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How to Draw Faces

Often even gifted artists struggle with drawing faces. Some of the reason for this is because the human face is so familiar- we all know what a face looks like, and often we try to “fit in” features we know are there, even if for the particular image or perspective they would not actually be visible. This leads to faces that look awkward, cramped or just simply “off”. Not to mention, we often imagine young, smooth, beautiful faces while there are all sorts of faces out there. Instead of drawing all similar faces, try drawing ones that are wrinkly or scarred. Facial hair, wrinkles, and crow’s feet- all natural aspects of human face- can add not only dimension and realism, but also add textures and “landmarks” to what otherwise might be a smooth, open face that doesn’t quite want to fit together right.

Like anything, the number one answer for how to learn to draw faces is to practice, practice, practice! Start with still images, photographs or images from magazines or advertisements, ideally in different positions. Then, flip the picture upside down before you begin to draw. This takes the familiar face and forces your brain to comprehend it as shapes and lines instead of the human features we are used to. This simple step often is the most beneficial in strengthening face-drawing skills. While you know that there is another eye on the other side of a profile-view face, focusing on a more abstract “shape” prevents that from influencing your drawing.

It is much easier to draw from a still image than a live model, especially if your “model” is not a trained professional. Once you are used to focusing on the shapes and contours of a face instead of the actual image, try drawing from a right side up face. Pay attention to what is not there as well as what is- if the model has hair covering one eye, focus on getting the hair right, and then adding the correct “hints” of an eye as line and shadow, instead of what your brain is telling you is underneath that hair. If you have the desire to draw from your own mind’s eye, you can still use a “model”. Pick and choose features from different images to get the shape and perspective correct, even if the features aren’t the same. Or, use a mirror. “Filling in” using what you know is there is the surest way to throw off the drawing of faces. Take a look- chances are there are multitudes of faces for you to look at.

Another problem people have drawing faces is there seems to be a natural incentive to draw a face “straight on”, when in life most of the time we view faces at least a little off-center. A beautiful drawing with a perfectly dead-on face view can look unnatural or forced. Experiment with perspective, even if it means getting out a camera and taking a photo of your own face at the angle you wish your drawing to be at- or at the very least use an artist’s mannequin to get the position of the head and the neck correct. Also, sometimes it is easier to draw from a black and white image than it is to draw from a busy, colored photo. Copy your model image on a copy machine, or print a photo in black and white until you get the hang of things.

Lastly, when working from a live model, especially if it is for a short time period, try to get the shapes and positioning down first. While it is easy to imagine that you will remember every detail, you won’t- and then your brain gets caught up in what it knows is there again. If you can only see part of the model’s face, make sure you draw out that first, as well as sketching out shadows and light areas. Once you have that down, you can go back and finish it later- but chances are, you won’t remember the exact angle of the light and the shadow it cast on a cheek or chin, and even if you have the same model sit for you later, the lighting may not be the same if you are not in a perfectly controlled environment.

It takes a lot of patience, practice, and skill to master drawing the human face. Keeping at it is the only way to develop the talent,and keep in mind that not everyone, or even most people, have “perfect faces”. The imperfections are what make us human- and what make us interesting, as well as lend a touch of realism to drawings.

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