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8 Ways To Practice Drawing Faces

When I got back to drawing at the start of this year after a long break from arts, it seemed like I wasn’t getting better at drawing faces even though I was drawing consistently. But around three months ago, I changed the way I approach my portrait drawing practice, and I am quite happy with how much I have improved as a result.

One of my recent portrait drawing
Here’s one of my recent portrait drawings.

So in this post, I share the eight different ways I like to practice drawing faces and some tips I have learned to make the most out of these practice sessions. Just to be clear, I am still a beginner artist myself, but I hope you can find some nuggets of helpful information in this post that you can apply to your own drawing routine. So let’s get started!

How to Practice Drawing Faces as A Beginner Artist

Beginner artists can practice drawing faces in different ways to improve their skills including:

  1. Classical portrait studies.
  2. Drawing from sculptures.
  3. Studies of portraits by other artists.
  4. Stylized drawing studies.
  5. Studying the different parts of the face.
  6. Gesture drawing faces.
  7. Drawing faces from imagination.
  8. Practicing face expressions.

1. Classical portrait studies

Traditional portrait drawing
A 30 minutes sketch from a reference photo I did recently.

When doing classical drawing studies, I try to draw what I observe in the reference to the best of my ability and as realistically as possible within the time constraints and without improvising the proportions of the face or art style.

Drawing portraits realistically through observation has been helpful to me even though my style is leaning more towards the semi-realistic art style because I think the knowledge I have gained from doing these studies transcends any art style.

For these classical studies, I like to use drawing materials that I am most comfortable with: paper and pencil. I usually allow myself 30 minutes to one hour to complete one portrait, which gives me enough time to focus on certain key features in a face but forces me to be selective in what I emphasize.

I think this practice helps improve your observation skills, draftsmanship, and hand-eye coordination, as well as your overall knowledge of the face structure, shapes, and rhythms.

Until now, I have used reference photos for these studies, but I realize the limitations of studying 3D objects from a 2D image. So, if you have access to someone who can pose for you for even only 30 minutes to one hour, that will obviously be a much more effective way of doing these portrait studies.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any live drawing sessions where I live, and I’m basically too shy to ask my friends and family to pose for me. So to rectify this, I plan to draw some self-portraits in the next few weeks by observing my reflection in the mirror and also hope to muster enough courage to ask some of my friends to volunteer posing for my portrait practice (fingers crossed).

2. Drawing from sculptures

Some of the (better) sculpture drawings from my sketchbooks.

As a beginner artist, I often struggled to draw the face properly because of my lack of understanding of the human head as a combination of different three-dimensional objects in space.

Practicing portrait drawing from sculptures has proved to be a great exercise for me because it has enabled me to really focus on the simplified planes, shapes, and values of the human face while not having to worry about things like the color and texture of the skin and the hair.

You can find great reference photos of famous sculptures on Pinterest but if you live near museums, sculpture parks, and churches, those can be an excellent source of inspiration for your sculpture drawings.

3. Studies of portraits by other artists

Study of a drawing by Loish
Here’s my study of a drawing by Lois Van Baarle (Loish). She is so good!

Here’s my study of a drawing by Lois Van Baarle (Loish). She is so good!

Like many beginner artists, my art style seemed a bit too generic and academic for my liking, and in an effort to find my art style, I have been studying artworks by the artists who I admire.

What I love about recreating drawings and paintings by professional artists that I admire is I am able to step into their shoes and learn their process, how they simplify shapes and values, and their rendering choices. And just the act of recreating artworks, whether it’s from the old masters or contemporary artists, is just so much fun!

Some professional artists on Youtube like Chris Hong show the exact references they use in creating a portrait. This can be super helpful for beginners to see what the professionals add to a drawing from their personal visual library and what information they exclude or manipulate from the reference portrait to arrive at their final artwork.

4. Stylized drawing studies

Stylized drawing studies
Trying to find my own style in these drawings.

In stylized drawing studies, I try to apply what I have learned from the studies of portraits by a specific artist that I like (as explained above) and try to draw a new portrait using their style as a reference.

I have been doing such studies for a couple of months now, and I think this is helping me to explore different art styles, which is a valuable skill for an artist planning on working in the entertainment industry.

5. Studying the different parts of the face

Nose sketches
Some nose studies from my sketchbook.

This might sound too obvious for even beginners, but when I started portrait drawing, I would always try and draw the entire face. After watching some drawing tutorials by Sinix Designs on Youtube, I got inspired to do drawing sessions in which I focused on a single part of the face like the nose, eyes, skull, ears, and mouth.

Honestly, it is embarrassing to admit how long it took me to start doing these studies. But concentrating on the details of one part of the face at a time helps immensely in gaining a better understanding of the different shapes of the human face.

6. Gesture drawing faces

Gesture studies
Some quick gesture studies by me that I did for the 100 Heads Challenge that I never got to complete. These took me 5 to 10 minutes each.

Some quick gesture studies by me that I did for the 100 Heads Challenge that I never got to complete. These took 5 to 10 minutes each.

Quick gesture studies are essential to learning how to draw the structure of the face by blocking in the major shapes and rhythms.

Drawing actual people around you, for example, on a train, bus, library, or coffee shop, is an excellent way to do gesture studies because the constant movement of people forces you to be more urgent in getting the basic shapes of their pose down. Admittedly though, I feel too nervous drawing people without their permission and too shy to ask for their permission which usually means I have to find a muse on Pinterest.

When doing gesture studies of the face from reference photos, I try to impose a time limit to complete a single drawing because without it I tend to start adding shading and details, which is obviously not the point of these exercises.

Line of action has practice tools that allow artists to view different portrait references that change based on the time interval that they set. This is great if you want to do gesture studies but, like me, lack the discipline to self-impose a short duration to draw the gesture of the face.

7. Drawing faces from imagination

Sketch from imagination
Clearly, imaginative drawing is not my forte.

I think I am at a point in my art journey where I can do a reasonably good job of ‘copying’ someone’s face, but I lack the visual library to draw a portrait from my imagination.

I have started to practice drawing portraits from imagination occasionally, but it is something that I am struggling with at the moment. I do hope to work as a concept artist/illustrator one day, so I realize how important it is for me to come up with ideas for original characters and draw portraits in different art styles

So in the next few months, I plan to step outside my comfort zone and just binge-draw portraits of imaginary characters that I can hopefully display in my art portfolio (wish me luck!). Please let me know if you have any suggestions or tips on how I can get better at drawing faces from imagination!

8. Drawing face expressions

Drawing expressions is hard but I seem to be making some progress.

I am pretty comfortable drawing a person with a neutral facial expression, but I find it so easy to mess up the drawing if there is even a slight smile. And don’t even ask about my struggles with drawing a person whose teeth are visible.

I think what makes drawing face expressions challenging is how the different parts of the face can squeeze, stretch and even change their position relative to one another, making it tricky to figure out the face proportions

One thing that has helped me to draw better facial expressions is to focus on those landmarks of the face that don’t change as a result of a facial expression in the initial phase of the drawing. For example, a frown might change the position of the eyebrows, but the brow ridge does not change at all.

Des Trask

Sunday 26th of May 2024

Thank you. I'm a beginner (now retired) and your modesty and comments is very helpful for me. I lost my way a little recently when a relative whom I did a portrait drawing for was quite critical of the result. But, your points have inspired me to press on, as you and I would agree, I think, that persistence and a goal yield the best results. Again, thank you, Ammar.


Monday 27th of May 2024

Thanks so much for writing in Des! I can't agree more about the value of persistence and grit in improving at drawing.

Your experience about your portrait for friend reminded me of my own attempt at drawing an office colleague on her request a few weeks back which turned out quite different to what she expected. 😂 That's when I really understood what Sargent meant when he said every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend. 😂

I hope you get back to drawing soon! Good luck 🍀