Drawing People & Faces

Drawing the head

Drawing people & faces is no different from learning how to draw other random objects. Every drawing process requires you to follow a few simple steps.

These steps enable you to establish basic proportions and guides before working on details and finishes.

This tutorial will skim through the overall basics of how to draw people and faces.

This tutorial will skim through the overall basics of how to draw people and faces.

Without disregarding the importance of attention to detail, or historical academic studies, my research is focused primarily on the idea of representing the human form in its primitive state. Capturing a gesture, emotion, or energy when drawing people & faces requires an understanding of how we as humans are constructed.

Drawing people & Faces

Introduction

Our anatomical structure can be broken down into a series of fundamental shapes, such as circles, spheres, triangles, blocks, cylinders, and emotive lines of action.

There exist a number of theories and examples that demonstrate clearly how this is achievable by reducing complex forms and ideas to their basic fundamental shapes.

If you already know how to draw or paint but want to level up in your art, then I encourage you to do some research and discover them for yourself. You might be inclined to follow other methods and styles based on your art interests and curiosities. It may even help you discover a completely new style of working.

Who am I?

For the past years, I have been researching and experimenting with a variety of drawing mediums and styles both small scale and large. As part of this research, I have put together my road map to understanding how to draw people and faces.

It is important to note that I am not claiming any of these theories or concepts as my own. This research is relevant to me and has been accumulated over a period of time with experimentation, trial, and error.

I am an adult learner, self-taught artist returning to my passion after graduating with a degree in contemporary art in my early twenties. Navigating through the art world almost 20 years on seems like a fitting subject to document as I journey through my creative processes and aim to continue to level up as I go.

If you are a complete beginner and not yet familiar with the concept of fundamental shapes for drawing, then you might want to visit my tutorial on how to learn to draw in 36 hours before going any further.

Link Learn how to draw in 36 hours

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Drawing People & Faces

The Drawing Toolbox

By now you should be familiar with all the basic shapes that you can use to make up the anatomy of the human body.

The most appropriate unit of measure for the human body is the head. So we will start with this as our guide to understand how we can then piece everything else together.

Head count body proportions

Here are the basic proportions for drawing faces

Drawing people & faces from memory are very different from drawing from observation or reference.

The most popular poses for drawing faces and heads are the front, side, and 3/4 pose.

Drawing people and faces

The vast majority of portrait pictures are drawn in this way, largely due to the use of still photo references. A typical photo of someone will most likely capture these traditional poses purely out of habit and instinct.

This is not to say it is a bad thing. However, there are some benefits to understanding the construction of the head and how it rotates in space.

One

You will have the freedom to be more creative with the angle of view in your drawings.

Two

Your drawings will automatically feel more intentional and composed.

Three

Drawing People & Faces

Drawing the head from multiple angles will help you if you are creating characters for stories or illustrations.

So what makes drawing people & faces so hard?

Many artists including myself struggle with anatomy.

This is likely because we have not taken the time to properly study and practice all the basic shapes that form the anatomy of the head and the body. These shapes are essential to understanding how to draw.

Drawing People & Faces

All this results in many drawings that seem to lack structure or form. Often feeling flat and withdrawn. This happens when we use reference photos without any knowledge of anatomy.

Drawing People & Faces

Understanding how to properly use references Whether they are photos, film, or from life requires us to be able to break down large amounts of information into more manageable shapes.

Drawing People & Faces

It seems that this is a recurring problem with young artists. Too many references without enough knowledge of the subject itself.

Something we all need to work on I guess!

Stick figure  and mannequin drawing

What do we need to know about drawing human proportions?

What is so important about the head size?

The head can be used as a unit of measure to draw a person. Generally ranging from 7 1/2 heads to 8 1/2 heads depending on male or female models and in some cases the origin of the person.

Drawing People & Faces

This form of measurement only applies to draw portraits & people when they are standing in an upright position. Or in a classic pose where all parts of the body are drawn either from a front view or side view. Otherwise referred to as the “traditional poses”. We all know them.

Drawing stick figure action poses

Any other viewpoints will require foreshortening, making any units of measuring void.

So it is up to you how specific you want to be about your anatomy and proportions. This will also depend on your drawing style and for what reason you are drawing. If you want your drawings to look more dynamic, then going back to the basics is a good place to start. Unlearning certain methods that you have been taught will be the first challenge you will face.

If you just want to brush up on some techniques and skills, then you might not have to go as far as to study the skeleton structure of a human. Maybe simple gestures will work better for you in this context.

Drawing people and Faces. Anatomy studies

Why are drawing cylinders are so important for faces and people?

Drawing cylinders of various shapes and sizes will make it easier to draw arms, legs, hands, and fingers.

Drawing people & Faces

If you were to simplify the limbs of the body into its most basic shape, you will notice that the human body is predominantly made up of cylindrical shapes and blocks.

Drawing cylinders with foreshortening

The Torso and Pelvis have a 2/3 and 1/3 ratio. You can use the rib cage and pelvic bone as your guide or something as simple as a potato shape to show the orientation of the figure.

You can get an in depth tutorial about the pelvic and torso rotation at Proko.com

Practice drawing variations of these basic forms so that they appear to face different angles and directions.

There are so many different shapes and sizes of people that I tend to worry less about the rules of proportions, but rather the overall look of the figure I am drawing. This is especially the case for drawing in genres such as cartoons, animation, and general illustration.

Drawing stick figure poses
Stick figure body shapes

Being comfortable with these shapes will make it easier for you to adjust to a variety of options as you practice drawing people & faces. Keeping in mind that you can always build details and individuality on top of these basic forms.

What is foreshortening and what does it do to a drawing of a person or face?

