of the circular side planes drawn in Step 2.

Step 6: Mark the nose line

The base of the nose (nose line) can be found by running down the mid-point of the face (Step 4) for a distance that is equal to the length of the forehead (the browline and the hairline).

Step 7: Mark the base of the chin

Going down an equal distance from the base of the nose gives us the bottom of the chin.

Step 8: Draw the jawline

We connect the jawline around the halfway mark on each side plane.

Step 9: Locate the ears, nose, eyes, and mouth

The ears are located in the lower-back quadrants of the circular side planes. The upper and lower edges of the ears are aligned with the browline and the base of the nose.

The eyes are drawn just below the browline at the vertical center of the head. The gap between the eyes is equal to the length of a single eye, and their inner corners align with the wings of the nose.

The lower lip is halfway between the base of the chin and the nose.

The lower lip is halfway between the base of the chin and the nose.

Step 10: Draw the planes of the head

Loomis illustrates some of the principal planes of the face and describes how using these blocky shapes can help balance the roundness of forms but does not explain in great detail how these planes need to be incorporated in the Loomis Method outlined in his book.

Personally, I think this is where the Reilly Method shines through, as I explain in the following section.

Steps for abstracting the Reilly Head

Unlike Loomis, Reilly never published his methods in a written form so everything we know about the Reilly Method is from the notes of his students.

The steps outlined below are my understanding of the Reilly Method (which is admittedly limited at this stage) based on the book ‘Mastering Drawing The Human Figure’ written by one of Reilly’s students Jack Faragasso.

Step 1: Outline the large forms of the head

When drawing from the front view, the basic shape of the outer edge of the head will resemble that of an egg with a height-to-width ratio of 3:2.

Step 2: Mark horizontal and vertical lines in the centers of the head

The horizontal midline across the face marks the bottom of the eyes. The upper corners of the ears are also adjacent to this line whereas the vertical center line simply divides the face into the left and right halves.

These two center lines let us know the primary angle of the pose and the degree of the head’s tilt. In the following two steps, we establish some basic proportions of the face and then proceed to draw the rhythm lines.

Step 3: Divide the face into thirds

Similar to what we did in the Loomis Method, we mark the three main segments of the face, namely the forehead (browline to the hairline), the nose (browline to the bottom of the nose), and the mouth (the base of the nose to the chin).

The browline is drawn slightly above the horizontal midline to allow space for the eye sockets, while the base of the nose can be determined by dividing the distance between the browline and the chin into two equal parts.

The upper corner of the forehead (hairline) can be marked by moving up the browline for a distance equal to the segment defined for the nose.

Step 4: Divide the mouth into threes

The last segment of the face is divided again into equal thirds by marking the center line between the two lips and the upper corner of the chin bone.

Step 5: Indicate the placement of the eyes, nose, chin, and ears.

The bottom of the eyes are placed at the horizontal center line, and the upper corners of the eyes are positioned between this horizontal center line and the browline marked earlier.

The space between the two eyes is roughly equal to the length of one eye, and the tear ducts (inner corners of the eyes) usually line up with the wings of the nose.

The ears are attached to the face on the horizontal center line, and the upper and lower corners of the ears align with the brow ridge and the nose line, respectively.

Step 6: Draw the rhythm lines to divide the head into different planes

In this step, we divide the face into the front, back, side, top, and bottom planes depending on the angle of the face.

Step 7: Draw the rhythm lines for the muzzle and the face

The main rhythm line of the face starts at the top of the nose, runs down the cheeks’ contours, and converges near the chin, almost like a surgical mask wraps the face.

The rhythm line of the muzzle connects the ball of the nose, the laugh lines, and the upper edge of the chin. The corners of the lips have small circular rhythms contained within the muzzle region.

Step 8: Mark the rhythm lines for the nose

Rhythm lines of the nose

The rhythm lines of the nose divide the nose into a front plane, bottom plane, and side planes which connect to the browline and the muzzle.

Step 9: Draw the rhythm lines to define the temporal ridge

Drawing the temporal ridge rhythms defines the head’s side planes and gestures the upper edge of the zygomatic arch.

Step 10: Mark the rhythm lines of the cheeks

The cheeks’ main rhythm lines start from the ears’ upper corners and curve downwards towards the side edges of the chin. These lines really help show the change in the planes of the face around the cheeks.

Another rhythm line starts from the same point but curves in the opposite direction which makes the cheekbone more prominent.

Step 12: Develop the features by making use of the planes

Reilly Method has detailed guidelines for developing each part of the face using planes and rhythms which I can’t go into much detail but I will try to elaborate on them in a dedicated post about the Reilly Method.

Step 13: Refine the abstraction and draw secondary features

I know it doesn’t look too great 😀

In addition to the shape of the forms, the primary tonal shapes can also be structured into the drawing to see how they affect the overall composition of the portrait. Once we are happy with the overall abstraction, we can start drawing the secondary features of the face such as the eyebrows, hair, nostrils, details of the ears, and so on.

Of course, I’m only scratching the surface here since there is so much more to unpack about each method which I’ll try to write about in separate posts soon.

What to learn?

Personally, I think beginner artists who haven’t learned any method yet are better off starting with the Loomis Method because of its relative simplicity and the ample amount of quality resources that explain its process.

The main problem I encountered while trying to learn the Reilly Method was the apparent lack of good resources that explain its process, especially on Youtube. Despite this and the fact that the Reilly Abstraction seems to have a steeper learning curve and requires a greater time commitment from the artists compared to the Loomis, I think mastering it can really take your portrait drawing skills to the next level.

So if you have already studied the Loomis Method and are comfortable with the process but are unsure about whether you’ll learn something useful by studying the Reilly Abstraction as well, my advice would be to definitely go for it!

Here is a list of some of my favorite resources that I am learning Loomis and Reilly methods from and I hope you find these helpful too.

Full Disclosure: If you do happen to make a purchase using one of my affiliate links below, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

ResourcesLoomis MethodReilly Abstraction
BooksDrawing the Head and Hands by Andrew Loomis.
Mastering Drawing the Human Figure From Life, Memory and Imagination by Jack Faragasso.
Youtube lessonsProkoCourt Jones
Articles13 Steps to Draw Heads using the Loomis Method