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Drawing the Human Face

Updated on June 15, 2016
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

My friend Lupe, age 79.
My friend Lupe, age 79. | Source

Drawing is easy art.

Drawing is one of those things that everyone likes to do. Sure we call it doodling, noodling, scribbling or dabbling and not drawing, but that’s what we are really doing. Cartooning, depiction, design, etching, graphics, likeness, picture, sketch, layout, art, composition, doodle, portrayal, outline, tracing, caricature, representation, rendering, illustration, image, portraiture, conception, brain-storming, form, motif, stylization, abstraction, decoration, replica, copy, and more.

I doodled from a very early age and it wasn’t till I was 13 that someone told me I had talent and should think about taking art classes in high school. It was a revelation. Before that no one told me much more than I had really poor spelling skills. One English teacher told me to buy a pocket dictionary and WEAR IT. I would be offended but I was totally aware of my atrocious spelling. (Thank God for spell-check!) The great thing about drawing is that it eliminates color and only concentrates on line and form, so it is really the easiest form of art there is.

Turning the face.
Turning the face. | Source
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Anyone can draw

The idea that people cannot learn to draw is ludicrous. Just the idea that you aren’t talented enough to learn creates a mental block that will prevent you from learning. Talent isn’t some aristocracy that you are born into, or if you are not you are doomed to mediocrity. If that were so all my children would be artists, or perhaps I would not. Just like learning the piano, languages or mathematics, drawing can be taught and learned. It is time and practice that makes all the difference.

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Do you like to doodle?

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Hand drawing exercise #68.
Hand drawing exercise #68. | Source
Hand drawing exercise #69.
Hand drawing exercise #69. | Source
Hand drawing exercise #74.
Hand drawing exercise #74. | Source
The correct way to hold your pencil... at the end.
The correct way to hold your pencil... at the end. | Source

The History of Pencils

By the fourteenth century, paper was being used more and more by artists. Early drawings done by Leonardo da Vinci and other High Renaissance artists were done in sanguine or red chalk, pen and ink or silverpoint. Silverpoint was actually expensive to use because it was made of real silver combined with an element to make it softer and shaped like a pencil. As you know, silver tarnishes, or turns black with age. This is perfect for drawings. One soft silver line turned into a dark line with age. Too bad we can’t really draw with silver today. I would love that. Later they made pencils out of lead but lead is poisonous and prolonged contact with it can give the artist lead poisoning. Even surrounded by wood, the lead was dangerous because people love to put things in their mouths… enough said.

Carbon was the likely alternative. Carbon or charcoal is very fragile and breaks easily. So some genius mixed the carbon with clay. The clay stabilized the carbon making it stronger and the carbon was still dark enough to be visible on paper. Today this “lead” has various grades of hardness. HB is the clay and carbon in equal amounts in the lead and makes for a nice hard lead with light crisp lines. Then 2B through to 6B are softer and softer, mixing less clay with the carbon so the lines made are darker and softer. The problem is that these leads are also easier to break than the HB. Also you can buy 2H through to 6H, which have less and less carbon to the amount of clay. They are very hard and make lighter and lighter lines. These are often used by architects, who want very thin, very precise lines.

I find regular pencil lead, even the 6B soft ones to be extremely shiny. This is no problem when you are just sketching for yourself, but if you want to scan and share these drawings the glare makes them hard to scan. The shininess of the lead photographs poorly and can’t be saved digitally without a great deal of camera and lighting expertise. I prefer charcoal. The charcoal pencils also come in HB through 6B and sharpen well if you use a knife (or X-acto blade) and sandpaper. Never try putting a charcoal pencil in a pencil sharpener. You will be very disappointed at the outcome. Also, sharpening manually allows you to give yourself a very long point to the pencils so that using the side of the pencil gives wide soft lines, while the point still gives crisp ones. On top of this I buy vine charcoal. This is not mixed with any clay or binder and the vine charcoal is so soft it can be rubbed off with your finger. It makes it perfect for changing things of fixing mistakes before committing to the HB or other charcoal pencils. They do NOT erase easily. You will need to use a kneaded gum eraser with charcoal. The kneaded gum eraser is not like regular erasers. You don’t rub with it. You knead it and shape it into a point or thin space and blot with it. It pulls up the charcoal a little at a time. Knead it some more and keep blotting to pull up the charcoal.

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Sharpening my charcoal pencils with an X-acto knife.
Sharpening my charcoal pencils with an X-acto knife. | Source
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Finishing with sandpaper.
Finishing with sandpaper. | Source

Sharpening charcoal pencils

You don’t handle charcoal like it’s a regular pencil. It is too soft for that. You can’t choke up on the point and noodle with it. You are supposed to sharpen it so that a large part of the charcoal (half an inch or more) is available, hold the pencil at the end and draw with the side of the sharpened edge, not the point. Holding it at the end keeps you from putting too much pressure on the soft charcoal and breaking it. This way it cannot be sharpened with a conventional pencil sharpener. You have to get an X-acto knife or razor to sharpen it with and then make a point using sand paper. Pulling the pencil gives you a nice thin line while brushing the pencil sideways gives you a soft wide mark. Try it.

My process

My process goes like this: I draw the sketch, measure the proportions and block in the shapes all with the vine charcoal. If I need to rub out an unwanted line, I can. When all the proportions and shapes are the way I want them I go over them with an HB charcoal pencil, adding more details but still drawing lightly in case I want to make changes still. Next I pick up the 2B and commit to some of the shadow areas. Shadow shapes are very important. The shadows really define the subject almost as much as the positive or lit sides. If the shadow shapes are accurate you are more likely to have an accurate rendering. Next I pick up the 4B or 6B pencil and drawing lightly at first, build up the layers of deep shadows. At the end I pull up the light and highlights with the kneaded gum eraser.

When it is time to take a photo and share on social media or elsewhere digitally, these charcoal drawings photograph perfectly, with lovely dark to light shapes and lines. Carbon pencils don’t photograph well because the darkest marks are shiny and cause a glare on the paper when being photographed.

My friend, Dennis Lewis, drawing from a live model.
My friend, Dennis Lewis, drawing from a live model. | Source
Drawing from a live model on grey toned paper.
Drawing from a live model on grey toned paper. | Source

Toned paper

Sometimes I used toned paper and pretend that the tone on the paper is the middle value. Then I have to build up the darker values and use white charcoal pencil or white pastel pencil for the highlights. I like the toned paper because some of the work is already done with the middle value already there. Also I like being able to add a highlight just where I want it. The deal is that you cannot and should NOT mix the white with the black. It doesn’t look right or good. The area where the white goes must first be free of any black smudges to be pure. This is done with a kneaded gum eraser.

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5 values present in this exercise, shadows, reflected light in shadow or core shadow, medium value, light and highlight.
5 values present in this exercise, shadows, reflected light in shadow or core shadow, medium value, light and highlight. | Source
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Value is key

In a value scale there are 5 values from darkest shadows to the lightest highlight. If you want to break this down even further, make 9 values. The odd number is really important because your middle tone will be found in the middle and should be 50% dark 50% light. That makes sense. When working from a color photo it is sometimes helpful to eliminate the saturation so that it appears black and white. It helps you see the dark and light tones easier. Red often appears lighter than it actually is and blue sometimes appears darker than it actually is in black and white. Those are just some things to consider.

Drawing in vine charcoal on toned paper.
Drawing in vine charcoal on toned paper. | Source
2 value beginning in vine charcoal.
2 value beginning in vine charcoal. | Source
Adding the dark values.
Adding the dark values. | Source
Filling in middle values and highlights.
Filling in middle values and highlights. | Source
Finished drawing.
Finished drawing. | Source
Eye sockets are almost square with rounded corners.
Eye sockets are almost square with rounded corners. | Source
The eyes turn as the face does.
The eyes turn as the face does. | Source

The Eyes

Consider the placement of the eyes. Usually they are halfway between the top of the head and the chin… but not always. The exceptions to the rule happen with points of view and ethnicity. If the person is tilting the head up the eyes will appear higher, if the person has his head tilting downward the eyes will appear lower and you will see more of the top of the head. Always consider the perspective so that you can get the placement right.