Drawing people with perspective

The word foreshortening is used in art to describe the illusion of creating depth by reducing or increasing an angle of view.

Drawing People & Faces

The easiest and probably the only way to understand this is to try and make a drawing in perspective. It is, in my opinion, the most valuable element of drawing to understand. Applicable to anatomy, objects, architecture and landscapes.

Drawing People & Faces

Notice the distortion in shape as it shifts closer or further from the viewer.

Instead of drawing your shapes straight and flat, try and remember to curve your lines using the C curve and S curve. Doing this will ensure that you are creating an illusion of depth rather than a flat one-dimensional drawing.

This is most common when drawing people and faces from random angles.

Gesture drawing people and faces

Foreshortening can be used in situations when there is an extreme angle of the head often giving your illustrations a more dynamic look and feel.

Drawing people and faces

for an in-depth view of sketching the head from any angle, you can check out schoolism. It’s a simple and effective tutorial to illustrate how simple shapes can help us find the orientation of the head.

The easiest way to practice these angles is to draw cylinders viewed form a variety of different angles. The cylinder acts as a base structural shape for arms and legs.

It is also helpful to position the rotation or angle of the torso and pelvis. Here are a few examples to illustrate the purpose of the cylinder.

Drawing people and faces. The leg movement

When drawn in perspective the cylinders act as a guide to determine the overall volume and direction of your shape. In this case, the leg is shown as bent and facing away from us. The placement of the foot suggests that the leg is seen from a side angle.

Drawing People & Faces

Using the same techniques it is possible to draw arms in a variety of directions. Having this freedom to make changes and adjustments will make your drawings more dynamic and intentional.

Drawing cylinders for people & faces David Lagesse

In order to connect two cylinders, it is important to include a joining ball or circle. This acts as the knee cap or elbow and helps for the positioning of the arm or leg. The same process can be used to draw fingers.

Drawing the core figure with basic shapes

Drawing basic shapes David Lagesse

Try using a variety of base shapes. Any of these examples can be used in a particular context.

Things such as age, sex, size, and nationality may determine how you choose to use your base shapes.

Start all your drawing sessions with a small warmup.

This is generally a very loose page with drawings and sketches. Here is an example of a typical warmup.

warm up sketches for drawing David Lagesse

Warmup sketches with block shapes, cylinders, and line movement. Spending several minutes drawing on a rough paper is a good way to awaken the artist in you. Try to focus on elements that will serve you the most depending on your subject.

Drawing People & Faces

To get better at drawing people and faces you should keep your options open

So for the purpose of this tutorial, we will not go into too many details of headcounts.

Rather, we will focus on the overall impressions and bulk shapes of the head and figure.

Keeping in mind that drawing people does not have to be a scientific experiment with extreme precision.

Drawing People & Faces

Leaving some room for originality and individuality will make your drawings seem more lively, real and dynamic.

Drawing stick people and faces

Try to ground the figure you are drawing.

The first step to drawing people is understanding how the figure is positioned in relation to the ground surface.

You can ground your figure through framing your subject.

The most commonly used format though is to find the action line. This goes through the figure from top to bottom.

gesture drawing of people & Faces

In order to do this, we use what is called a gesture line. This line travels through the curves of the figure, establishing the line of action and structure of your drawing.

In the case that your figure is in a unique position. It is possible to identify the general shape and space that the figure is occupying by framing your subject. This can be in the form of a rectangle or triangle for example.

It is important to note that these drawings serve the purpose to understand the basic structure and proportions of the figure.

So, for now, we are not focusing on any details. Ideally what we want to capture is a successful pose, gesture, or general impression of the proportions of the figure in space. Avoid too many details in the beginning stages of your drawing.

Drawing people & Faces

As you can see from the above drawings of these people.

There is no need for too many details to convey your idea and start a figure drawing.

Already in some examples, you can have a sense of character and emotion.

What happens when we take this a step further by adding volume to these stick figures for example.

Stick figure golf swing
How to draw people & faces with a golfer

Having fun inventing different characters while you learn should remain at the center of why you are drawing. It is the fastest way to start building up ideas that you can develop at a later stage.

Experimenting with silhouettes is great for working with large simple shapes. See what kind of weird and wonderful characters you can create.

Drawing people and faces. The mannequin for drawing

Drawing the Mannequin will help you learn how to draw people and faces.

If you want to take a more guided approach to learn how to draw people, then using the drawing mannequin is also an option.

You can either order these online or pick one up from your local art shop.

Drawing people and faces 
with mannequin
Drawing

Learning how to draw with the mannequin is a great way to familiarize yourself with all the basic geometric shapes that are found in human anatomy. Try doing some timed sketches and experiment with drawing the mannequin form various angles.

To do this, think about cylinders and how you can use them to show the foreshortening of the figure. Here are a few examples of some sketches. Using a block to place your mannequin is also a good way of practicing your shapes and positioning the figure on your page.

Drawing People & Faces

Adding features and details to your face drawings.

1. Drawing Ears

Example of drawing ears

2. Drawing Eyes

Drawing people and faces. Eyes

3. Drawing Noses

Drawing people and faces. Noses
Drawing

4. Drawing Lips & Mouth

Drawing people and faces. Lips

To wrap this up

Drawing people & faces can seem like a difficult task when viewed from the perspective of simply copying a photo and looking for the perfect resemblance.

The reality is that there is no one right or wrong way to draw. It is through practice and perseverance that you will find what works best for you in your art practice. As a beginner, I can only suggest that you focus on the simple shapes and forms until you are comfortable with the overall idea of drawing people and faces.

It has been a pleasure sharing this information with you.

Art enthusiast

Tutorial by David Lagesse

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