Learning to Draw the Human Face
Draw a cluster of trees crooked, or a stack of bowls a little askew, and it’s considered charming. But sketch a portrait lopsided, and viewers may find it uncomfortable to look at. Learning how to draw the human face is a worthwhile goal, and a steep climb for some. Many of my artist friends refuse to create figurative art, because it’s too hard to render faces and hands accurately.
Artists are observers of life, so we can’t ignore when we’ve painted a head with the proportions of a cantaloupe. Neither the artist, nor the viewer celebrate gazing at a face unintentionally painted awry. Believe me, I’ve been trying to get it right for years.
The Magic Wand to Better? Practice
Lucky for us, making art is fun, especially when we lock the self-critic in the cupboard. And luckier still, we can improve with little more than the conviction to do so, and some online references. Books help too.
But in a pinch, during breakfast in a pandemic, perusing online resources to practice your facial drawing skills is a good use of time. Let’s meander through some of the options.
Resources for Improving Your Drawings of the Human Face and Head
- Artist Catherine Kehoe assembled a beautiful slide presentation on face and head proportions on her website, and you can scroll through the images here. Be sure to click on them to enlarge and read the text as you scroll through the slides.
- Author and illustrator Gary Faigin teaches the art of facial expression in his book The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression.
- If you prefer to learn with an instructional DVD, Eric Rhoad’s company Streamline Media has an excellent selection of portrait and figurative DVD’s from some of today’s most loved contemporary painters. Peruse the selection here.
- Nicolas Uribe started a youtube channel to share one figurative painting demo each weekday. As a YouTuber myself, five videos a week is a herculean task – but he’s doing it beautifully! I loved this video (look at the size of the brushes!). Each of his paintings is for sale.
- Painter Scott Waddell is posting video snippets of his portrait painting studio session on his Instagram account. Like many artists facing cancelled exhibitions due to the Covid19 pandemic, he’s launched a Patreon page. His video tutorial subscriptions begin at just $12/month.
- Efrain Malo is an illustrator on Instagram as @maloart with a million followers. His pencil drawings of faces in profile (watch this video), straight on and in 3/4 view are often shared as a high speed process video, with proportion lines (like this), and tips for more accurate drawing.
- Author and illustrator Carson Ellis started a Quarantine Art Club (QAC), with drawing prompts and video demos. QAC assignment #20 is totally fun: honor someone with a portrait drawing. Read the details and jump in here.
Learning to Draw Faces, for Years and Years…
The first time I noticed a preference towards drawing faces and people was during an evaluation in 7th grade. My teachers had me tested to discover why, despite presenting as articulate and capable, I was a failing student.
The evaluator asked me to draw whatever I wanted. With pencil, I sketched a girl with long hair, holding books. She quizzed me about the drawing, and others I’d made in the margins of my notebooks. I heard my answers – 11 year old thoughts – spoken out loud for the first time, as an epiphany. “I like to draw people.“
They Say You Draw Yourself in Every Portrait…
You’d think that after all these years of drawing and sketching the human form, I’d be pretty boss at it by now. But no, that is not the case. I struggle mightily, with the same stinkin’ things over and over. Crooked features are the bane of my existence. Elongated limbs, and a wandering attentiveness to the subtleties of lost and found edges… I could go on an on.
But my point is this: I will not stop trying, because I’ll never improve without practice. And you can’t stop trying either. Getting good – at anything – requires being comfortable with sucking at it first. And we might be awful for a looooong time. But we’re in this together. So, let’s keep going, okay?
Focus Your Attention on The Good Things
I hope you are safe, active in your creativity, and charging forward in the pursuit of improving your skills. We’re in unprecedented times, and fretting over things we can’t control doesn’t settle frazzled nerves. Grab the parts you can control, like your art supplies, and focus hard on them.
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!
P.S. Did you see fabulous artist David Kassan’s live Facebook broadcast of a child’s portrait (part one of two so far) in charcoal pencil? Check it out.
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is on a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.Agnes DeMille recounting a directive from Martha Graham