Consider the shape of the eyes as well. Eyes are not really almond shaped. The upper curve does not usually match the lower eyelid curve. Also some eyes are tilted so that the outer point is higher than the inner eye tear ducts, or vice versa. Take note of this as you draw and you will get a better likeness.

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Practice, practice, practice.

Beyond that is practice. Identify the areas you feel you need help or work in and practice those areas over and over. The more you work on them the stronger you get at seeing the subtleties of those items: it could be ears that give you trouble, or noses, or hair. I found hands were my downfall and I forced myself to draw 100 hands, one per day for 100 days. At the end of three months I felt more confident and more at ease drawing hands. Try it and see how you do.

Hand drawing exercise #98.
Hand drawing exercise #98. | Source
Hand drawing exercise #56.
Hand drawing exercise #56. | Source

Why draw?

Drawing helps us to analyze and solve problems. It causes us to face taking risks. Your first lines in a drawing aren’t going to be perfect. That’s why we usually put then down lightly, knowing we will change them with several more lines that are more accurate. We are visually tapping into imagination and problem solving design elements that all people have inside them. If you can doodle, you can draw.

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm just going to move right by that section that says "anyone can draw" and return to my own reality....I'll just sit back and enjoy your talent and not try to force mine, which has been hidden now for 67 years. LOL

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 9 months ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Hi Denise, This lesson is one I never received in college art classes! I could have used it to good practice. Lots of good information--you would have made a great college art professor for me! Well done.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 9 months ago from England

      Wow! I am blown away by your talent! I can't draw, well I can, as you say, we all can, lol! but the one thing I am useless at is shading. That's why I could never say my drawings are up to much. My aunt was an exceptional artist, and my brother is pretty good too. I love this hub, its really fascinating to watch the whole process form, nell

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      billybuc,

      Well, that "Anyone can draw" remark does imply anyone who really wants to. Those that have no interest need not apply. However all artists need and appreciate the patrons. Thank you as always for the encouragement and the virtual high-five. I always love that.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Reynold Jay,

      Thank you very much for that. I was thinking I could maybe teach at the college level, maybe online classes so I don't have to travel far. I would love that. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you so much, Nell. I figure many people are artists deep down and were never given the chance to explore that side of their creativity. It probably came out in other ways, like cooking, baking, music, singing, or interior decorating. The shading thing does take some practice to actually see the 5 values in a form. But after a while it become second nature. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 9 months ago from Texas, USA

      This is a great article, Paintdrips! I really appreciate all of the lovely drawings you used to illustrate your ideas. I agree with everything you said about learning to draw. I'm not sure I'd say drawing was "easy," though. It is as challenging to me as it was 50 some odd years ago when I first started making marks on paper. It is, however, endlessly compelling and rewarding to me. I appreciate your encouragement to people learning to draw (I still am). I think gaining proficiency in drawing is more a matter of motivation than it is "talent."

      Thank you again for this valuable article.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Dbro,

      My friend, you are very welcome. I love encouraging fellow learners in the arts. It isn't a popular thing, in that it often isn't profitable. All the more reason to encourage people to pursue it. It think it has other benefits far beyond monetary "profit"; such as its therapeutic qualities, aesthetically pleasing and personally calming. And I have the added incentive of remembering how it felt to be told I was wasting my time and all artists starve to death, etc. I never want to be guilty of that kind of inhibiting, negative, belittling dogma. If art is in you, let it out where everyone can benefit from seeing it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 9 months ago from California

      I just have never done this--although I doodle all the time--I was always a singer and my sister was always the artist--and we still inhabit those roles--I loved that you shared your process with us--it helps demystify it a bit more for me

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      AudreyHowitt,

      My sister is also a singer and guitarist but not me. I'm so glad you like my process. I appreciate you saying so. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • jeffduff profile image

      Jeff Duff 9 months ago from Southwest Wisconsin

      In a general sense I agree that anyone with modest (or better) intelligence can learn to draw, but I will admit to my belief that drawing with great skill is an artistic talent. All of the pencil artists who did the drawings above are talented, far better than I and the majority of people will ever be! Anyone can splash oil paints around on a canvas, but extremely few oil painters come close having the artistic talent of a Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh or Picasso.

      To go a step further, I believe that this is part of the impetus of the widespread popularity of photography. It allows for an impressive artistic expression by people - like myself - who have not the manual dexterity (and patience) to become good at drawing or painting!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      jeffduff,

      You make a good point. Few have the drive, tenacity and sheer love of art to continue practicing year after year when there are easier methods at their disposal such as photography. Still I find a person with both artistic skill and a good camera can marry the two and come up with some fabulous combinations. The spark of art comes from within. If you haven't the time or inclination to put in the kind of practice it take, then get a camera and develop your talents there. By the way, all these drawings were done by myself. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 9 months ago from Texas, USA

      Hi, again, Paintdrips. I'm kind of confused by your response to my comment. Nowhere in my comment on your article did I mention anything about monetary profit. I know from my own experience that pursuing a career in the arts, maybe especially the visual arts, is no way to try to make a lot of money. I think most people, myself included, create art for the sheer joy of it.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      Dbro,

      I'm really sorry to be confusing. I'm a professional freelance artist working with publishers of children's books and sometimes working with fine art photography as well. My father was one who discouraged me from the arts because he was rightly concerned that I wouldn't be able to make a living. But I love it so much... as you say, the sheer joy of it. You just couldn't dissuade me from pursuing it and though I may never make a fortune, I make a small living and that's enough for me. Still it has taken me many years of practice all the time, every day without fail to get to place where I think I'm marketable. That's all I meant. Thanks for talk to me about it.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 9 months ago from The Caribbean

      Drawing is easy art? I still don't think so, but you're a good teacher and illustrator. Thanks for the challenge, the instructions and the inspiration.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      MsDora,

      Well, a good drawing is necessary for a good painting. And it is easier to draw in black and white than to work out all the color variations. I think that's what I meant about easier. It is the black and white plus shading without color that is easiest. Sorry for the confusion. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 9 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Art is amazing and requires talent.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      DDE,

      Thank you for saying so but I think anyone can draw who really wants to learn. It does take a lot of time and dedication, though. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • shprd74 profile image

      Hari Prasad S 9 months ago from Bangalore

      Inspirational hub. Thanks paintdrips. I stopped it but will start again. Wiill refer this article to keep the momentum.

      - hari

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 9 months ago from Fresno CA

      hari,

      I'm so glad you will start again. Inspiration is everywhere; old faces, young faces, family faces, friends faces. Draw whatever is closest to you and expand from there. You may be surprised where it leads you. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

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      Norma Lawrence 8 months ago

      I loved your article. I can draw animals but drawing people is out. I have tried but the results are terrible. After reading your article I am going to try again. Thanks so much. I went to college in Fresno.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 8 months ago from Fresno CA

      Hi Norma, do you still live in Fresno? We could be neighbors. I'm glad you are going to try again. It isn't easy keeping a likeness but creating a face drawing isn't so hard. People want the drawing to look like them so that's where the real study comes in. The smallest change of eye placement or length of nose and suddenly the drawing doesn't look like the subject anymore. It's all about measuring and practice. Good luck. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 8 months ago from Cork, Ireland

      Thank you for this tutorial hub, my friend. I learned so many new things and techniques. Maybe you are right that anyone could draw. But I think that very small amount of people could be great artists like you. Your works are really amazing! :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 8 months ago from Fresno CA

      Oh my friend, Cornelia, you make me blush. So kind of you to think I am great. I really want to be someday, but I don't think I am there yet. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

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