No matter how good you may be, if you don’t get the basics it will come back to bite you.
Step 1. This is the biggy. This step dictates the entire head drawing, and or pose for that matter if you are attaching an entire body to this. Start with a sphere, freehand will do, so long as it reads as a ball. You are going to divide the sphere into halves, then fourths. There will be 8 sections total. Think of this as a 3D sphere, which you should do anyway, because what you draw will ultimately be 3 dimensional. Once the sphere has been evenly divided you are going to find the golden cross section that dictates and determines the size, shape, tilt, character, and proportions of the head to be drawn. The cross section determines where the brow line begins, and divides our face plane in half with a centerline. These divisions also help determine where the ear will sit on the side of the head. Amazing how it all comes down to a simple cross section, isn’t it?
The centerline of the face is derived from our cross section. This centerline is drawn next. Note that the centerline of the head doesn’t follow the form of the sphere once we have established the cross section. Why? Because, the chin extends away from the sphere shape. If our chin was a part of this sphere, we would have a pretty darn round face. It doesn’t have to be any particular length at this point, it is only there to establish the two main divisions of the head, or divides the head into an even left and right half.
With a minimal degree of shifting of one feature or another, all faces are fairly symmetrical. I say minimal degree of shifting of features, meaning not everyone’s eyes are perfectly even across the face laterally, not everyone’s ears are laterally even, etc. Lyle Lovett for example, really asymmetrical. But his face still is evenly divided, and it has all the components required to call it a head.
Once you know the tilt, have found the cross section, and laid in the centerline of the head, your next step is to shave to two side of our sphere on either side of the cross section. This will help you begin forming the side planes of the head. Why shave them? Well, the skull isn’t actually round like a ball, but flattened on all sides with a fairly round top for the skullcap. Keeping those round side planes would actually be deceiving, and the skull drawn would end up a little too wide, awkward looking, and the ears would be mounted on these little tiny ends, with no real cohesive attachment to the whole…
Step 2-Now that you have the cross section established, the next thing you will do is divide the head into thirds. This is the golden division you will use to lay all of the feature elements of the skull upon, i.e., the eyes, nose lips, ears, and so on… The primary, or stock look for the average human is even divisions between these thirds. But once understood, these divisions will be your guide to drawing charactures, character types for stories, or whatever. These divisions are as important as the golden cross section that began all this. The upper third is what you start with. This establishes the divisional units of the skull, i.e. it creates the volume to which the other 2/3rds will be measured. The upper 1/3rd is from the hairline to the brow line.
The 2nd division establishes the location for the nose, ears, and eyes. Remember, when you find the nose, you have also found the ears. They follow the top of the nose, or brow ridge, and the bottom of the nose division evenly with just about everyone. Knowing this will help you. I see many drawings and paintings where the ears look like they were pasted on to the skull after the fact because of little or no understanding of proper proportion, or placement were privy. The middle divisions go between the top of the brow, to the base, or bottom of the nose.
The lower 3rd sets up where your mouth goes, and finishes the skull with locating the bottom of the chin. Thus, this lower 3rd goes from the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin. These divisions of thirds wrap entirely around the skull. These divisions remain evenly proportioned no matter what the tilt of the head is. So if the head is looking straight up, all the divisions will be shrunk down to little segments, but still even in their division. This is soooo important in placing all the features on the head.
The side division of the head helps place the ear in its correct position, to the left of the vertical division line for the right ear, and to the right of the vert line on the left side of the head. This vertical division also tells you where the jaw begins, since it attaches to the skull just in front of the ears.
When it is all said and done, and this golden division of thirds is well understood, and heavily practiced to the point of intuitive understanding, the rules of proper thirds can be broken. This is where character types are created. They don’t necessarily follow proper spacing and placing, but rather take on their own divisions. This is valuable information for spacing and placing the features on the face. I can’t stress this stuff enough. I see many a drawing and painting that just didn’t quite work because these basic principals weren’t known. Remember it well, and you will always draw a properly divided, and proportioned head, or head attached to a body in a figure drawing.
Step 3-Here I basically summed up what it all means when it is said and done. This head took about 3 minutes to draw because I know the principals of drawing a well done head, and I practiced them repeatedly for years and years. I also had an idea of what I was after for a finish. This guy could easily be refined many times over, but I am not bashing or critiquing, merely demonstrating what a good understanding of the basics can get you. Here are a couple pages of head drawings I have accumulated from a number of my sketchbooks.
Here is an assignment if you so choose. If you do this assignment, DON”T DO ONE DRAWING AND CALL IT FINISHED. You shoud draw entire pages of at least a dozen drawings on the page. Repetition is the KEY to successful drawing, can’t stress that enough. Come to my studio some time and I will show you the dozens upon dozens of pads filled front to back of studies. Good, Bad, Horrid, Eye Wrenching, etc. but done no less. Mileage is the hamburger helper of the basic principals, trust me. Doing a hundred heads before understanding how they work is great, so long as by the time you have done them all, you understand volume and proportion to a logical degree. Drawing the heads repeatedly over and over again is boring to only those who refuse to learn, interesting to those who are curious, and fascinating to those who need to know.
So the assignment is to do dozens of these wire frames, attach the chin, find the ear and the nose, like the one in step two. Different tilts, and different angles. I want to see proper division. No guess work, you have the rules in front of you, follow them closely, and I guarantee you next time you draw some figure in a scene or in a pose of some sort, that head is going to look well constructed from a proportion stand point, because you took the time to learn those principals of head division and will never stop using them until you stop producing art… I hope this helps you out a bit. Good luck and enjoy.
Andrew Loomis-Figure Drawing for all its worth
Andrew Loomis-Creative Illustration
Andrew Loomis-Fun with the Pencil
Andrew Loomis-Drawing the Head and Hands
Andrew Loomis-Successful Drawing
Bridgeman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life
Stephen Peck-Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist
John Vanderpoel-The Human Figure
Fritz Schider-An Atlas of Anatomy For Artists
Dora Miriam Norton-Freehand Perspective and Sketching
Arthur Guptill-Sketching as a Hobby
Guptill-Sketching and Rendering in Pencil
Ernest Watson-Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators
The Famous Artists Courses from the Fifties to the early 1970’s
I would tend to stray away from the Hogarth books, only because what he does is purely inventive, not using real models or anything for his basis of structure. As a result, his images tend to be a bit too sinuey, rubber like, and just not quite right. Bridgeman though is a bible that no artist should be without.
About Ron Lemen
Ron Lemen is a master painter (and my own personal savior, MB). He has worked in the entertainment and illustration industry for more than 16 years. He is currently working for Presto Studios in San Diego as a lead designer on Myst:3-Exile as well as teaching night classes at Jeff Watts Art Atelier. To view samples of his work go to:
This tutorial was originally created and posted By Ron Lemen on the Digital Art Forum. You can find the Digital Art Forum here: