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Sketching and Drawing Human Faces

Tricia Deed enjoys and relaxes with her hobby of painting portraits and landscapes with acrylic paints.

Pencil Sketching Human Faces

Artist sketching human faces.

Artist sketching human faces.

Are you a people watcher? Do you observe people during various activities at shopping malls, beaches, mountains, sporting events, children playing, and many other activities?

Do you always have a sketch pad and pencil at hand to capture as quickly as possible an interesting face with a unique facial idiom? Watching people with their range of emotional facial expressions provides an endless supply of portrait drawings. Portrait artists take every opportunity to study faces in order to make the most of their final drawings and paintings.

Sketching Guideline

Capture critical outlining.

Capture critical outlining.

Sketching Portraits

Sketching is a quick outlining of a subject or an object. It is an outline for future details. The details are the essential markings for the finished product. A sketch is a visual reminder or shorthand of notations highlighting building elements which will be used in the finished product.

The portrait artist draws details of the eyes, nose, lips, ears, and lines which indicate a particular human emotion or an identifying mark such as a scar or a birthmark. When painting the face; the skin needs various shades of tint and shading for defining identity details.

Most of us make the mistake of drawing the human head, fill in the features, look at our work, and quit. Have you done this?

Wait a minute. Do not quit and walk away from being a portrait artist so quickly.

Practice Drawing Lines

Practice sketching many faces and note the changes which occur. Pay attention as to how to correct lines for the desired outcome. ..

Practice sketching many faces and note the changes which occur. Pay attention as to how to correct lines for the desired outcome. ..

Benefits of Practice

Practice makes perfect. Think of practicing as rehearsing to become a master. Be patient with the learning process. Everyone progresses at a different rate.

  1. Sketches are the foundation or outline to mark detailed lines
  2. Learning what to keep and erasing nonessential lines and errors
  3. Learning new experiences and challenges as each head is unique
  4. Improving pencil strokes to capture facial gestures
  5. Understanding and gaining knowledge of line strokes

Every Pencil Line Matters

Give careful concern to each line of your drawing.

Give careful concern to each line of your drawing.

A Line Adds or Subtracts from the Portrait

It has been my experience, after wearing out many erasers, how one line added or deleted will alter a facial emotion or the identity of the portrait's face. One line can change the appearance of an eye, ear, nose, and mouth which in turn changes the complete appearance of the face.

One line can add a smile or sadness to a face. Detailed lines illustrate age, worry, frowns, and other facial gestures or emotions. Every line you sketch on your canvas will undo or redo facial appearance. There are faces expressing happiness, sadness, loneliness, depression, doubt, fear, hate, laughter, and more.

Portrait artists will make many detailed changes to acquire an accurate facial description. Reality portraits are demanding of details than fantasy or abstract.

Human Face on Grid Markings

There are general rules of measurements for the human head; however, there are individual variances.

There are general rules of measurements for the human head; however, there are individual variances.

Basic Facial Measurements and Tips

There are basic lessons of measurements to learn and memorize for drawing eyes, eyebrows, noses, lips and ears. The head can turn and tilt but the measurements will remain the same. The changing angles may cause confusion and you may find that you and your eraser are becoming the best of friends.

Draw a circle.

  • Draw a long vertical line dividing the circle in half.
  • Draw a line on either side of the lower end of the circle meeting towards the end of the vertical line which marks the end of the chin.
  • Draw a horizontal line halfway on the vertical line (eye placement).
  • Draw a horizontal line one-third upward from the end of the chin (marks the nose tip).

Measurement Tips:

  • The width of the eye is the same as the distance between the eyes.
  • The eyebrows are placed above the eyes on its protruding bone structure.
  • The nose starts at the lower end of the eyes and its tips ends at the 1/3 horizontal mark. The nose is usually the distance between the eyes.
  • The lips are often the width distance from the middle of one eye pupil to the next eye pupil. The lips are a short distance below the nose tip.
  • The ears are usually the length from the eyebrows to the tip of the nose.
  • The width of the neck is from ear to ear and curves before meeting the shoulders.

These are general measurements; modifications will need to be made.

Do not expect each portrait to be a masterpiece. However, as you continue to study, practice, and develop your talents the better you will become.

Facial Sketching

Organize your thoughts, your composition, and the procedure order, In other words know what you want and execute your plan of action. .

Organize your thoughts, your composition, and the procedure order, In other words know what you want and execute your plan of action. .

Sketching Guidelines for Human Face

Tips for sketching the human face:

  1. Outline the head shape
  2. Section off with light pencil strokes the eyes, nose, lips, ears, and chin
  3. Add eyebrows, neck, and hair
  4. Shade or highlight the eyebrows, eyes, lips, ears, chin, and hair
  5. Write self notes, colors, and any dominant or unusual features

Sketch a face from a magazine or a photo. Then make a more detailed drawing and see how close the finished portrait duplicates the face. This is helpful for mastering realistic portraits. Perfecting techniques will advance your talent for sketching with live models.

How to Draw Faces

Portrait Artists

Questions & Answers

Question: What does the face of a 5-year-old look like?

Answer: The face of a 5-year old will look like their photo. At this age, they still have facial baby fat as the bone structure has not yet taken on a definite shape.

Use a graphite pencil when sketching the chosen photo. It is a lot of fun to have a photo of both the parent and the child. Sketch both faces. Not only will you see the difference in the sketch results, but you will learn different techniques as you do your drawing.

The 5-year-old will have a rounded face as they lack a definite chin and will still have a large forehead area. They have large eyes and button noses.

Every artist has a technique or method of sketching faces. If measurements are important, draw a circle. Draw a vertical line in the circle cutting the sphere in half. Then draw a horizontal line cutting the sphere into four quadrants.

Because children have large foreheads the eyes will be placed below the horizontal line; adults eyes are on the line. Draw a circle for the nose below the nose line and below it will be the mouth. The width of the mouth is usually the same width as the eyes.

I like starting with the eyes, then follow with the nose, mouth, head outline, and ears. When drawing with either technique the figure of the child appears flat. To give fullness or reality to the face shading, darkening areas, and introducing light will be essential.

Shading aids with the illusion of depth and darkening areas will give detail. When you smudge erase excessive shading light enters and this gives the illusion of rising or fullness to the face. As the reality of the sketched face comes to life make any final adjustments to satisfy your finest work.

Question: How can I make a quick sketch of a human face?

Answer: How to quick sketch a face

There are different reasons to quick sketch a human face. There are two methods for consideration.

The first method is to draw a circle:

1. Draw a vertical and a horizontal line in the middle of the circle creating 4 squares. This represents the top of the head to the bottom of the facial cheeks.

2. Draw a line on either side of the face at ear locations. The line serves as a guide to create the oblong pattern of the human head.

3. Add the jaw and chin shape below the lower circle.

4. Fill in the details of the face and refine.

This method is capturing the identity and the details of the individual in one sitting.

The second method is freestyle:

1. Draw the eye sockets

2. Place the eyebrows above the eye sockets.

3. Fill in the details of the eyes.

4. Add the nose, then the mouth.

5. Sketch the shape of the face and refine.

Try both methods. Either may be used depending on the situation. For example, I prefer the second method when capturing the personal identity of the individual’s eyes is important. I feel that I can fill in the rest of the face at a slower pace.

Question: What does a human face look like?

Answer: The human face is created by genes and chromosomes, recognized by the same species, and is indoctrinated by its species to identify human faces and human beings.

The human being like all other animals stays within it own kind. When land, sea, and air animals look at human beings, what do they see? How does the insect world see us? What does the human face look like to an elephant, lion, whale, grasshopper, and many other living creatures?

Each living creature is indoctrinated to be with its own kind. You never see a lion and a horse being friendly with each other. More than likely the lion which is a predator is probably looking at the horse as food.

How do aliens from outer space see humans? As we watch many of the science fiction movies we humans design the faces of aliens in a matter we think they might look like because of their geographical findings on their planet, the weather, the plants, and other clues which are used to design their faces and bodies.

We see “human faces” from our personal perspective and training. One social class may decide that the female is beautiful and the male is handsome. Another social group of humans may look at this same couple and say the female is homely and the male is ugly. “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. Likewise, so is the human face. We see according to our indoctrination and education.

All animals are labeled. Religion is often the beginning of explaining how a universal being created all living things. Other cultures may use myths, folklore, and imaginative gods as being the inspiration and creators of the human design.

In the Christian religion we are created in his image. We assume we are patterned after God, Jesus, and Mother Mary. Where did all the other living animals and insects with their labels come from? Evolution has many of its theories.

We are all familiar with the scientist who indoctrinated us with the ideas that we evolved from apes. I do not buy this theory, if it were so there would be no apes or monkeys in existence. Then there was another scientist who tried selling the idea that we originate from alligators. I do not buy this theory either.

If you were asked what does the human face look like? What would you say? And if you designed the human face you would have to be able to identify it as human in order to reproduce it, or perhaps look in the mirror; if you are human.


Tricia Deed on January 10, 2017:


Many artists have to practice to become very skillful in their choice of art form. We are all artists, it is a matter of recognizing our specialty niche.

I too drew ugly faces when I first started. It was years later when I tried again, and it worked. I can only guess that time and perspective changes helped to release the skill sets which were necessary.

Charm Baker from Los Angeles, California on January 08, 2017:

Great article. I've always envied people who can draw. Even when I was a little bit good at it, I could NEVER do faces. They always looked deformed (no offense to deformed folks :-)

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 07, 2017:

You made it sound so easy--A well written and illustrated hub about drawing human faces. I like to draw and paint as well. The tricky part is to bring the desired expression on the human faces one draws so that it conveys the story we want .

Thanks for sharing your expertise!

CJ Kelly from the PNW on January 07, 2017:

I have struggled with this for years. Now I'm going to try your method. It's really easy to understand. Thx. Sharing everywhere.